An inspiring story of Fort Worth candidate bumped from ballot
In a crowded election, city council candidates don’t often get a solo story in the newspaper – unless the news is bad.
And there’s no worse news than being disqualified three days before the early voting starts.
When I first spoke to Erik Richerson, a candidate in Fort Worth’s District 9, he was undeterred shortly after the city secretary declared he could not run.
More than a decade after serving a seven-year sentence for a crime in 1999 when he was 17, Richerson insisted that his “full civil rights be restored”. He could vote, sit on a jury, and even run for office in Everett, Washington, before moving to Fort Worth.
He would prove his eligibility and secure his eligibility again.
It turned out he wasn’t just bloviating.
On April 27, eleven days after he was informed of his inadmissibility, the city confirmed that it had received papers from a Washington court showing that his race was resumed. Just in time for the end of the early voting.
Local politics undoubtedly played a role in Richerson’s ordeal. The District 9 race had more than part of the drama, back stabbing, and meanness, and it could only help throwing a fellow candidate out of a large field.
But Richerson’s case isn’t new either because Texas law governing a criminal’s ability to seek public office is frustratingly obscure.
Under Section 141 of the Texas Election Code, a candidate must not have been “finally convicted of a crime from which the individual has not been pardoned or otherwise relieved of any disability resulting therefrom.”
The final piece on “resulting disabilities” has been interpreted differently by different jurisdictions, so some candidates may run and others may disqualify.
And because municipalities don’t necessarily check criminal records, convictions are often only brought to light if an opponent highlights them.
Candidates should be transparent about anything in their past that could affect their eligibility to run for office. However, the law also needs clarification, especially as the number of local cases where eligibility has become an issue – including the race for the mayor of Arlington – has grown rapidly.
House Bill 1316, which is currently under consideration, would make it so that if a person were able to choose they could also seek public office. It’s a more generous proposal than a 2019 bill that would have allowed only pardoned offenders to run.
But not all crimes are created equal. A 17-year-old drunk robbery is not the same as a sex crime committed by an adult against a child. Laws are generally not written to accommodate idiosyncrasies, but as lawmakers seek to change the code, the circumstances of the crime should matter.
Of course, the transparency of the candidates is also important.
Richerson says he never fled his past. (It’s worth noting that he mentioned his belief in his response to the Star-Telegram Voter Guide.)
“A lot of people along the way know my story,” he told me, “but I don’t always lead with it.”
Nevertheless, his story is worth telling.
It starts with a broken home – a kid with potential as a high school athlete, who got into the wrong crowd, took refuge in drugs and alcohol, was in the youth hall, and was tried as an adult for an armed robbery, but it ends with a steadfast marriage, a successful small business, and a run for the city council.
Richerson credits a gracious God and a devoted father (who sent him more than 1,000 letters in prison) who both inspired him to learn from his misdeeds and “live righteously.”
Richerson’s candidacy is unique for other reasons as well.
Black, blatantly Christian, conservative, it runs in what is perhaps the most progressive neighborhood in the city, causing many of the heads of its intersectionally obsessed residents to explode.
And just as Richerson takes on his past, he realizes that in a racially charged time and in a community where the “ghosts of the past” still live among us, he must be a colored person – whether as a councilor or church leader be that of a unifier.
“I look forward to coming to the table and talking about how we can heal our country and get back together,” he said.
Yes, he’s a long shot in a crowded field of experienced candidates.
And while you may disagree with his policies or question his qualifications, Richerson’s story of perseverance and redemption is the kind that must be part of Fort Worth’s future.
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Cynthia Allen joined the Star-Telegram Editorial Board in 2014 after serving a decade in government and public affairs in Washington, DC. She serves on the editorial board and writes a weekly opinion column on a variety of topics including politics and beliefs and motherhood.