Oh No! I Agree With The Koch Brothers!



By John R. Marks, III, Esq.
Special to the Outlook

A recent article in USA Today really grabbed my attention. In the Money Section there was this headline,”Koch Drops Criminal History Question.”

The article addressed the issue of criminal background checks. Koch Industries, it seems, removed the criminal history question from their job applications. What? The ultra conservative, right wing, Republican deep pockets believe criminals can be rehabilitated and gainfully employed?

I find myself in a slightly uncomfortable position agreeing with the Koch Brothers. After all, aside from being billionaires, the Koch Brothers are best known for their support of Republican candidates and libertarian causes. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but I don’t quite understand how or why they got on the “ban the box” bandwagon. This is not an issue you would expect to find on a right wing, conservative, Republican agenda.

Let me explain, to determine who might receive the benefit of their campaign contribution largesse, the brothers intend to interview five potential presidential candidates, all right-wing, conservative and Republican. I’ll be transparent. I support the current occupant of the White House and his policies. After all, the stock market is up; unemployment is down; we’re in Cuba; we’re out of Afghanistan; Osama Bin Laden is dead; and we have a healthcare system that benefits millions of Americans. I doubt the Koch brothers have the same high regard for the president. This leaves me in somewhat of a quandary. I’m agreeing with the Koch brothers and I haven’t been struck by lightning.

On this particular issue Charles Koch and his brother are absolutely, positively correct and should be commended for their progressive foresight. The criminal background question on initial employment applications should be eliminated. As stated in the news article, “Do we want to be judged for the rest of our life for something that happened on our worst day?”

The City of Tallahassee recently adopted a policy to “ban the box” on its employment applications. The City Manager could have unilaterally made the decision, however she wisely decided to allow the City Commission to weigh in on the issue. By a 3 to 2 vote the commission decided to “ban the box”. (No comments on the split vote).

My motivation (and apparently the Koch Brothers’ too) for supporting this policy is very simple and direct. In order to reduce criminal recidivism, two things are needed when an individual is released from prison: a place to live and an opportunity to be gainfully employed. “Banning the box” can certainly help the latter issue. This is especially true regarding African-American males. We have all heard the mantra, there are more African-American males in prison than in college; their unemployment rate is disproportionately high; they prefer selling drugs than working. In light of recent events, we all can agree that there is a serious problem. But we must also realize it is not an African-American male or a black problem. It is an American problem and a community problem. It is everybody’s problem and it will not be solved until we all come to that realization. The Koch Brothers apparently understand this. Their initiative will not solve the problem, but it can have a huge impact.

The city’s policy is only applicable to those applying for jobs with the City of Tallahassee. The city does not have the authority to impose such a policy on the private sector. Frankly, I don’t believe government should have such authority or power. Will adopting such a policy by the private sector address all the issues or solve all the problems facing African-American males? NO. Will it help? Absolutely! Besides being a good financial, social, economic and emotionally uplifting policy, it just makes good business sense.

The Tallahassee Chamber of Commerce, the Capital City Chamber of Commerce, the Big Bend Minority Chamber of Commerce and all private sector employers should, in the words of Spike Lee, “do the right thing.”