“The dynamic at the Capitol is definitely changing in criminal justice,” said Shannon Edmonds, director of governmental relations at the Texas District and County Attorneys Association.He's right. The typical left-right spectrum simplistically portrayed by the media doesn't really apply to criminal justice politics. As gerrymandering has led to safe districts for ideologues further and further from the center, right and left, other policy areas have frequently petrified with inaction. But on criminal justice, that dynamic opened up opportunities for the sort of left-right coalitions responsible for passing every piece of Texas criminal-justice reform legislation since the turn of the century.
Edmonds said that with more libertarian-leaning members of the Republican Party, the approach has become less focused on Texas’ traditional tough-on-crime ways. For instance, he said, more Republican legislators are inclined to vote with Democrats for reduced penalties for small amounts of drugs.
“Along the political spectrum, as people go to the left end and the right end, it’s not actually a line, it’s really a circle,” Edmonds said. “And the left end and right end actually loop around and meet each other.”
That said, I find the article's headline saying the Tea Party is "soft" on crime laughable and off-base. What's really happening here is that the Tea Partiers are more willing than establishment Republicans to be guided by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights instead of fear mongering by the victimocracy. And they're more committed to fiscal conservatism and less interested in pandering to the array of special interests, from police unions to private prisons, with vested financial stakes in ballooning justice costs. Shannon understandably would like to pivot back to the sort of culture-war debates over the death penalty that drove justice politics 20-30 years ago. Like an '80s metal band, however, that fad has faded and is unlikely to return soon. Time for the prosecutors to re-consider their message. I doubt they can bully the current crop of Tea Party legislators with threats of calling them "soft on crime" in the same way that's worked for them in the past. In fact, if they keep it up, the tactic could begin to backfire.
See related Grits posts:
- On ideology and overincarceration: Explaining conservative support for criminal-justice reform
- Ideology, interest and Texas' probation reforms
- Richard Viguerie on conservatism and criminal justice
- 'The GOP's born-again prison reformers'
- Norquist on 'Conservative principles and prison'
- Movement conservatives need to get 'right on crime'