As he prepares for Wednesday's all-important second presidential debate - Governor George W. Bush faces a much stronger opponent than Vice President Al Gore. Today he faces the dignified plea for a pardon (and the right to vote for him for President) of an indisputably innocent man who has been denied justice by Bush's much vaunted Texan judicial system.
And as Bush spends the next two days in plush surroundings memorizing lines about how compassionate he is - 39 year-old Anthony Robinson - an African-American who wrongly spent ten long years in a Texas jail as a convicted rapist will be waiting in a tiny room in Houston for the pardon that would enable him to recommence his life. If George Bush is able to take the (estimated) four seconds necessary to sign his name to the pardon document at some point today (Tuesday) then the innocent man will even be able to cast a vote in November's Presidential election.
It was in 1987 that Robinson - then a 26 year-old college graduate who had served in the military - was visiting a friend on the campus of the University of Houston That day, a woman was raped by an African-American male and Robinson who "fitted the description" was arrested - and despite his consistent protestations of innocence and offering to take blood tests, was convicted on just the eyewitness testimony of one person and was sentenced to a harsh 27 years imprisonment.
After ten years in a tough Texan jail, Robinson was paroled - and despite the difficulties of gaining employment as a convicted rapist, he spent the next three years struggling to save the $1,800 necessary to secure a DNA test to prove his innocence. Last month the results came in. Texas District Judge Elsa Alcala declared Robinson 100% incontrovertibly innocent.
Now Robinson is fighting for the state pardon from George W. Bush that will restore his rights - including the right to vote. Immediately after the court cleared Robinson, his Houston-based lawyer, Randy Schaffer, applied to the Texas Parole Board for the pardon. However, under Texan law, the parole board, which is headed by Bush's personal appointees, has no mandatory timeline in which to process the request. Given Bush's electoral ambitions, Schaffer states that he senses no rush on the part of Bush appointees to send disturbing admissions of Texan injustice which might gain harmful national attention to the aspiring President.
In any event, seeking the pardon is not some cosmetic pink ribbon to wrap up the legal nighmare that Robinson has endured for 13 years.
In his first national TV interview, last Friday, he spoke eloquently and with surprising grace for a man unjustly imprisoned for ten years. Interviewed by TV host and former prosecutor Nancy Grace on her nightly Court TV program "Pros & Cons" - Robinson explained why he spent three years scraping together the money to pay for the DNA test which proved his innocence. "There are people who knew me, believed in me, loved me - I HAD to prove that they had not misplaced their trust in me."
He was even more gracious when asked if he felt bitterness towards the woman who mistakenly identified him as her rapist. Rather than complaining that her error had deprived him of his liberty, he simply observed that the legal system from which she sought protection had failed her twice. "It convicted the wrong person and then in not owning up to its mistake, it leaves the actual criminal who raped her out there."
George Bush's well-documented disdain for lawyers means that even if Robinson sues the State of Texas for compensation over the 13 years he has spent fighting his wrongful conviction - the absolute maximum he can receive in "compassionate" cash would be $25,000 - less than $2,000 for each year of the stigma that still prevents him being employed in his first choice of profession - as a teacher.
Robinson has been hoping that Bush would move as swiftly to grant him the pardon that the Texas judiciary states he is undeniably owed as he has been in denying appeals and clemency for the 137 Texans (predominantly minorities) who have been executed in Bush's less than six years as Governor.
The end of Tuesday October 10th is the deadline by which George Bush must sign the pardon in order to restore Anthony Robinson's right to vote in this year's elections. It would be his first chance to vote for a President since Ronald Reagan was in the White House.
It was in addressing the issue of the pardon he seeks from George Bush that Robinson uttered his most eloquent words.
"As Commander-In-Chief, he would have to take an oath to protect and defend the constitution - and I believe that this is in keeping with the constitution. It says that we all have the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. And I want my chance to pursue some happiness after this ten year break in my life.
"I think that he owes it to the people of the United States, the people of Texas and to me. To grant me this pardon so that I can start my life over. I think it's only fair."
If his astonishingly graceful demeanor (given his ordeal) and his thoughtful words are anything to go by - granting Anthony Robinson his pardon in sufficient time to let him vote would not just give real meaning to Bush's self-description of being a COMPASSIONATE conservative - it would remove the only obstacle preventing Texas, and America, gaining another teacher. A horribly-wronged man who cares more for his right to vote and teach than his right for revenge and rancor is an example that would benefit all our children.
America needs voters and teachers like Anthony Robinson. But will George Bush give Anthony Robinson his rights back? Will George Bush give Anthony Robinson back to America?