COLUMBIA — A state senator hopes to keep certain ex-convicts from holding public office in the wake of a controversy over Edgefield County school board hopeful Nathaniel Jackson, who served three years in federal prison in the 1980s.
Jackson, who was released in 1991 after serving his drug-trafficking sentence, says people should be able to get on with their lives and participate in their communities like everyone else.
“My belief is that once you’ve done your time, served your probation and all that, you should have the opportunity to proceed with your life,” Jackson said Tuesday. “This situation happened 25 years ago. Why should I be ineligible to run, or anybody, really?”
Sen. Shane Massey, R-Edgefield, said he plans to introduce legislation this week aimed at tightening election standards, which he said would affect future elections and probably have no bearing on Jackson’s candidacy.
“Schools should be safe havens for our children,” said Massey. “In order to make that happen, there are certain people who should not have access to the classroom. Convicted drug traffickers, I think, are in that category.”
The issue is an offshoot of the original dispute surrounding Jackson’s school board aspirations.
On Dec. 29, Lexington Circuit Court Judge Knox McMahon reversed the Edgefield County Election Commission’s Oct. 21 decision to disqualify Jackson.
The county had sided with parent Charles Kemp, who had challenged Jackson’s residency qualification, arguing that Jackson did not live at the Johnston address that he claimed.
Last year, Kemp and commission members pointed to the lack of electricity and utilities at Jackson’s house. Jackson, a tax preparer, bus driver and subcontractor, countered that he was renovating it and relied on generators and containers of water in the interim.
Jackson had prevailed in a similar residency challenge in his unsuccessful 2006 school board run.
He was listed on the ballot in the Nov. 2 election despite the county election commission’s decision several days earlier because there was not enough time to omit him.
In that election, Jackson received 429 votes; William Herrin, 292; and Roman Whitfield, 195.
After the judge’s decision supporting Jackson, Kemp said he hoped Herrin would defeat Jackson in the runoff election.
“(Jackson) is a disruption to good, hard-working people in Edgefield County, and we need some help from our legislators,” Kemp said. “We’re doing all we can do with the laws we have, and we still can’t get justice.”
While Massey is preparing to introduce legislation, his colleague Rep. Bill Clyburn, who is the county’s only Democratic lawmaker, said the matter is local.
“It’s just a matter of having the runoff election,” Clyburn said. “If the court says no law has been broken, then I don’t know what the delegation would do.”
Jackson said a runoff election could take place as early as April.
Courtesy: Augusta Chronicle