Sunday, December 18, 2011

Pardons push positive Perry press: More this week?

Grits predicted Gov. Perry would receive positive press from his parsimonious clemency record if the campaign played up the issue, and indeed, as if on cue, Pro Publica came out with a story titled "Perry more generous with pardons than Romney." Since Perry usually grants pardons to about 3% of those requesting them, but some years granted up to 10%, Grits argued back in October that Perry could use Christmastime clemency to separate himself from the other presidential candidates:
In the past, Perry has rejected about 2/3 of clemency recommendations from the Texas Board of  Pardons and Parole. Perhaps a good start would be to simply accept more or most of the BPP's recommendations this year (it's not like the people he's appointed to the parole board are a bunch of softies) instead of selecting a symbolic few. Nobody can grant clemency except state or federal executives like Perry and Obama, so a robust clemency approval by Perry this December might generate at least a news cycle or two of interesting press analyzing the pair's relative clemency records (where Perry already compares favorably). By granting more-than-usual clemencies this December, Perry would likely generate good media with little near-term Wille-Horton-esque risk, while setting the story up inevitably as comparing Perry and Obama (since none of the other GOP candidates can grant pardons) and thereby making the governor appear more presidential.

I'm not confident Perry will do that, but if he doesn't he'll have missed an opportunity to separate, even elevate himself in a controlled, positive media moment from the other GOP contenders and the president. And at the moment, his is a campaign that needs to separate itself from the pack.
I'm generally not a fan of Christmastime pardons. From a candidate's perspective, though, the Pro Publica piece is one of the few, recent positive articles I've seen on Perry and it would be a wasted political opportunity if the governor didn't use the Christmas pardon ritual to his own public-relations benefit, especially now that the campaign can see how the issue plays in the national media.

Grits' prediction: Governor Perry issues 10 or more pardons between now and Christmas day, making the national news cycle for a day or two with mostly positive press. That said, if he really wants to use the issue to trump the president, Gov. Perry should issue at least 23 pardons, a number he surpassed in 2003 and 2005. That would also be one more than President Obama has given out since he took the reins of power three years ago: A sure-fire news hook.

MORE: At Sentencing Law & Policy, Doug Berman  comments on the Pro Publica story and this post, wondering if, "with the Iowa evangelical vote still up for grabs ... Perry might try to make hay by finding a few very appealing stories of redemption to spin around a few high-profile clemency grants.  I am not counting on such a development," wrote Berman, "but I sure like the notion that for once a politician might start granting, rather than consistently deny, clemency requests in an effort to curry political praise."

See related Grits posts: