Voting Rights News

Former Felon Voices - Mark Romines, Louisville

April 22, 2013 at 02:56pm

Mark RominesIn an attempt to share more of the stories from former felons across the Commonwealth, we’re presenting a series of short interviews every few weeks on our blog and in our newsletter balancing the scales.

Mark Romines is a Louisville, Kentucky native. He has been happily married for 32 years and has a son, 2 daughters, and 2 grandchildren. Mark has been a member of the Volunteers in Police Services program for 7 years. He is a volunteer usher at the University of Louisville basketball and football games and a member of his local homeowners’ association. Mark is also active with KFTC’s Coal Ash campaign. Mark is a carpenter by trade and served in the military. In his spare time he enjoys watching college sports and riding his motorcycle and ATV.
 
Mark lost his right to vote in Kentucky almost 40 years ago after being convicted on a drug charge in Nebraska. At the time he was not aware that he was considered a felon. “I was placed on probation and didn’t spend any time in jail.” It wasn’t until he received a call from the ATF more than 20 years later asking that he surrender a hunting rifle he had recently purchased that Mark found out he was a former felon.

Danny Cotton - We were lucky to have him

April 18, 2013 at 03:44pm
Central Kentucky

Danny Cotton, a KFTC leader and member of the Central KY Chapter and the statewide Voter Empowerment Strategy Team passed away earlier this month.  He was 27 years old.

He was a writer, an activist, a great thinker, and a great friend to many of us.  

KFTC first got to meet Danny at Fancy Farm, a political event in far Western KY.  Even before we met, he was holding a big sign opposing a massive state subsidy for Peabody Coal.

After that, Danny became one of our most prolific citizen lobbyists, visiting Frankfort day after day to talk to legislators about a range of issues important to him, though he focused voting rights issues.

And he returned to Fancy Farm and dozens of other events every year, usually in his trademark green KFTC t-shirt with its sleeves cut off.  

He was also a KFTC intern while he studied at UK, and helped to form the UK KFTC group which is still doing great things today.

Danny also loved registering and mobilizing voters and he was good at it, participating in large scale voter registration events in Lexington that brought in hundreds of new voters to build up our Democracy.  

After his funeral over a dozen former UK KFTC members who went to school with Danny gathered for a cook out, to listen to some of Danny's favorite music (Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Led Zeppelin), read some of the things he'd written, told stories about Danny's life.

Stories shared from around the room shifted from off-color stories of shenanigans and misadventures to moments of profound levity, admiration, regret, and hope - the kind of sense one might get from reading Mark Twain or talking to Danny Cotton.

"Danny was a good friend and a good man. His loyalty and friendship was always something I could count on. His passion and empathy will truly be missed" - John Ghaelian

"He was a genuinely kind and understanding person -- the kind that we need more of in this world." - Wesley Robinson

Former Felon Voices - Mantell Stevens, Lexington

April 16, 2013 at 10:55am

Mantell Stevens 2In an attempt to share more of the stories from former felons across the Commonwealth, we’re presenting a series of short interviews every few weeks on our blog and in our newsletter balancing the scales.

Mantell Stevens is a life-long Kentuckian who's a smart guy, works hard, volunteers at Imani Baptist Church, and enjoys the outdoors. “I’m really a country boy. I like getting muddy and riding four-wheelers.”

But what he can't do is vote.  Though he's telling his story to help change that.  

"I was born and raised here in Lexington and been here all my life. I've lived on the Northside of town for the past 33 years. Growing up life was pretty good. I grew up with both parents in the household. I was fortunate enough to witness a good marriage between my parents. I’m really grateful for that."

"In the early years I was into theatre. In elementary school I was a student in SCAPA - the school of creative and performing arts student. When I transitioned to a public middle school is when I started to have more behavior problems – coming from a structured environment to a more chaotic environment. And struggling with a lot of identity issues coming from middle school to high school. I would get called “white boy” a lot because I had light skin, I talked “different” and tucked my shirt in. So, in my neighborhood I felt I had to prove myself and started getting into trouble. I was a big guy so I started trying to prove that I could intimidate people and that I wasn’t soft like they thought I was."

Videos from Voting Rights Rally in Frankfort

March 18, 2013 at 04:24pm

On March 6th we had a powerful lobby day and rally about Voting Rights in Frankfort.  Here are some videos from the speakers, most of which are former felons themselves.

Interviewing Former Felons and Telling Their Stories

March 18, 2013 at 03:41pm

IMG_1389Interviewing former felons and communicating out their stories is critical to the strategy of our campaign to restore voting rights to former felons who have served their debt to society.

It’s a way of  challenging what people think they know about who former felons are and showing them a range of people at least some of whom they feel like they can relate to - different ages, races, backgrounds, and hometowns. 

If someone can see a piece of themselves or their family and neighbors in a former felon’s story, or respect or look up to their accomplishments, that connection can make it easier to understand the issue and support restoration of voting rights. 

Here are some examples of interviews we've conducted in the past.

We use these stories in a lot of different ways - stories on our blog, shared through Facebook, in our newsletter balancing the scales, in large signs and on factsheets, or full stories sent to the media or to legislators. 

If you're a former felon interested in being interviewed about the right to vote, or if you know someone who might be, please contact your local KFTC organizer or Dave Newton Dave@kftc.org 859-420-8919.

Expand Voting Rights, Protect Civil Rights

March 10, 2013 at 05:24pm

lobby1With just four working days left for the Kentucky General Assembly, our actions may influence the important final outcome for two bills.

Voting Rights

Our democracy could be strengthened if Senate leaders would allow House Bill 70 to have a hearing and vote. This legislation would place on the statewide ballot a constitutional amendment to allow automatic restoration of voting rights once a person has completed their sentence for most felony convictions, as happens in most other states. HB 70 passed the House, 75-25, nearly three weeks ago but is stuck in the Senate State and Local Government Committee. Help us make one more push to get Senate leaders to open the door to voting for nearly a quarter of a million Kentuckians.

ACTION: Please call the Legislative Message Line, 1-800-372-7181, and leave a message for your own senator plus "Senate leadership" and "Senate State and Local Government Committee members." A good, simple message is "Please allow a hearing and vote on House Bill 70." The line is open 7 a.m. until 11 p.m. EDT. If you have already contacted your senator on this issue, please do so again.

Civil Rights Helpful information

You can follow KFTC's bills on our bill tracker page.

Legislative Message Line
1-800-372-7181

Legislator's Office Direct
502-564-8100

TTY Message Line
1-800-896-0305

En Español
1-866-840-6574

Make a donation to KFTC to support our work in the General Assembly

A bill that allows any individual to “act or refuse to act on religious grounds” has passed the House and Senate and been to delivered to Gov. Steve Beshear. House Bill 279 is written so broadly that it could be used to subvert existing civil rights laws in Kentucky that protect individuals from discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations.

HB 279 has the potential to “make it harder to pursue criminal prosecutions and civil remedies in everything from child abuse to housing discrimination,” according to a Lexington Herald-Leader editorial, and is “a slippery slope when the state authorizes people to disregard laws,” wrote The Courier-Journal editors.

ACTION: Join the Fairness Campaign, ACLU, Kentucky Commission on Human Rights, KFTC and other groups in asking Gov. Beshear to “Please veto House Bill 279.” You can do so by leaving him a message at 502-564-2611 or by using his online form at: http://governor.ky.gov/Pages/contact.aspx.

Thanks for taking one or both of these actions.
Please do so on Monday starting at 7 a.m.

Rally for voting rights in Frankfort today

March 6, 2013 at 05:04pm

Despite snowy weather, about 260 people raised their voices for voting rights at a rally and lobby day Wednesday at the state capitol in Frankfort.

Several former felons took the podium to share their stories and urge passage of House Bill 70, which would restore voting rights to most former felons once they’ve served their debt to society. Kentucky is one of the most restrictive states, requiring former felons to obtain an individual pardon from the governor in order to regain their right to vote.

Voting Rights Rally 893.jpgAileen Bryant of Louisville recalled that at one time she was told she’d never amount to anything. “Today I am somebody,” she said. She urged those gathered to talk to their legislators about House Bill 70. “We need to let them know we deserve that right. Don’t give up.”

Michael Hiser of Bullitt County said he has obtained his bachelor’s degree and is working on a master’s degree since serving his time. He has regained custody of his children and paid $15,000 in back taxes. But he still can’t vote.

Ed West, another former felon, said it feels good to be a citizen again, even paying taxes. “It feels good to be responsible and be able to pay a debt.” But gaining voting rights for former felons will take a powerful movement. “We need to continue to voice such powerful voices.”

Voting Rights Rally 832.jpgKFTC member Tayna Fogle, who emceed the rally, said she wants to set an example for her two children and seven grandchildren. “I want them to be able to believe in this democracy.”

For each of the past several years, including this year, the bill has passed the Kentucky House by a comfortable margin before stalling in the Senate. Today citizen lobbyists focused on talking with senators and urging them to support the bill.

They visited with dozens of lawmakers and left hundreds of postcards for Senate President Robert Stivers.

Tweeting from our Voting Rights lobby day and rally

March 6, 2013 at 08:00am

We will be tweeting from our Voting Rights lobby day and rally at #votingrights. Feel free to join us in the conversation tomorrow even if you can't make it to Frankfort! Check out the feed below throughout the day to see what's happening!

Keep burning up those phone lines for Voting Rights!

March 4, 2013 at 11:11am

HB 70, our bill to restore voting rights to former felons who have served their debt to society, still has a fighting chance.  KFTC members and allies are continuing to burn up the phone lines calling legislators to try to get a hearing this Wednesday on the same day as our big lobby day.  

The bill is assigned to the Senate State and Local Government committee, chaired by Senator Joe Bowen, who represents Owensboro, Daviess, and McLean counties.   He has been tentatively supportive of this legislation, but will need a good push to make sure he hears the bill this week.  If you're from this area or know others who are, please do everything you can today and tomorrow to make sure Bowen hears from constituents asking him to allow HB 70 to come to a vote on Wednesday.  

Take Action

Please take two minutes and call the legislative message line, 1-800-372-7181, leaving a message for your own senator plus "Senate Leadership" and "Senate State and Local Government Committee members." A good, simple message is "Please support HB 70." The line is open until 11 p.m. tonight.

And this Wednesday (March 6th) is our big Voting Rights Lobby Day and Rally in Frankfort. We're planning on having 200-300 people at the capitol to send a powerful message to lawmakers. We will be lobbying in the morning and holding a rally in the rotunda starting at 1 p.m. with former felon speakers, music, and more. We especially value having more former felons there to talk about their own experiences

Learn more about the day and register to attend here.

Lexington-Fayette urban county government comes out in support of restoring voting rights for former felons

March 3, 2013 at 08:55pm

As folks already know, HB 70, Representative Jesse Crenshaw's bill that would restore voting rights to most former felons who've served their time, has passed the Kentucky House seven years in a row, each year with broad bipartisan support. Most recently the vote was 75 to 25. Unfortunately when it's arrived in the Senate it hasn't received a hearing or vote. KFTC members and allies are working diligently to educate the Kentucky Senate about HB 70 and the positive effect it would have on communities across the commonwealth. And chapters have begun to develop strategies for involving their local governments.

Starting approximately a year ago, the central Kentucky chapter began lobbying their city council to pass a resolution in support of voting rights for former felons. 

The Lexington-Fayette Urban County Council is made up of 12 members who represent city districts, including three at-large council members of which one is the vice mayor. One of the chapter's first meetings was with Vice Mayor Linda Gorton who said that if KFTC members were serious about passing a resolution through the council then they should make a good faith effory to meet with every council member (and the mayor) to educate them about the issue.

So that's what chapter members did, and over the last year they met with nearly every member of the council, including Mayor Jim Gray and his aides to explain how the LFUCG could help towards building a more vibrant and healthy democracy. The lobby meetings were a great experience for chapter members because not only did it give them practice talking about the campaign but it helped them get to know how their city government worked and who the council members were. Their meeting with council member Ford went incredibly well, he was very supportive, so they asked him immediately if he'd sponsor the resolution, to which he agreed.

Their lobbying efforts paid off when last Thursday the city council voted unanimously to pass a resolution stating that not only do they believe that people who’ve served their time deserve the right to vote again, but also that the General Assembly should give the citizens of the commonwealth the chance to vote on the issue.

KFTC members and allies packed the council chambers and folks gave over an hour of testimony in support of the resolution.

KFTC member and former felon Tayna Fogle talked about her past as both a UK basketbal player and a person who fell into drugs. "I served a ten year prison sentence, I did my time. I made a mistake but I am not a mistake."

KFTC member Tedi Smith-Robillard, who received a pardon from the governor, shared with the council her commitment to justice. “I am 73 years old and until the day I die I will work for justice and for people to have the right to vote."

The resolution while symbolic (the city Lexington city council can’t change Kentucky’s constitution or give people their voting rights back), does send a powerful message to the General Assembly.

"We are counting on you to do the right thing. - Rev. Joseph Owens at the Lexington city council meeting.

Click here for a copy of the council meeting docket which contains the language of the resolution (number 41)