Is Every Crime A Life Sentence? Is the Debt to Society Ever Paid?

Today, in a news report by WRAL's Cullen Browder, posted on, House Speaker Joe Hackney was "linked" to convicted felon Bladen County business man Ron Taylor by the fact that his name appeared below Taylor's on an invitation to a political fundraiser. Taylor was convicted in 1982 of accepting a bribe while serving in the statehouse and also pleaded guilty of plotting to setting a rival's tobacco warehouse on fire.

Chris Fitzsimon, executive director of government watchdog group NC Policy Watch, was quoted as saying "It's a little troubling that, in this era of public mistrust of government and all the ethics scandals, that our leaders wouldn't be a little more careful about where their name is used."

Speaker Hackney says he plans to uphold his promise and attend the fundraiser.

Is anyone else bothered by the fact that Speaker Hackney's judgment is being questioned because he is attending an event hosted by someone who was convicted of a crime 25 years ago and served his sentence? Somehow this concept that a criminal who has supposedly paid their debt to society must remain a pariah for the rest of their life and must be shunned by those in office bothers me.



I think in a lot of cases, prejudice against people who have committed crimes in the past is unfair and unwarranted.  But if you look at the crime that Ron Taylor was convicted of (accepting a bribe while a member of government), I think it is reasonable for people to raise an eyebrow when he pokes his nose back into politics.  If he was trying to get a job as a school teacher, I don't think this would be an issue.

 To put it in another light, I might give a convicted and reformed pedophile a job in a bank twenty years after he committed his crime, but I'd be unlikely to let him babysit my child.  Is it fair?  Perhaps not, but I wouldn't feel guilty about it.

Likewise, Joe Hackney's association with someone who is associated with government corruption is very probably completely innocent, but one has a right to wonder about it.  Just why is Ron Taylor getting involved in politics, and why is Joe Hackney associating with him?

 Successfully completing a prison sentence means one has paid his debt to society, but it doesn't necessarily win back the trust and presumption of good will that was sacrificed when the crime was committed. 

Hackney should disassociate himself from this situation, but the fact that his name was on an invitation demonstrates very little - especially given Hackney's long, long honorable track record.
Hi Mark:

No question about it -- Hackney's name on an invitation almost certainly demonstrates nothing.  My point was more about Taylor than Hackney.

I do believe, though, that voters have a right to wonder about who their elected politicians are hanging out with, and why.  How many times in this election cycle have we seen a presidential candidate have to return a campaign donation because it came from a dodgy source?  Voter (and media) oversight of politicians is often hyper-reactive, conspiracy-centric, politically motivated and generally irrational, but for every dozen or so "Hackney linked to so-and-so" episodes, there's a Jim Black debacle.

 I seriously doubt Joe Hackney's reputation will take a serious hit from this, but it comes as no surprise that it was deemed worthy of mention on, and less surprising that a policy watchdog thought so too.  I don't agree that the so-called link is "troubling", but nor do I think there's anything wrong with pointing it out publicly.

That's cool - but how about equal treatment for all politicos and captains of industry? We live in land of the double standard.

I appreciate the replies and I agree with everyone that there is probably nothing sinister about Joe Hackney allowing his name to be on that fundraiser invitation. But it sounds like AE and Mark agree that Ron Taylor is "damaged goods" and that Speaker Hackney used poor judgment in allowing his name to be associated with Taylor's. So, without knowing anything about how Mr. Taylor has spent the last 21-22 years since getting out of prison, I ask my original question again: are we a "one-strike and your out" society that doesn't believe in reformation? Once a criminal, always a criminal?

I understand that certain cases, such as pedophiles and sexual predators are treated differently. I just find it makes me a little uncomfortable that we have such low tolerance for someone who has supposedly paid for their mistake. Maybe our general intolerance toward imperfection is one of the reasons that so many of our business executives are loathe to admit their mistakes and instead go to great lengths to cover them up.

Martha Stewart, Bill Clinton, Alex Zaffron come to mind immediately, along with someone else quite recently who shall remain nameless in the interest of peace.

Hi George:

 I very much appreciate your approach to this issue, and to a large extent I agree with you.  I find myself somewhat surprised to be playing the heavy in this discussion, but there's no question that the things we did in the past have lasting, occasionally unfair consequences.  Sometimes the damage we do to ourselves, either through bad judgement, laziness, negligence, stupidity or momentary greed can impact us for the rest of our lives.

Twenty-six years ago I unknowingly got in the car with a drunk driver.  The price for my negligence? About 3 lbs of steel in my hip, thigh and knee, and I start to ache about an hour before the rain starts.  I'm stuck with this for the rest of my life, and I'm frankly lucky to be alive.  That momentary lapse of vigilance is a permanent part of my life, and no amount of goodwill can change it.

Likewise for Ron Taylor -- he can serve his sentence, and he can be a really, really, really good person for the rest of his life, but the shadow of his past is part of him now, just as my past is part of me.  Mr. Taylor walks free, he can get a job, buy a house, get married, and live a useful and prosperous life, but just as I have to endure hand-screenings at the airport, he's stuck with the scarlet letter of corruption. If he has reformed, his friends and family will know it, and the fact that strangers have doubts about his virtue won't mean that much.  But if he gets involved in politics, his past is going to be an issue.  It might be unfair -- certainly my past bears little resemblance to who I've become, but how are we to judge people we don't know if not by their actions?  And with politicians, we must judge them, because we're giving them (literally) the keys to the kingdom.




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