Adrian Heath will not be asking Gov. Greg Abbott for a pardon.
“No, I would not go begging to him and allow him to look gracious,” said Heath, 60, who was released earlier this month from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice after serving six months of a three-year sentence for illegal voting, a felony.
“Abbott was the one who illicitly put me in prison as some kind of political statement, making me a political prisoner,” Heath said. He’s now an unemployed convicted felon. A pardon would erase the conviction and allow him to continue his life without that albatross.
“I shouldn’t have to ask. Greg Abbott prosecuted me. I think Greg Abbott should spontaneously pardon someone he falsely accused,” he said.
Heath’s outspoken message for Abbott, and the state Attorney General’s office during Abbott’s reign as AG, is standard for the Australian immigrant and naturalized U.S. citizen, a father of two from the Woodlands.
Over the past decade, he’s run for local office, erected a website critical of established political institutions in both the Montgomery County and the state of Texas, and filed numerous public records requests that have been the bane of elected officials.
So accusing Abbott of a politically motivated prosecution is in keeping with Heath’s rebellious ways.
In May 2010, Heath and nine other politically-motivated colleagues, gathered at a Residence Inn hotel in the Woodlands Road Utility District, or RUD, a 2,500-acre taxing entity that was created in 1991 and is part of a Woodlands power structure that consists of developers, lawyers and public officials.
Heath’s coterie claimed residency by staying two nights at the hotel, relying on the state’s ill-defined voter residency laws. Health insists they consulted several times with elections officials at both the local and state level and were assured that their actions were lawful.
By a margin of 10-2, they elected three of themselves in order to overturn the balance of power in the road district, where the board had run without challenge for a decade.
The existing board, backed by an attorney from the district, called in some favors.
The first stop was to then-state Sen. Tommy Williams.
“A few moments ago, I concluded a conference call with the attorney general’s office on the voter fraud in the…township election,” Williams said in a September 15, 2010 email to RUD attorney James Stilwell and Bruce Tough, a local lawyer and a Woodlands Township board member.
Williams assured the two that he had personally shepherded the complaint to the AG’s office.
Williams did not respond to a request seeking comment.
The election was overturned, and the voters were criminally charged by the state. It took seven years and countless hours of taxpayer-funded prosecution costs to send Heath to prison.
“And what did it get them?” Heath asked.
The state contended that Heath knew he was subverting voting residence laws, claiming that that law demands an individual votes where he lives.
In the case of Heath, that rule was muddied by Heath’s contention that a 2004 opinion from Abbott advised that a college student “who intends that the dormitory be his residence for purposes of voter registration can permissibly register to vote in the county where the dormitory is located.”
Heath today points to the inconsistent policing of voters who register outside of their regular jurisdiction including the agents of the U.S Drug Enforcement Agency who register to the DEA office at Alliance Airport in Tarrant County, despite having local homes and the practice of voters being placed temporarily by developers on land in order to create a board of directors sympathetic to the developer’s interests.
He also notes the 9,000 to 12,000 voters in an RV park who are registered to a cinderblock building in Polk County, although some never set foot inside the park.
“The Attorney General of Texas went to bat for them to uphold the viability of their votes yet it won’t do the same for innocent voters in Montgomery County,” Heath said.
In addition to the politics of the prosecution, Heath insists, there was a financial motivation.
“They were urged by fellow travelers in the circle of developers of the Woodlands,” Heath said. “It’s their power base. We have a special district that is wholly owned and in the pocket of the developer, without any voter control. That is not a Republican form of government, but they want to maintain that power base.”
He continued: “There’s so much protection of the industry, this special purpose industrial complex. These people who moved all of this forward are recipients of campaign funds from the law firms involved in those districts. Some of the people who benefit from this money are some of our greatest heroes, like [state Attorney General Ken] Paxton, [state Sen. Brandon] Creighton and [state Lt. Gov. Dan] Patrick. All three of them take lots of money from these districts. Reforming the special district situation is a third rail issue for lawmakers.”
Creighton and Patrick did not respond to requests for comment. Paxton’s office declined to put a call through to spokesman Marc Rylander and he did not respond to an email.
Heath was released amidst a barrage of support letters to the three-members of the state Board of Parole, including one from Montgomery County Sheriff Rand Henderson.
“Mr. Heath consulted with a state regulatory agency that provides oversight for voter laws before he committed the crime for which he was convicted,” Henderson pointed out in the letter. “He acted upon the advice given to him, however poor or incorrect that advice may have been. I feel this act of prior consultation speaks of his intrinsic desire to obey all laws…”
At least a dozen such letters were sent on his behalf, said Jay Wright, Heath’s lawyer, who delivered the letters to the parole board.
“Usually these letters come from the mom, the dad, the brother or the sister,” Wright said. “In this case, they came from members of the community.”
As a parolee, Heath can no longer vote nor can he possess a firearm.
“I am basically not a citizen of the United States, am I?” said Heath, who became a citizen in 1992. “I’m not allowed to run for public office any more. I’m not allowed to travel freely, and I have to report to a lovely lady, a parole officer.”
He can still agitate, though, and even doing time hasn’t quelled that urge.
“As far as I know, I haven’t received any restrictions on speech,” he said, then considers. “Yet.”
Steve Miller can be reached at [email protected].