Thursday, September 29, 2005

crime and elective office

when i think of crime and voting, i usually think about felon disenfranchisement. i got word today from a friend in the research triangle on a story involving the criminal records of those running for office.

DURHAM -- Of the 17 candidates on the primary ballot for mayor and City Council in Durham, at least eight have been convicted of criminal charges.
The chairman of the Durham County Republican Party moved on Tuesday to withdraw GOP support from mayoral candidate Vincent Brown, whose extensive criminal record was the subject of an article in Sunday's editions of The News & Observer. The story recounted Brown's felony convictions for forgery and larceny, as well as a stretch served in state prison. Brown vehemently denied that he has ever been arrested...

in many places, a felony conviction formally disqualifies one from holding office, but this story went on to discuss the arrest records of the candidates. and they found plenty -- embezzlement, speeding, lots of bad checks, weapons offenses, petty theft, abortion protesting, failure to pay child support, and others. this one might be the saddest and the strangest:

In light of Brown's rap sheet, every candidate in attendance was asked before a crowd of about 75 people if they had ever been arrested on a criminal charge or had been to jail.
When it was his turn to answer Tuesday, Ward 1 council candidate Joe Williams said: "I don't have any skeletons in my closet."
Records show Williams was convicted in a 1986 trial for a single misdemeanor count of assault on a female. He was ordered by a judge to "pay for damages to teeth" in an amount to be determined by the clerk of court.

ouch. is this further evidence of the carceral state spreading ever outward? i'd hate to participate in such a line-up before a department election. actually, my graduate students tell me that some universities now obtain arrest reports on new faculty -- and i've read enough papers on institutional isomorphism to suspect that this could quickly become standard practice. if it doesn't indicate overcriminalization, do you think the 8 in 17 figure indicates greater criminality among politicians than others? As mark twain's pudd'nhead wilson hypothesized:

It could probably be shown by facts and figures that there is no distinctly native American criminal class except Congress. -mark twain

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