Sunday, February 10, 2008

Texas presidential primary relevant for first time in years: Huckabee, Obama best candidates on criminal justice reform

I don't talk much about national elections on this blog, but in this astonishing political year it appears that, for the first time in my adult lifetime, the presidential contest will still be in play in both primaries when Texans get to vote.

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.


Anonymous said...

There are probably many people judging Hillary Clinton on her husband's merits and I tend to believe he will be running the country not her. Naive, perhaps. I'm not sold on Obama, though, I think I may judging him on the merits of his ties to the Muslim religion and Africa. I'm not sure that I see anyone worth voting for but I'm doing the research to make my final decision but I will vote.

Anonymous said...

Its time we had a president who listens and thinks. In my view that is Obama. Much needs to be done. We must get out of Iraq ASAP, put that wasted money to work at home and rebuild our overseas relationships. Obama has the right approach.

Anonymous said...

Obama has no ties to "the Muslim religion" other than having lived in Indonesia, a nation with a Muslim population, for a few years as a small child. Even then, he attended a secular school, not a "madrassa" as has been alleged, and was back in the US by the time he was a teenager.

He is a Christian who has belonged to the same church in Chicago for the last 20+ years. There are a bunch of viral e-mails accusing Obama of being a Muslim. Don't believe them. I assure you that they are all total lies.

I'll admit to being partisan on this subject: I worked as an Obama precinct captain here in the Nevada caucuses. However, I urge you to judge the man on his record, not on false smears of his religious beliefs.

Sorry Grits, if this post is too partisan for this site.

Bill B.

Anonymous said...

I'm in the over fifty set, white female
(no phd, haha)have mostly but not always voted democratic.

Obama is the man needed at this time in our history. That he will be best on criminal justice issues is important. That he will attempt to remove us from Iraq is even more important. Nearlly 4000 men and women in service to their country have perished and legions more Iraqis have perished and their country torn apart. ENOUGH.

Anonymous said...

Here is a recent endorsement of Obama that mentions some key criminal justice positions.

The below is excerpted from the endorsement of Patricia M. Wald, who was Chief Judge, United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit; United States Judge, International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia; Member, President’s Commission on U.S. Intelligence Capabilities Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction.

I have spent more than 40 years of my near-80 in public service as a federal judge, international judge, Justice Department official, and public interest lawyer. A veteran of the woman’s movement since its infancy in the 1960’s, an ardent Democrat, and an equally ardent supporter of women’s rights-to-choose, to work, to live as we see fit, and yes, one day to elect a woman President, I hail the advances in my life-time that have resulted in Senator Clinton’s dramatic bid for our nation’s highest office.

But legions of women my age have fought for the opportunity to be judged on our skills, talents and abilities, not on our gender. Perhaps we were naive, but we believed if we were allowed to enter the game alongside men, we would prove our worth. That is the standard by which, I believe, Senator Clinton’s candidacy should now be judged.

Which is prelude to why I support Barack Obama and why, with a troop of wonderfully gritty older women, I spent 8 days on the icy streets of Cedar Rapids, Iowa – with a return to the hustings in Delaware last week -- campaigning for Senator Obama.

As someone who cares deeply about transformation of the country in which my grandchildren will live and flourish, I have carefully assayed the dueling claims of Senator Clinton and Senator Obama to lead the nation. Senator Clinton proclaims a decisive advantage in experience that notably embraces her days as First Lady in the Clinton Administration of the 90’s as well as her more recent term in the Senate. While the Clinton administration had much to be proud of, it bore responsibility for troubling policies I encountered on the bench that contributed to overwhelming state and federal prison populations and streamlined the harmful process of committing youthful offenders to adult institutions.

Senator Clinton’s Senate career has frequently shown political expedience. Her acceptance of the Bush Administration’s rationale for going to war in Iraq without reading the National Intelligence Estimate, and her rejection of a modest proposal approved by the U.S. Sentencing Commission retroactively to reduce the harsh penalties for crack cocaine, hardly evidenced uniquely seasoned leadership qualities or demonstrated a bold force for change.

(There's more, but I'll stop there: Bill B.)

Anonymous said...

Huckabee would support Constitutional amendments banning abortion and same-sex marriages. You say he has a good approach to criminal justice, yet he wants to make our Constitution more restrictive for women and homosexuals. Are you saying that he'd like to see abortion and same-sex marriages banned, but there'd be no penalty for getting an abortion or a same-sex marriage, or providing either to a citizen seeking these services?

He wants to hold the Constitution to "God's standards," thus probably turning people currently enjoying the rights to make their own personal, often difficult choices, into criminals. It sounds like his approach is based on fiscal Conservatism and Christian forgiveness for "pardonable" sins, like drug use, or theft. But woe unto women and gays who don't toe the line Huckabee has drawn on God's behalf. I have no idea how you can overlook these glaring issues that could have an effect on criminal justice.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

You're kidding, right 10:05? Same sex marriages are illegal now. And the worst that can happen with abortion is he appoints judges who overturn Roe, which just kicks it back to state Legislatures. Those are tangentially, at best, criminal justice concerns.

Keep in mind when I make that statement that a) it's only in comparison to John McCain, and b) the abortion rights folks back people ALL the time who are terrible on the issues this blog covers, sometimes quite opportunistically.

Finally, here's a provocation for you that I'd argue is demonstrably true: Mike Huckabee is a LOT better on criminal justice than the last Democratic Texas Governor, Ann Richards. By a longshot, IMO, both in rhetoric and record - she thought to win re-election (which she didn't) she she had to be SuperTuff, which is why we have a 155,000 person prison system today.

Criminal justice is not a partisan issue, or rather, the general badness is bipartisan.

Anonymous said...

No, same-sex marriages are not absolutely illegal. They are recognized by some states, even if they are not recognized by the Federal government. Apparently, to Huckabee, the Defense of Marriage Act isn't enough. Our very Constitution has to be amended to satisfy him. And would states be able or required to make it criminal to engage in or provide even symbolic civil unions if the Constitution established a standard for "acceptable" marriages? How's that for preserving "state's rights" if states can't even choose to recognize same-sex unions anymore?

As for abortion, it's just kind of sad that you think it's a small matter for states to once again be given the opportunity to deny women and couples the legal ability to abort a pregnancy. And apart from any hypothetical SC rulings you mentioned, Huckabee wants a Constitutional amendment forbidding abortion in most cases. This is NOT returning the issue to the states. It is prescriptive and comprehensive. And if a state or the feds can make it impossible to obtain or provide a legal abortion in most circumstances, they sure as heck can give themselves the authority to arrest you for getting an abortion anyway. Legislators in some states (Ohio, for instance) are already thinking this way.

Maybe those two particular issues don't resonate with you, so you shrug your shoulders. I personally don't want to see decent people end up in prison in the future because they defied Huckabee's Orders From God.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for clearing up the Obama vile emails going around. That's exactly what I was referring to. I will look at the issues and vote on that alone. Again Mr. Bill B, I appreciate your input.

Anonymous said...

Grits I have my own thought's on the people running for The White House Just like you wanting Obama to win and I do not thank it's Criminal Justice.

Anonymous said...

I well never vote for Obama!

Gritsforbreakfast said...

@4:22 - I didn't say sending the abortion question back to state legislatures is a small matter. I said that it's not the same as sending out goon squads and crimininalizing it nationwide the way you implied.

It's not that those issues don't resonate with me. This post analyzed the race from the perspective of the candidates' criminal justice records, not their positions on abortion or gay rights. As such, I'm perfectly comfortable with the analysis here.

Anonymous said...

Odd. I get my email cluttered up with political and junk mail - and not one viral email about that Muslim Obama. We had a bunch of good candidates early on with a hypothetical chance of winning. Vindictiveness has always been a winning issue for sleazy politicians - as long as voters don't pay attention to the corruption in the other hand. Jesus spoke loudly and clearly against the vindictiveness of his day - and the lies used to justify authoritarians. When Jesus says something that Christian leaders don't like Christian pastors tell Jesus to take a hike.

Anonymous said...

Obama is the first politician in my lifetime that has actually moved me and made me feel like we can be a better people, a better country. I am adding two links - one a music video made out of his beautiful speech. The kind of speech Lincoln, Jefferson, Kennedy would have made.

The second is a real practical argument by a incredibly smart supporter whom a reporter tried to trip up on Obama.

They are both worth listening too.

Let's make a change.
Yes We Can.

K nedelkoff

Gary said...

My father passed that vile email on to me that he received from some of my other relatives. Like I often have to do, I sent him a link back to

Anonymous said...


Can you please clear something up for me with regards to Richards? I thought that one of the reasons that she lost her 1994 election to GWB is that she had put rehabilitation programs in place for Texas offenders and GWB countered that she was soft on crime? Can you please confirm? Thank you!!

Anonymous said...


This is partly true. The day that GWB announced his candidacy for the governorship, he declared getting tough on juvies to be one of his top priorities.

The state was one of many nationally that was experiencing a spike in violent juvenile crime. And Bush was one of many pols in the mid-90s who ran on a law and order platform, that necessarily involves blaming their incumbent opponent for being soft on crime.

It's one of the reasons TYC is such a mess now, actually, as has been widely reported in the past year.

Bill B.

Anonymous said...

I am an independently minded 30 something male who up to this point has usually voted conservatively. Until now, criminal justice reforms, funding for treatment and diversion programs are the only conservative option. Any other mentality is fiscally inane and socially unjust.

After being disillusioned by our current president and the legislative behavior this past session in Texas I will be supporting Senator Obama. Hillary is unelectable and I think everyone is going to be shocked when OBAMA takes the presidency in 2008 by a landslide.

Unfortunately for him he will be elected into an impossible situation and will only survive four years but anyway


Anonymous said...

Um, I hate to have to point this out to a fellow Texan but Texas Congressman Ron Paul is still in this and he wants to release all non-violent "drug" offenders and end the so-called "war on drugs" among other things. What other candidate has better criminal justice reforms in mind than Ron Paul?

Anonymous said...

"When Jesus says something that Christian leaders don't like Christian pastors tell Jesus to take a hike."

JT Barrie, I've noticed that, too.

Anonymous said...

S.A. Said...
I do not trust obama partly because of his admiration of the minister at his Chicago church which much like Farakan hates white people and stated directly that white people will not go to heaven...he is a racist ass and Obama's mentor by his own admission. The media judged Romney on his faith but has nothing to say about this radical church Obama is so endeared to. It's amazing how the media spins all of this remember Obama was first noticed because he speaks so well in the liberal craziness of this country if the normal whit person commented how well a black person spoke he would automatically be condesending and racist.

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