Just as he's set to leave office, the governor of Kentucky makes a bold move to help ex-convicts.

Politicians frequently do their best work when they no longer have to play politics.

The latest example? Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear, whose term is up in January, signed an executive order restoring voting rights to convicted felons who have completed their sentences.


The executive order doesn't apply to all convicted felons — according to Beshear, felons convicted of violent crimes, sex crimes, bribery, or treason will still not be allowed to vote — but thousands of Kentucky residents who have served their time for nonviolent offenses will finally have their full citizenship rights back.


And that's a good thing.

What? I don't get it. Who cares if criminals have the right to vote?

Photo by Darren McCollester/Getty Images.

Many convicted felons aren't unredeemable bad guys. Plenty were sent away for nonviolent offenses. Often, they're normal people who did something stupid once. Preventing them from voting is, essentially, a permanent punishment for offenses that can be as minor as selling marijuana or stealing a laptop.

Banning felons from the polls — though a race and class-neutral policy on its face — winds up disenfranchising a highly disproportionate number of poor and non-white voters.

And unlike 99.9% of all things, Beshear's order actually has bipartisan support. Though Beshear is a Democrat, Kentucky's incoming governor, Republican Matt Bevin, has said that he agrees with the idea in principle.

The best thing we can do for convicted criminals is integrate them back into society.

In theory, prison is supposed to help rehabilitate prisoners (that's where the "correctional" in "correctional facility" comes from). In reality, it's too often treated as punishment for punishment's sake.

For many former prisoners, losing their voting rights is just one component of the problem. Many struggle to find employment when they get out because many companies refuse to hire ex-convicts. As a result, many end up homeless or turn back to crime as a means of supporting themselves.

Politicians shouldn't have to wait until they're heading out of office to do what's right.

Especially when it comes to doing what's right for people who have already served their time.

Photo by AFP/Getty Images.

While it's easy to blame politicians for failing to step up to protect the rights of ex-convicts, it's hard not to understand why they don't. Being "soft on crime" is often a one-way ticket to losing elections. Tying all crime committed by ex-offenders to incumbents to reform sentencing is a time-honored tactic — that too frequently works.

It's on us to support politicians who want a humane, fair justice system that punishes appropriately with the goal of full rehabilitation and reintegration — and to understand that zero crime ever, unfortunately, not realistic. It's additionally on us not to reward those who prey on the fear of crime to keep former offenders indefinitely alienated from society.

Though some of their former actions may shock and offend, convicted felons are people too.

If they've done the time they were ordered to do, they deserve a second chance to be citizens.

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Disney has come under fire for problematic portrayals of non-white and non-western cultures in many of its older movies. They aren't the only one, of course, but since their movies are an iconic part of most American kids' childhoods, Disney's messaging holds a lot of power.

Fortunately, that power can be used for good, and Disney can serve as an example to other companies if they learn from their mistakes, account for their misdeeds, and do the right thing going forward. Without getting too many hopes up, it appears that the entertainment giant may have actually done just that with the new Frozen II film.

According to NOW Toronto, the producers of Frozen II have entered into a contract with the Sámi people—the Indigenous people of the Scandinavian regions—to ensure that they portray the culture with respect.

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Though there was not a direct portrayal of the Sámi in the first Frozen movie, the choral chant that opens the film was inspired by an ancient Sámi vocal tradition. In addition, the clothing worn by Kristoff closely resembled what a Sámi reindeer herder would wear. The inclusion of these elements of Sámi culture with no context or acknowledgement sparked conversations about cultural appropriation and erasure on social media.

Frozen II features Indigenous culture much more directly, and even addressed the issue of Indigenous erasure. Filmmakers Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck, along with producer Peter Del Vecho, consulted with experts on how to do that respectfully—the experts, of course, being the Sámi people themselves.

Sámi leaders met with Disney producer Peter Del Vecho in September 2019.Sámediggi Sametinget/Flickr

The Sámi parliaments of Norway, Sweden and Finland, and the non-governmental Saami Council reached out to the filmmakers when they found out their culture would be highlighted in the film. They formed a Sámi expert advisory group, called Verddet, to assist filmmakers in with how to accurately and respectfully portray Sámi culture, history, and society.

In a contract signed by Walt Disney Animation Studios and Sámi leaders, the Sámi stated their position that "their collective and individual culture, including aesthetic elements, music, language, stories, histories, and other traditional cultural expressions are property that belong to the Sámi," and "that to adequately respect the rights that the Sámi have to and in their culture, it is necessary to ensure sensitivity, allow for free, prior, and informed consent, and ensure that adequate benefit sharing is employed."

RELATED: This aboriginal Australian used kindness and tea to trump the racism he overheard.

Disney agreed to work with the advisory group, to produce a version of Frozen II in one Sámi language, as well as to "pursue cross-learning opportunities" and "arrange for contributions back to the Sámi society."

Anne Lájla Utsi, managing director at the International Sámi Film Institute, was part of the Verddet advisory group. She told NOW, "This is a good example of how a big, international company like Disney acknowledges the fact that we own our own culture and stories. It hasn't happened before."

"Disney's team really wanted to make it right," said Utsi. "They didn't want to make any mistakes or hurt anybody. We felt that they took it seriously. And the film shows that. We in Verddet are truly proud of this collaboration."

Sounds like you've done well this time, Disney. Let's hope such cultural sensitivity and collaboration continues, and that other filmmakers and production companies will follow suit.

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