Don't Pardon Sen. Alicia Hansen

The League of Women Voters of the U.S. Virgin Islands (LWV-VI) opposes a Gubernatorial pardon for Senator Alicia “Chucky” Hansen. On August 31, 2014, the governor issued a press release stating that he was deliberating whether or not he would grant such a pardon. Our reasons for opposing a pardon are indicated below.
The rule of law is the basic underpinning of every civilized society. It is a social contract we all sign just by virtue of being citizens, wherein we declare that we will behave in ways that will do no harm to ourselves, each other, or the society as a whole. On May 28, 2009, Senator Alicia Hansen broke the bonds of this social contract when she was convicted of not one, not two, but three counts of Willful Failure to File a Tax Return. She purposefully did not pay her fair share of the tax burden.
As a society, we rely on tax revenues to pay for the upkeep of our roads, to maintain our education system, care for the elderly, the sick, and the disabled, and generally ensure the public welfare. It is the duty of every citizen to shoulder this responsibility and the majority of us, even during these times of austerity and under great financial burden, commit to those payments annually on April 15th. Senator Hansen broke the law, with willful disregard. When the challenge was raised and timely filed, the Supreme Court of the U.S. Virgin Islands decided unanimously that her conduct rose to the level of moral turpitude and would make her ineligible to be considered in future elections.
Section 6 (b) of the Revised Organic Act allows for a pardon to restore the Civil Rights of an offender. However, it does not legislate the morality of such a pardon or the message it sends to all members of this community. The message that morally defective politicians are not only allowed to serve in the most “honorable” positions in our community, but that status conveys preferential treatment.
At a time when lawlessness has reached such a fever pitch that our streets, especially in St. Croix where Ms. Hansen resides, are vacant at night to the detriment of those few businesses who stubbornly remain open, because the populace is so afraid to leave their homes. At a time, where the regard for each other has been so eroded that some would think nothing of threatening the lives of a sitting Senator and rob them of their possessions in public. In this time, saying yes to a pardon for Ms. Hansen is saying to every single member of this community, “It is OK to break the law as long as you are a lawmaker, as long as you are well connected, as long as you are a public official, as long as you are popular.” Then forgiveness becomes your “right” as was the language in the press release.
This should not be the legacy message of the DeJongh administration. This is a decision that will have far rippling effects beyond the day it is made; a decision that will inform the way government officials behave while in office and holding the public trust. The Hansen Pardon will live as a specter in all minds that no matter what harm they do to the public welfare their conduct, for no other reason than popularity and connections, can be set aside.
What would happen if we all decided to ignore the mandates of April 15th? What harm would come to these islands? What rescue or pardon would come for the average, unpopular, unconnected citizen who broke the tax laws? Would there be an across the board protection for them? We live in a democracy, not a monarchy. Equal Protection is equal application of the law. To pardon Ms. Hansen is an offense to every principle we hold to as a community and exactly the wrong message. A seat in the Legislature is not the only way this individual can demonstrate her commitment to this community. It would be a great wrong to purify her immoral conduct, as defined by the Supreme Court, with the wave of an Executive pen. It is the worst message at the worst time for a population struggling to shape its growing understanding of who we want to be in a post-HOVENSA Virgin Islands.
Further, it should be noted that a pardon is merely a restoration of her civil rights. It is our opinion that it does not apply retroactively but is prospective in nature. Even if she were to be pardoned now, it would mean that she would be eligible in the next election cycle, not this one, as she was not pardoned prior to the time of her election filings and was at that time, per the mandate of the Supreme Court’s decision, ineligible to run.
Additionally, the tone of the press release, while attempting to sound neutral conveys a sense of a “done deal.” That it was issued over the long Labor Day weekend with the Government closed until Tuesday, and with language that speaks to “protecting the rights of Ms. Hansen” it leaves a soured impression that her “rights” trumps the rights of all of us who follow the law. Moreover, a pardon should never be considered as an “entitlement”, as something an individual has a “right” to obtain. No one is entitled to a pardon. By its very nature a pardon is a privilege, a gift, a message to the offender that they have been redeemed and granted participation in the social contract again. The solemn privilege of a pardon should be given the narrowest of issuances so that those who break the public trust, no matter who they are, know that there are lasting consequences to their actions—consequences that will serve to deter actions like Ms. Hansen’s by others who would think to perpetrate the same or worst.
Finally, the League reminds the governor and the public that in the recent past a former senator was removed from the Legislature because he broke the law by voting in a district in which he was not a resident. In that case, the Legislature wasted no time in removing the Senator. Why is that not being done here?
The League exhorts Governor DeJongh to think not only of Ms. Hansen, or those who support her, but of the lasting message being sent to this community, to future officials, and to history.
The League of Women Voters of the U.S. Virgin Islands

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