There are new Facebook pages for Keith Judd – several, in fact. Some emphasize the fact that he’s a politician – a pro-choice Democrat who wants to end the war in Iraq.
Other sites put the spotlight on Judd’s ambitions to be president – yes, of the United States. And the campaign slogan is a unique one, all right: ‘’From the Big House to the White House!’’ It’s not your average political tag line.
Then again, Judd is not your average presidential candidate. For one thing, he’s also a federal prisoner — inmate No. 11593-051, set for release in June 2013.
But his conviction, criminal behavior and record as a felon haven’t gotten much attention. The real focus has been on what Judd accomplished in West Virginia last Tuesday, when he managed to get himself on the state’s Democratic presidential primary ballot, against none other than an incumbent president, Barack Obama – and got a stunning 41 percent of the vote.
Call it a protest vote against a president who may be very unpopular in the state of West Virginia, which Obama lost in 2008, a kind of ‘Anybody But Obama’ vote, perhaps, and the reason why “Don’t Blame Me, I Voted For Keith Judd” bumper stickers are popping up online. But it raises some interesting questions just the same.
First, does the fact that nearly half of all voters in this particular state – from the president’s own party – cast their ballot for a man now in prison, rather than their party’s leader, suggest significant problems for the president as the November election gets closer? Or is West Virginia an isolated case, a state moving safely to the Republicans and not reflective of the rest of the nation?
And does Keith Judd’s quixotic campaign say something about a group that remains among the most heavily stigmatized in this society – convicted felons? In the age of the Tea Party protests, does Judd raise some critical issues about whether this nation has too many criminal penalties on the books — and too many people crowded into federal prisons for non-violent offenses who truly don’t belong there?
Good questions to raise.
AS GOES WEST VIRGINIA, SO GOES …..?
West Virginia is still, technically speaking, a Democratic state, in that registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans. It used to be a truly safe state for Democratic presidential candidates.
At the height of the Vietnam War in 1968, West Virginia was one of just 13 states to vote for Democrat Hubert Humphrey. In 1980, it was one of only six states to resist the Ronald Reagan landslide and vote for Jimmy Carter’s hapless re-election. In 1988, it joined just 9 other states in voting for Democrat Michael Dukakis — yes, the guy who rode in the tank. West Virginians voted comfortably for Bill Clinton in 1992 and 1996.
Then in 2000, Al Gore lost the state to George W. Bush – and with it, the election. West Virginia stuck with Bush in 2004 and then voted solidly for Republican John McCain over Obama in 2008. It could be said that rural, conservative, blue collar Democrats simply feel like they can’t connect with a liberal president from inner city Chicago.
Or it could be that the president has bigger worries this year as he seeks re-election presiding over an economy that’s failed to jump start after four straight years. Rough economic times can produce a fierce anti-incumbent sentiment that may not be entirely reflected in the polls. It happened in 2010, when even some obscure GOP candidates won surprise victories over veteran Democratic officeholders.
So is 41 percent of the vote an intimidating, scary percentage of the vote for the president to have lost in a once safely-Democratic state?
The White House would be crazy not to answer yes.
The president and his supporters will be defending a stimulus package that they say has revive the nation’s economy, even though many Americans still feel like the economy is in bad shape. The White House will also be defending a universal health care bill that critics say is keeping businesses from hiring again, as they fear the costs that might get imposed on them. It’s the ultimate political debate: is the government the solution to poverty, high unemployment and limited access to health care — or does it simply make a bad situation worse?
For those who answer in the latter, there’s another issue that the West Virginia primary raises, that hasn’t received much attention.
If we truly want less government, does that all mean fewer criminal penalties? Or do we need those penalties, even for non-violent offenses?
Which brings us to the next question: Who is Keith Judd?
THE VOICE OF THE POLITICALLY OPPRESSED?
Keith Russell Judd is an inmate at a federal prison in Beaumont, Texas. He made threats against the University of New Mexico, and landed in prison as a result.
Judd has sought to get on presidential primary ballots before. In 2008, this federal prisoner qualified for the presidential primary ballot in Idaho, even though he didn’t live in the state, because Idaho had eliminated the requirement that candidates first gather signatures. To get on the ballot, they simply filled out a form and paid a $1,000 fee. The Spokane Spokesman-Review newspaper in neighboring Spokane, Washington, reported that Judd sent forms and checks to 14 states, and got on the ballot in Idaho.
This year, he did the same in West Virginia’s Democratic primary. In a sign of just how unpopular the president is in that state, Judd got 41 percent to the president’s 59 percent. If that doesn’t send some shock waves vibrating through the White House, nothing will. Because frankly, it’s doubtful very many of those primary voters took the time to read about Judd’s background and status as a federal inmate.
They could have found that information from the Web site Project Vote Smart, which researches the backgrounds of all political candidates, no matter how obscure.
What’s known about Judd is that the Democrat is married, was born on May 23, 1958 in Pasadena, Calif., and now lists his home as Texarkana, Texas. He lists his religion as “Rastafarian-Christian,” an interesting combo. His campaign can be reached – and is likely accepting donations — at Post Office Box 7000, Texarkana, TX 75505.
Keith Judd for President. There’s even a few Facebook pages now.
Over the years, Judd has remained busy. His resume includes a list of activities, including being the organizer of the Homeless Peoples Voting Rights Association, the founder of World Peace Through Musical Communications Skills, a member of the American Civil Liberties Union and Families Against Mandatory Minimums. He was even a bass player with the Albuquerque Youth Symphony from 1970 to 1976. Now that’s diversity.
His work experience includes being a piano teacher, sound engineer for the Conavan East Nite Club, and sales representative for Grandma’s Music & Sound. Judd’s favorite president was Richard Nixon, because ‘’He got us out of Vietnam, and began world peace with China and the Soviets,’’ while his favorite quote comes from President John F. Kennedy — “Ask not what your country can do for you, but ask what you can do for your county.”
He loves the TV show “Star Trek,’’ once bowled a sanctioned 300 perfect game, and notes that his father, Homer T. Judd, designed the first Atomic Bomb while working for the Atomic Energy Commission.
One of his top political priorities is to “reinvent the public school system with ties to industries, community job-placement and higher education.’’
In one of his quarterly Federal Communications Commission reports, the member of the National Rifle Association even challenges the federal ban on convicted felons owning guns. He writes, with a Libertarian flair, “When a million convicted felons peaceably assemble to petition for a redress of grievances in Washington D.C. exercising the Second Amendment right, how is Congress going to regulate possession of a firearm under the Commerce Clause provision of 18 U.S.C. 922 (g) (1)? And how will the Supreme Court argue that possession of a firearm is an act affecting interstate commerce? How will the Supreme Court explain the 10th Amendment and Commerce Clause powers to millions of citizens put in federal prisons for mere possession of a gun, firearm or for home-grown medical marijuana or any other local drug possession or local sale or distribution that does not affect interstate commerce? And how is putting people in prison regulating commerce?’’
There’s no question that Judd is an intelligent man. And while he has no hope of defeating the president for renomination, he raises one critical issue about so-called “big government” — including Big Nanny Government.
SO WHY WAS I ARRESTED IN THE FIRST PLACE?
A lot of the president’s critics say Obama and the Democratic Party have pushed too much government on the American people, too much regulation of every aspect of the nation’s economy, including the complex health care system. That protest spirit, which helped give rise to the Tea Party movement and the huge Republican victories in 2010, raised the question of whether we needed more freedoms and less government overall.
Judd may directly or indirectly be raising another significant issue that rarely gets talked about: do we simply have too many criminal laws and penalties on the books? Are we sending too many people to prison for “crimes’’ that should not require incarceration? Are there victimless, non-violent crimes that are simply designed to protect the individual from themselves?
Within a few weeks, Judd could be a one-day story, an embarrassment for the supporters of the president, and a good laugh for the audience of “Fox News.’’
But he could also be the start of a new debate. If you truly are sick of big government, are you willing to look at all the criminal laws on the books now, and ask whether some of the things we now put people in federal prison for should be decriminalized, even removed from the books altogether? Can our once highly valued “tough on crime” approach be given a second look? And will the Tea Party demands for more freedom extend to those criminal penalties as well?
If change won’t come from Democrats, it’s unlikely to come from Republicans, either, despite the Tea Party influence. There are too many congressional and state Republicans who favor criminalizing abortion for women and physicians, overturning gay marriage laws in states where it’s now legal, and continuing a hopeless “War on Drugs” that’s gone nowhere for four decades. When one of the party’s leading presidential candidates starts asking questions about the morality — and possible legality — of birth control, you know the party has dived hopelessly off into the “I love big government” deep end.
So who can lead the nation to smaller government and more freedom?
Let the debate begin.