Occasionally I make a post in which I take a very unpopular position because I believe it is right.
Also occasionally I end up having to defend a conservative Republican because they were right about something.
And both of those are the case in this post.
A lot is being made in the media about the murder of four police officers in Washington State by Maurice Clemmons, an ex-con from Arkansas who was sentenced there to 95 years for a series of violent offenses but who subsequently had his sentence commuted by then-Governor Mike Huckabee (who ran for President in 2008 and may run again in 2012.) It's not the first time that Huckabee has been criticized for a pardon or sentence commutation; during last year's campaign he was criticized for letting a man go who later killed a woman in Missouri.
Certainly the families of the victims have a point that had Huckabee not commuted Clemmons' sentence to time served then the tragic events of this week would never have happened and four parents (and all four of the murdered officers were parents) would have tucked their children into bed last night instead of a grieving spouse having to explain to those children why daddy (or mommy, as one of the murdered officers was a woman) won't be there to tuck them in ever again.
And you can be sure that people working for Mitt Romney, Sarah Palin, Tim Pawlenty and any other potential 2012 Republican nominee is filing every story about this for use later (and yes, I'm sure that David Axelrod has been putting together a file on this story too, in case Huckabee gets far enough to be running against Obama in 2012.)
However, Huckabee is correct when he points out that the board which makes recommendations made this recommendation and he acted on it. Further the whole affair highlights a broader issue.
Governors have the right to make pardons and commute sentences. But (Huckabee apparently being an exception) most make very few or none. The reason why is obvious: Even if 999 out of a thousand pardons or commutations go on and live productive, meaningful lives (meaning among other things that we as taxpayers are no longer paying to keep them locked up) it is the one out of a thousand who does something like murder four police officers in cold blood that you will keep hearing about. Nowhere is the old adage "nobody remembers what you've done right but everyone remembers your mistakes" more apropos than in politics. So most Governors simply don't want to take the electoral risk, and often refuse to even go along with the recommendations of a pardons board that in may cases they hand-picked themselves. Many never issue a single pardon or sentence commutation the entire time when they are Governor. True that pardons boards are far from infallible but when the system gets to the point where the final arbiter (a state Governor) because of fear of being attacked in some future election automatically refuses to consider a pardon or commutation request when one comes up, then the system has defeated itself. Why even have a way on the books to get a commutation or pardon if the answer even before reading the application is "NO?"
The truth is, most people who receive a commutation prove the people who gave it to them right (it's not like it's easy to even get a recommendation from the appropriate board in the first place,) and don't go on and re-offend. And at that, there are many who might not even need to be there in the first place: Millions incarcerated. But do they all need to be? I have a friend who is a convicted felon. He's made some mistakes and paid for them but he's not dangerous or evil, and he just wants to live his life (despite all the hurdles that are in the way every time he applies for a job or tries to get anything else done.) That Governor Huckabee had the decency when he was Governor to recognize that there was some hope for those felons who had been cleared by the pardons board (and knowing that he was putting his political career at some risk but taking it anyway) is commendable and should be applauded.
I wrote several years ago about the tough life that people have when they leave prison anyway (the prison that follows prison.) It's almost like we want them to fail. This isn't about revenge or about wanting to save a few dollars on rehab or job placement programs. It's about what we can do to prevent the return to prison by people who could be doing something with their lives besides eating food and sleeping in guarded institutions (very expensive guarded institutions) that the rest of us pay for.
Clearly in the case of Maurice Clemmons, Mike Huckabee turned out to be wrong. But it was no mistake to (in the broader scheme) be willing to take seriously his role as arbiter of these kinds of decisions and make the best decision he could, even knowing that it could hurt his political career someday.