On the Republican side, Mike Huckabee told Stephen Colbert the other night that he believed he could win Texas to make a comeback victory against John McCain. And Democrats Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are famously in a neck and neck delegate fight, with the race likely to be decided the day that Texas, Ohio and Pennsylvania go to the polls.
On the Democratic side, where Phillip Martin Burnt Orange Report has done an admirable job explaining the delegate allocation process, in essence if you're really committed, you get to vote twice on election day. The majority of delegates are decided by voters, but another portion will be decided at caucuses, which are based on who shows up at precinct conventions on the evening of the vote.
Have you ever been to a precinct convention? More folks have attended them on the GOP side because that was the mechanism by which the religious right took over the Republican party in the early '90s.
Essentially, on election night while votes are being counted, you go back to the same place where you voted and attend the "convention" for the precinct where you live. Whoever shows up (who voted in the primary that day) is eligible - though I'll bet they're more crowded this year, the last time I went there were five of us, and two were my wife and me. The precinct convention appoints delegates to the county convention. They also may suggest and vote on resolutions proposing language for the party platform. So if you're voting in the Democratic primary, take the time that evening to go back and support your candidate at the caucuses.
Who are the best presidential candidates from a criminal justice policy perspective? Usually crime and punishment doesn't have a partisan split: Generally both parties compete to see who can be worse, while champions of reform crop up on both sides of the aisle, and that's as true as ever in this presidential election season.
On the GOP side I think Mike Huckabee is the clear choice. According to this article in Salon, after a Willie Horton-esque parole incident:
He has refused to take the predictable path by talking tough on crime to deflect the DuMond criticism. Instead, he campaigns on a compassionate approach to wrongdoers, especially those whose crimes are the result of drug or alcohol addiction. At Philly's Finest, he condemned the "revenge-based corrections system," sounding every bit the sort of squishy liberal that the Bill O'Reillys of the world long ago scared into the shadows. "We lock up a lot of people we are mad at rather than the ones we are really afraid of," he said. "We incarcerate more people than anybody on earth." As governor, Huckabee pushed for drug treatment instead of incarceration for nonviolent offenders. He pushed for faith-based prison programs, and was critical of governors who "gladly pull the switch" on death penalty cases, an apparent knock on President Bush, who was criticized as governor of Texas for being cavalier about capital punishment.On the Democratic side, Barack Obama is the clear choice from the perspective of criminal justice policy. On Hillary Clinton, to be sure, I'm judging her in part on her husband's record, but that's a great deal of the "experience" the one-term senator brings to the table. The Tulia-style drug task forces that still dot the country (but which President Bush has finally, nearly de-funded, as Gov. Perry did here in Texas), in my mind represent the legacy of Clinton's numbers driven, pork-barrel approach to crime fighting.
More than that, though, on the campaign stump she's come out to the right of Antonin Scalia on sentencing issues, bashing Obama for his opposition to mandatory minimums.
By contrast, Obama favors some radical refashioning of marijuana laws, and thinks illegal immigrants should be able to get drivers licenses to improve security and road safety. His campaign rhetoric gives cause for criminal justice reformers to share in the "hope" his campaign slogan proffers, as well as his votes in the Illinois state senate, where he passed racial profiling legislation and opposed lengthy criminal penalties. An Illinois lobbyist for the police chiefs said that "while Obama did at times vote on the side of “individual rights … [rather] than the ability of law enforcement to get things done,” he was always an independent vote who was very thoughtful on law-and-order issues."
Hardly anyone votes for President based on a single issue, but if you were a single-issue voter on the subject of reforming our dysfunctional criminal justice system, Huckabee and Obama are your guys, at least among the options left standing.
RELATED: See this Burnt Orange Report post on proposing issue resolutions at your precinct convention. UPDATE: See this Grits post suggesting a resolution supporting prison and jail diversion.