Mercedies Harris was 27 in 1990, when he was arrested for drug possession and distribution in Fairfax, Virginia. Harris had served in the Marines, but the death of his brother in 1986—killed by a hit-and-run driver—sent him down a familiar path. “I was angry and I couldn’t find the guy who did it,” Harris says. “I got into drugs to find a way to medicate myself.”
Upon his release in 2003, Harris, who had earned his GED in prison, found a job and began to rebuild his life. He faced the usual practical challenges: “I couldn’t get on a lease, I had no insurance, I had no medical coverage, my driver’s license was expired.” But he found one obstacle that was especially difficult to overcome: He couldn’t vote. Virginia is one of four states—along with Florida, Iowa, and Kentucky—that strip voting rights from felons for life. The U.S. is the world’s only democracy that permits permanent disenfranchisement. While most states have some restrictions on felons voting, it takes a decree from the governor or a clemency board to restore voting rights in the four states with lifetime bans. In Virginia alone, 450,000 residents are disenfranchised. In Florida, the total is an astonishing 1.5 million.
This isn’t my last piece at The American Prospect, but it is my last post—if you follow me on Twitter, you probably know, by now, that I’m leaving The Prospect to join The Daily Beast as a staff writer. I’m not the best at goodbyes, so I’ll say this: Not only am I grateful that The Prospect hired me three years ago—despite not having any journalism or professional writing experience—but working for the magazine since has been a great pleasure and privilege. And the same goes for working with everyone who makes The Prospect what it is: I honestly can’t imagine a better team of people, or a better group of friends.
When President Obama issued a pro forma statement following last week’s verdict in the Zimmerman trial, there was some disappointment—“Why didn’t he say more?” It only takes a small step back to see the answer; not only would it have been inappropriate for the president to question the decision of the jury, but given wide outrage at the ruling, it could have inflamed passions on both sides.
In most of the country, the Cheney name is deeply unpopular. People poke fun at Joe Biden and mock Al Gore, but Dick Cheney stands as one of the most hated and vilified Vice Presidents since Spiro Agnew. And if Republicans have abandoned George W. Bush, then in the case of Cheney, they’ve worked to erase him from their memory of the last administration.
All of this is why it’s odd that his daughter, Liz Cheney, has emerged as a viable candidate for the Wyoming Senate seat currently held by Mike Enzi. Now, it is true that the Cheneys are a long-time fixture in a state known for its conservative politics. But that only explains the viability of Cheney as a candidate. It says nothing about her reason for running. In fact, it’s hard to think of one.