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Parties unveil new strategy to lock up the election

troxler
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By HOWARD TROXLER, Times Columnist

© St. Petersburg Times
published June 12, 2002


REPUBLICANS TO VIE
FOR KEY FELON BLOC

* * *

Party won't cede
'mother lode' to Reno

* * *

Dem chief insists
'Still best for felons'

* * *

Influence growing,
ex-cons to form PAC

Note: Paragraphs 4-6 are entirely true.

STARKE -- Leaders of the Republican Party of Florida announced aggressive plans Tuesday to compete for the votes of ex-felons who might soon regain their right to vote, reversing the party's previous official stance of "%$%$ 'em."

"Who better than Republicans to represent the interests of felons?" party chairman N. Spector Javert declared at a news conference here. He stood in front of the gates of Florida State Prison, in front of a symbolic "voter registration booth" decked in red, white and blue bunting.

"After all, we are the party of freedom -- freedom, get it? -- and getting the government off your back," Javert said. "We're the party of letting people keep more of what they earn, being able to set it aside, even leave something for their kids, without tax-and-spend liberals taking it all away."

Until now, both parties have assumed that most felons, when given the chance, would vote Democratic.

Democrats therefore have pressed for the more liberal return of civil rights to ex-convicts. Just last weekend, Janet Reno, a Democratic candidate for governor, campaigned on the issue with actor Martin Sheen.

Republicans, not surprisingly, have been cooler to the idea of easing Florida's draconian laws. In fact, during the 2002 election, Republicans implemented a vigorous purge from the voter rolls of anybody whose name even resembled that of a convicted felon.

"Starting today, all that old stuff changes," Javert said. "We're going to give felons plenty of darned good reasons to vote Republican, starting with the total elimination of the capital gains tax, which they should like."

A spokesman for the Florida Democratic Party ridiculed the Republican plans, saying that Democrats remain "the only logical choice for felons."

One factor in the Republicans' calculation, party sources said, was that a growing number of their own party were becoming felons, as evidenced by the Enron, Arthur Andersen and Tyco scandals. "It was only a matter of time, statistically, before we caught up anyway," one source said.

Besides, with estimates now running at up to 400,000 ex-inmates in Florida who might instantly become eligible to vote, given the right ruling from some dang-fool Clinton appointee to the federal bench, other Republican leaders argued for a more forward-looking approach.

"Look, folks, let's face facts," party mastermind J.M. "Mac" Helpouttherich said at one party gathering. "We Republicans are the ones who put a lot of these guys in prison in the first place because we were Tough on Crime. We have to figure out a way for them not to blame us, or else it's gonna be Reconstruction and the Solid South all over again."

The final straw, party sources said, came at Reno's campaign stop in Tampa, when she indicated that restoring civil rights to felons could also mean restoring their right to own firearms, depending on the crime.

"That's when we knew how serious the threat was," one Republican strategist said. "Nobody is gonna out-handgun the Republican Party. If the Democrats are willing to let 'em own guns, then we'll set them up with bazookas if that's what it takes."

Javert, invoking the name of the most famous unindicted co-conspirator of all, declared the change to be historic. "Remember, it took Nixon to go to China," he said.

When reminded that the last Democratic president also was a felon, or at least should have been, Javert said there was "no comparison, zero, in our brand of felon and theirs."

-- You can reach Howard Troxler at (727) 893-8505 or at troxler@sptimes.com.

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