In a profile by The Intercept, Lewis Conway Jr. explains why he’s running for Austin City Council in District 1, and how his prior conviction for stabbing a man almost three decades ago could prevent him from winning a seat.
“It’s about giving people a voice who have been…historically voiceless,” Conway says of his candidacy in a video posted to his campaign website. “It’s about…providing people a tangible example of what can happen when opportunities are given.”
“There’s nothing exceptional about me,” he continues. “I’ve just been given exceptional opportunities.”
A Texas state statute, however, makes the path to office for Conway a murky one because of his criminal record.
In 1991, Conway began selling drugs to pay his college tuition, according to The Intercept. It started with weed, than moved on to crack cocaine. He reportedly didn’t use it, but saw the money he could make by selling it and decided to get involved.
Early one morning, an addict woke him up, pushed past him and stole his money and stash of drugs he was supposed to sell. Conway knew he would be in deep with the dealer who was providing the drugs if he didn’t get them back, so when his friends alerted him that the guy was back in the apartment complex, Conway went to confront him.
On the way out of the apartment, he grabbed a pocket knife.
“It was an afterthought,” he said in an interview with The Intercept. “I just grabbed it.”
When Conway confronted the thief, the man reached for a gun. Conway panicked and stabbed him. When he realized what he’d done, Conway called the cops, led them to the scene and confessed. He was arrested.
He would spend eight years in prison and 12 on parole, the 20-year sentence a result of a plea deal in which Conway pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter. His sentence was up in 2013.
Today, Conway, 48, makes no effort to minimize what he did, but says it shouldn’t define his future, or the futures of people like him.
Thought Conway is a convicted felon, his voting rights are restored. A section of the Texas election code enacted in 1985, however, may bar him from his recently declared run for city office.
A section of the code states a person cannot not have been “finally convicted” of a felony from which they have not been “pardoned or otherwise released from the resulting disabilities” and run for office.
Conway’s attorney, Ricco Garcia, is focused on the ‘disability’ portion of that statement. Conway’s voting rights could qualify as a “disability” resulting from his felony conviction that has since been restored.
According to a report from the U.S. Office of the Pardon Attorney, the procedures for the restoration of rights after a felony conviction are varied, and sometimes don’t exist at all. As such, a large number of people are left disenfranchised for crimes far less serious than the one Conway committed back in 1991.
The Texas election code contributes to the problem because it doesn’t clarify what specific disabilities need to be restored in order for a candidate to run for office. Conway’s voting rights are back, but he may also need to be eligible to sit on a jury to qualify for office according to The Intercept.
After working in advocacy, prison ministry and nonprofits, Conway says he wants to use his story to affect change in the lives of others, but whether he’ll get to do so remains uncertain.
Conway will be running against Councilwoman Ora Houston, who according to NBC 5, says Conway deserves to run because he’s served his time.
Candidates will officially file applications to be on the ballot in the summer, requiring affidavits showing they are eligible to run.