AUSTIN (KXAN) — A convicted felon running for Austin City Council will have his name on the ballot in November.
Lewis Conway Jr. filed to run for District 1 on July 23. However, the city clerk told Conway he might be ineligible to run last week.
After consulting with the city attorney and reviewing the documents Conway and his attorney provided showing he was eligible to run, the city clerk will not be rejecting his application to appear on the ballot, a city spokesperson said Tuesday.
Conway applauded the city for this decision.
“I think Austin is living up to its name and I think Austin is giving us as black folks a reason to believe in Austin again,” he said.
Conway spent eight years in prison and 12 on parole after pleading guilty to a voluntary manslaughter charge in 1992. He stabbed a man to death in an east Austin neighborhood. Currently, he works as a community organizer with Grassroots Leadership.
The candidate says his application was in question because the Texas law states “an individual with a felony conviction must be ‘released from resulting disabilities’ in order to run for office.”
“I am happy that Austin is standing up for the nearly four million Texans affected by our criminal justice system,” Conway said in a news release. “Our campaign is about more than just an election, it’s about diversity in leadership, belief in a fair chance, and bringing the sentence to an end.”
Conway said that if he knew when he started his campaign that he’d be challenging a state law, he probably wouldn’t have run. But now he’s come to embrace the challenge, believing his efforts will help the other Texans currently barred from running for office because of their criminal history.
Both Conway and state officials have told KXAN that they are unaware of anyone else in Texas who has challenged the law.
“I’m excited about both sides of the aisle understanding the importance of folks like me being able to end our sentence,” he said.
However, Conway will likely have to face other hurdles with the state election law he is challenging.
The Texas Secretary of State’s Office said that a convicted felon needs a pardon or a judicial release to be eligible to run for office.
“Our office’s position on this matter has been clear since we issued a 2004 memo from then-Director of Elections Ann McGeehan,” explained a spokesperson with the Texas Secretary of State’s office.
While their office has no enforcement authority in this case, they noted that they do not believe the records Conway has provided so far qualify as a judicial release or a pardon, at least under current legal precedents.
A spokesperson for the office explained that another candidate, the Austin mayor, the District Attorney’s Office, or the state could all file legal challenges to Conway’s candidacy. This means that even if Conway is elected, he could still face more legal battles.
But Conway said he has heard of no challenges from any of these parties to his candidacy so far, so he is proceeding with his campaign full-steam ahead. He also is not entirely clear on what the Secretary of State’s Office means by a “judicial release” and would like to sit down with them to talk about it.
“I’m running, I’m on the ballot,” he said.
Conway added that he hopes his candidacy opens the door for other people to run for office who might not have otherwise.
“If you’re able to give me a chance and that makes it easier for somebody who might not be as palatable,” he said. Conway wants to use his campaign to talk about how people of color are treated in the criminal justice system.
“The clemency process is onerous and burdensome, and oftentimes if we’re not careful, black folks are the most directly impacted by the criminal justice system and when we deny folks based upon their background, sometimes — most times — we are teasing into denying folks based upon their race,” Conway said.