Breaking News
More () »

Can a convicted felon run for office? Austin may soon find out

Lewis Conway Jr. accepted a plea deal for voluntary manslaughter in 1992. He's since become a criminal justice program organizer for a non-profit and had his voting rights restored. But can he run for office?

On the surface, this looks like a fairly standard campaign event.

The center of attention is anything but.

"I felt like he pulled a gun on me, and I killed him in self defense," explained Lewis Conway Jr., a candidate for District 1 Austin City Council Member, as he stood near a row of tables at a fundraising event in North Austin.

Lewis Conway Jr. doesn't hide his past. In 1992, Conway accepted a plea deal for voluntary manslaughter.

"I was a young scared kid. I was 21 years old playing a game. I had no idea what the rules were, but I called the cops, just like you'll see in my statements, I killed him in self defense," Conway explained.

He served eight years in prison, and 12 more on probation. In 2013, his voting rights were restored.

"The first thing they strip from you in prison is your identity. And being able to vote again felt like putting on that identity again of being a citizen, of being human again after being treated sub-human," said Conway.

The question now: Can he run?

"As you see, we're running," smiled Conway.

According to Texas Election Code, a convicted felon would need either a pardon or a "judicial release from his or her disabilities." The vague phrasing has called his eligibility into question.

"I think the onus of defining their law is on (the state). And I don't think we should be punished for an ambiguousness there, a nebulous there. And I think the law was put there to prevent people from testing it," Conway argued.

In a statement, the Secretary of State's office defined "release from disabilities" as "a declaration from a judge or some kind of court document indicating the convicted felon is eligible to run for and hold public office in the State of Texas."

However, they added the office "does not know what such a declaration or document would look like, because we are not aware of any case where that has occurred."

"We feel like the people who are supporting us understand that democracy is an experimental process and this thing called democracy is a perfecting process. And we feel like our campaign is the canary in a coal mine in terms of Texas electoral politics. If we're not allowed to run, then we say the people should determine whether we are allowed to run or not," said Conway.

With help from an attorney, Conway is exploring his legal options to try and find a path.

For now, he's spending money, and raising it from others.

"Our past is our past and our present is our present. And folks with our background should be judged what they're doing now, and not the worst day of their lives 20 years ago," said Conway.

As for his platform, Conway called on healthcare for all people regardless of income, bringing more hospitals and banks to the East Side, addressing affordability concerns, and communal land trusts.

KVUE reached out to District 1 Council Member Ora Houston for an interview request. As of Tuesday night, she has not responded.

KVUE also reached out to the City Clerk for clarification on Conway's eligibility. As of Tuesday night, the office did not respond.

Before You Leave, Check This Out