Sunday, March 23, 2014

Dragged through the slime machine

GUEST: Fran Knapp, former Dutchess County Democratic Elections Commissioner, talks about local politics as well as the "partisan political warfare" at the Board of Elections.

Fran served six terms in the Dutchess County Legislature, and has worked for many years a leader of the County Democratic Caucus. She was employed for 10 years as the Democratic Elections Commissioner before being forced to resign in December of 2013. Fran was ultimaely charged with two misdemeanor violations. Was it a political coup or had she committed serious violations of state election law?

She had been very active in thwarting Republican attempts to block voter registration. In fact, students at four area colleges had won a big victory with her help (Pitcher v. Dutchess County Board of Elections). They had been arbitrarily denied the vote for years based on arbitrary criteria like the technical names of their dormitory buildings or their room numbers.

Fran was ordered to testify before a grand jury made up of Republican cronies, and then charged with over over 60 supposed violations. The Republican county executive, speaking on NPR, pronounced her "guilt" of serious violations before she was even tried, and the local newspaper ran scathing articles about her "corruption" without bothering to get her side of the story. What was worse, some Democrats who had cozied up to the Republican machine refused to back her, and the legal cost of defending herself was going to be at least $100,000.

In the end, Fran was given a weekend to decide on a "plea bargain" that involved a $175 fine and her resignation from the Board of Elections. All but two counts were dropped, and they involved two incidents of incorrect paperwork out of the thousands of voters registered by the county. 

Is our political process hopelessly corrupt, even at this local level? I felt sorry for Fran. She had given many years of her life to making voting registration fair, only to be dragged through the slime machine by the good old boy network of corrupt politicians and rubber stamp journalists. 

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