DETROIT – Among the string of new faces that secured Election Day victories last Tuesday, there was an unexpected victor in a Michigan State House race that has raised more than a few eyebrows. Detroit Democrat Brian Banks won a spot in the state house despite being an eight-time convicted felon.
“Yes, I’ve made many poor decisions, and yes, I have a record, but that’s exactly what it is, my past,” Banks said. “I would ask them to look at what I’ve accomplished professionally and academically, since my poor decisions.”
Banks, 35, won Michigan’s 1st District – which is comprised of Detroit’s east side, Harper Woods, and the affluent Grosse Pointes – despite being convicted of writing bad checks and credit card fraud eight times between 1998 and 2004. Banks, whose campaign slogan was ironically “You Can Bank on Banks,” won in a landslide, garnering 68 percent of the vote to just 32 percent for Republican Dan Schulte.
“You can’t be an attorney or doctor with a felony, and I don’t think you can teach elementary school with a felony,” Schulte told the Detroit Free Press in September. “If you can’t do any of those things, I don’t know why you can be a legislator.”
Banks, whose last conviction came at age 27, talked about his criminal past during his campaign – which included passing bad checks in Grosse Pointe Woods, one of the cities he will serve in the state house. He was able to run for office thanks to a loophole in the state’s constitution.
In 2010, Michigan voters approved an amendment banning anyone convicted of a felony in the last 20 years from running for office. The loophole: the conviction has to be “related to the person’s official capacity while holding any elective office.” Meaning that while – for example – former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick is ineligible, Banks was not.
In his first run at public office, and with no incumbent running in the newly drawn District 1, Banks defeated four other Democrats in the primary before easily defeating Schulte. Banks has a law degree and says that he is currently working on his PhD.
He drew endorsements from various unions including the UAW, and had initially drawn the endorsement of Wayne Country Sheriff Benny Napoleon, before he found out about Banks’ convictions. He would not be the first member of the Michigan legislature with a criminal past, as current State Sen. Bert Johnson was convicted of armed robbery in 1993 as a 19-year-old in Detroit.
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