Where they stand: Candidates for governor on vote for felons

Battle lines are drawn. Republicans say no, Democrats yes.<br>
Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam, right, a candidate for governor, takes a selfie with Sonya Montgomery of Clermont at the Old Polk County Courthouse in Bartow. [OCTAVIO JONES   |   Times]
Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam, right, a candidate for governor, takes a selfie with Sonya Montgomery of Clermont at the Old Polk County Courthouse in Bartow. [OCTAVIO JONES | Times]
Published Jan. 30, 2018|Updated Jan. 30, 2018

Most leading candidates for governor, including a non-candidate who acts like one, have staked out positions on Amendment 4, the November ballot initiative that would restore voting rights to most convicted felons in Florida.

Florida is one of three states, and by far the largest, that permanently strips convicted felons of the right to vote. Candidates up and down the ballot will be forced to take sides on the issue of whether an estimated 1.5 million people who committed felonies and did time should be given that right -- excluding murderers and sex offenders.

Republicans say no. Democrats say yes. There’s an outlier: The one who won’t take a stand is U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, R-Palm Coast, who announced his candidacy Monday. When asked by The Miami Herald’s David Smiley, DeSantis said: “I haven’t looked at it yet, but I’ll look at it.”

The front-running Republican candidate, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, does not favor Amendment 4, which supporters call “Say Yes to Second Chances.” He said he would consider automatic restoration of voting rights only in nonviolent cases.

“Nonviolent offenders ought to have an easier path to restoration of rights,” Putnam said. “Violent criminals do not deserve the same. Terrorism, manslaughter and kidnapping are treated as nonviolent crimes in this proposal, and that’s not something I can support.”

Putnam voted for a major policy shift in 2011 that requires felons to wait five years after leaving prison before they can ask the state for restoration of civil rights. It can take a decade or longer to get a hearing.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, is not an announced candidate for governor. But by launching an incendiary TV ad on immigration Monday, he has left little doubt about his plans and has created a situation unheard of in modern Florida politics: The only person running TV ads in the governor’s race is not a candidate.

Corcoran’s a no. He said the recidivism rates for offenders soon after leaving prison is a concern. “I think they also have to have some sort of re-entry into society and show us that they can be good contributing members of society,” Corcoran said in a recent interview. He said he’s not sure how long that period should be.

All four major Democratic candidates -- Andrew Gillum, Gwen Graham, Chris King and Philip Levine -- support restoring voting rights to felons. Here are excerpts from all of their campaigns.

Gillum: “Everyone should vote yes on Amendment 4. Floridians who have paid their debts deserve a second chance and they should have a voice in our state’s future. Our current system for rights restoration is a relic of Jim Crow that we should end for good.”

Graham (on Twitter): “This is what democracy looks like! Rights restoration on the ballot is an amazing accomplishment by @FLRightsRestore and grassroots activists across the state. ... Floridians believe in second chances.”

King: “I have faith that most Floridians believe in second chances and will join me in enthusiastically voting for the amendment ... If you have paid your debt to society, your right to vote should be restored.”

Levine: “With this amendment, we are one step closer to equity and justice for all in Florida ... We are a state of second chances. This is an incredible milestone.”