Austin’s city clerk will allow Lewis Conway Jr.’s run for City Council to proceed, despite his felony conviction, a city spokesman said Tuesday.
Conway killed a man in 1991 and was convicted of voluntary manslaughter. He served his prison sentence, had his voting rights restored and is now a community organizer with Grassroots Leadership. He views his run in East Austin’s District 1 as a way to challenge a provision of a Texas law that says a felon cannot hold public office unless he has been pardoned “or otherwise released from the resulting disabilities.” That phrase remains unclear, as it has never been tested in court.
Conway applied for a place on the ballot on the first day of filing, July 23. Last week on Friday evening, City Clerk Jannette Goodall emailed him saying she had received a record indicating he was ineligible to run. Attached was a copy of his conviction.
Monday, Conway and his attorney, Ricco Garcia, met with city legal staff to argue that Conway completing his probation and having his voting rights restored should count as being “released from the resulting disabilities” of his conviction.
Garcia said Austin’s interpretation of the phrase, one way or another, could be important precedent in a state where felons typically have been blocked from running for office.
Goodall ultimately decided that she had no documentation to show that Conway’s rights had not been fully restored and she would not challenge his run, city spokesman David Green said.
In a text message, Conway called his place on the ballot a victory.
“Precedent set for 4 million Texans and thousands of Austinites,” he said. “Austin is once again leading on behalf of folks with criminal justice involvement and giving people like me a Fair Chance.”
The Texas secretary of state’s office, which oversees elections, has said since 2004 that candidacy rights are not automatically restored the way voting rights are and a felon must obtain a judicial release to run for office.
Austin officials have two opportunities to declare Conway ineligible, secretary of state spokesman Sam Taylor said in an email Tuesday. The first is during the filing of ballot applications, which they have declined to do. The second would be during election canvassing, if Conway was to win, when the mayor could declare him ineligible.
If the mayor does nothing and Conway is elected, either the attorney general or the Travis County district attorney can bring legal action against him, Taylor said.
Conway is in a field of six contenders to replace outgoing Council Member Ora Houston. Lawyer Vincent Harding, small-business consultant Natasha Harper-Madison, homeless advocate Mariana Salazar, grant monitor Reedy Spigner and Mitrah Avini also are running for the seat. Election Day is Nov. 6.