FRANKFORT — The push to restore felon voting rights has received a major endorsement from U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, but it's not clear what effect that may have in the state Capitol—where lawmakers are debating the issue.
As he called on states to lift rules that make it harder for felons to get their right to vote back, Holder singled out Kentucky. He said it's one of three states where a fifth of black adults are prohibited from voting because of a felony record.
Currently, the governor has to pardon former felons before they can vote. Rep. Jesse Crenshaw has perennially filed legislation to automatically restore the right. He's seen it die every year in the GOP-controlled Senate. But he thinks this year could be different.
“There are a number of senators who have seen me in passing and pointed out that they felt that House Bill 70 was a good bill, and that they plan to show their support in the future, so I’m optimistic," said Crenshaw, a Lexington Democrat.
While Crenshaw praised Holder’s comments, Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer, a Republican from Georgetown, was nonplussed.
“I’m not a fan of General Holder or his boss, the President of the United States, and so, in general, their urging for the states fall on deaf ears when it comes to me," Thayer says.
But GOP support may change. Republican U.S. Sen. Rand Paul supports voting rights restoration, and is expected to speak about the issue soon in the state Senate, where Crenshaw’s bill is awaiting action.