Former GOP Rep. Michael Grimm just got out of prison last year for felony tax evasion. Now he wants his old seat back — but thinks people who "really" broke the law should not have the right to vote in his, or any, election.
Congress was relieved, in 2015, to see the back of Rep. Michael Grimm.
A Republican who represented Staten Island, Grimm was busted three years ago for conspiring to evade taxes on a restaurant he owned in New York City, keeping two sets of books, and hiring undocumented immigrants he could pay off the record. He initially denied all allegations and threatened to throw a reporter who asked him about it off a balcony.
Eventually, he resigned, pled guilty to felony tax fraud, and was sentenced to eight months in federal prison.
Incredibly, he is now planning to run for his old seat, and already has the endorsement of Steve Bannon. But his run puts him in an awkward position, since Republicans have long advocated stripping ex-convicts of the right to vote.
When MSNBC’s Ari Melber asked Grimm to justify a system where ex-convicts can run for federal office but not vote, Grimm gave an absolutely baffling response:
— TheBeat w/Ari Melber (@TheBeatWithAri) October 6, 2017
MELBER: On the voting, is your position that you can go be a convict, be an ex-con, and get back into Congress, but other people shouldn’t even have the right to vote?
GRIMM: Well, first of all, that’s a misnomer when you say they don’t have the right to vote. I have the right to vote. I’ll be voting.
MELBER: Right, it depends on the state, but like, for example —
GRIMM: We’re in New York.
MELBER: — Mitch McConnell has said, basically, states have a significant interest in reserving the right to vote to those who have abided by the social contract. Leaders in your party do, as I think you know, oppose the right to vote for a lot of ex-convicts, like yourself.
GRIMM: Right, well, not like myself. I think they oppose it for people especially that do violent crimes, people that are really breaking the law, not civil matters, okay? A civil matter is a civil matter, and a crime is a crime. I was an FBI agent for over 11 years. And I believe in the law, absolutely. But there is a big difference between a civil infraction and a felony.
Grimm’s characterization of his own legal problems as a "civil infraction" is not just a lie, it is an unbelievably ridiculous lie.
A "civil infraction" is something like parking in front of a fire hydrant or not picking up after your dog. Grimm was indicted on 20 counts of perjury, obstruction of justice, fraud, employment of illegal immigrants, tax evasion, and conspiracy to defraud the United States. These are federal crimes.
And since Grimm is a former lawyer and, as he made sure to point out, a former FBI agent who specialized in white-collar crime, there is no way he does not know the difference.
Felon disenfranchisement has a long and sordid history tied to the Jim Crow era, as one of many tools to prevent black men from voting. Today, Republicans persist in attempting to keep these laws alive.
In Florida, one in four African-Americans have been blocked from voting by felon disenfranchisement. In Alabama, rehabilitated convicts actually must pay fees to restore voting rights, effectively making it a poll tax. In Virginia, the GOP went to court to block the Democratic governor from restoring voting rights to ex-convicts.
And yet — as Grimm and Republicans who support him would have us believe — rich, white businessmen who have committed financial crimes, and who did not "really" break the law, deserve the civic participation that rehabilitated, poor, and mostly minority ex-convicts do not.
This, in a nutshell, is the Republican Party’s view of voting rights. And if they cannot side with democracy, they have no business in government.