Monday marked the passing of a great partner in our work to restore voting rights to people who have come out of the criminal justice system. Jack Kemp, star football player, prominent Congressman, Cabinet Secretary and leader in the Republican Party, passed away Saturday night at the age of 73.
A self-described “bleeding-heart conservative,” Secretary Kemp dedicated much of his political career to fighting racial discrimination. His concern for racial justice and his deep religious beliefs made him an outspoken proponent for reforming felony disenfranchisement laws.
Secretary Kemp understood the link between the discriminatory history of felony disenfranchisement policies and their continued impact on minority communities. In an op-ed he co-authored with Democratic Senator Russ Feingold last year supporting the Democracy Restoration Act, Secretary Kemp wrote, “it is no accident that [felony disenfranchisement] disproportionately affects African-Americans. Like the poll tax and the grandfather clause, [it] was a tool of Jim Crow.”
In 2007, Secretary Kemp publicly urged Maryland, Virginia and Kentucky to end their harsh disenfranchisement policies. And while applauding Governor Charlie Crist’s decision to simplify Florida’s restoration process, he encouraged his fellow Republican to go farther to eliminate the bureaucratic red tape that continues to tie up the restoration process.
Secretary Kemp also recognized the redemptive power of voting. He explained, “I am . . . convinced that the ability to fully participate as a productive citizen—including becoming a full voting member of society—reduces the rate of recidivism and is an incentive for those in prison to change their behavior for the good.”
Secretary Kemp’s life work will endure with the Democracy Restoration Act, and the continued national movement to strengthen our democracy by restoring voting rights to all Americans living in the community. We honor his passion, commitment and dedication, and we offer our sincere condolences to the Kemp family.