Last Friday I noted that President Obama had commuted the sentences of 95 federal prisoners – mostly non-violent drug offenders. It turns out that “mostly” was accurate because two of them didn’t fit that description.
Carolyn Yvonne Butler of Texas, convicted of three counts of armed bank robbery and using a firearm during a violent crime, and George Andre Axam of Georgia, convicted of possessing a firearm as a felon.
Activists within the criminal justice reform movement noticed and weighed in.
“It’s a good message to send to governors across the country, given that they have similar commutation and pardon powers that could be exercised this way,” Marc Mauer, executive director of The Sentencing Project, told TakePart.
The reason Mauer says that is because at some point, in order to effectively deal with mass incarceration, we’re going to have to deal with “violent offenders.” And that is primarily an issue for the states, where their prison population is broken down like this:
Consider the nation’s largest incarcerated population, the 1,315,000 held in state prisons. Only 4 percent are there for drug possession. An additional 12 percent are incarcerated for drug sales, manufacturing, or trafficking. Eleven percent are there for public order offenses such as prostitution or drunk driving, and 19 percent for property crimes such as fraud and car theft, including some property crimes that many consider serious or violent, such as home invasion. That leaves a full 54 percent of state prisoners who are incarcerated for violent crimes, including murder, kidnapping, manslaughter, rape, sexual assault, and armed robbery.
The federal government (and the President) are somewhat limited in what they can do to address the problem of mass incarceration. That is because only 13% of those incarcerated are in federal prisons – 48% of those are drug offenders. Between the President’s Clemency Initiative and the retroactive application of the Fair Sentencing Act, that number will be dramatically reduced in the coming year. But as the numbers above demonstrate, non-violent drug offenders are a small part of the enormous state prison population.
John Pfaff, professor of law at Fordham University School of Law, described President Obama’s commutations of the sentences of Butler and Axam this way:
“The most powerful thing Obama can do is shape the national conversation,” he said. “There’s certainly no downside to Obama having done this, but more governors have to have the courage to come out and actually start commuting violent offenders’ sentences.”
In other words, President Obama has opened the door for a conversation about the much tougher issues involved in ending mass incarceration. Time for governors to step up.
By: Nancy LeTourneau, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, December 23, 2015
“Governor For President? No Thanks”: Challenging “Broder’s Law” That Says Governors Are Best For The Oval Office
Let me declare the end of an era: the governor-era in presidential elections. It was mostly nice while it lasted. Senators seem be in, for those who are actually politicians.
For years, pundits felt with all their hearts that governors were golden kings when it came to running for president. This political gospel was spread throughout the land, mostly because the dean of Washington opinion-makers, the late David Broder of The Washington Post, believed it devoutly. Broder’s law was repeated on Sunday talk shows until it had an aura all its own.
Let’s review the facts on the ground. Among the four front-runners in this cycle – Donald Trump (R), Ben Carson (R), Hillary Clinton (D) and Bernie Sanders (D) – the Republicans have zero political experience, and the Democrats have served as senators.
Meanwhile, the governors in the running are lagging far behind. Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) thought being a model-good governor would give him a certain “je ne sais quoi.” Clearly not; he’s a distant third behind the opponents with congressional experience. The former mayor of Baltimore has yet to gain traction, though he’s followed all the signs to higher office.
John Kasich, the Republican governor of a swing state, would be the strong candidate to beat in Broder’s book. He’s in the single digits, last I looked. Three sitting Republican governors, Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, Scott Walker of Wisconsin and Rick Perry of Texas, fell out of contention. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is hanging on but looks like a loser, too. Two young Cuban-America senators, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, are outrunning Christie in this race.
The late Broder believed in governors the way my grandfather believed in building highways in the Eisenhower era. Don’t get me wrong; I liked Broder and he was kind about my wish to get into his line of work. The reasoning was simple: Those with executive authority over a state have better job training to govern the nation.
In the span of decades from Presidents Jimmy Carter to Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton to George W. Bush, indeed it was true that governors often made it to the Oval Office. This paradigm crossed party lines, since Carter and Clinton were Southern Democrats and Reagan and Bush were governors of California and Texas, respectively.
The truth is, I noticed the old Broder faith beginning to break down in 2008, but I didn’t want to say anything at first. (I mentioned it in The Huffington Post.) The Democratic crop of candidates fielded more senators than you could shake a stick at: not only Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, but also Chris Dodd and Joe Biden. The telegenic Republican nominee, Matt Romney, a perfectly good governor of Massachusetts, lost to a younger freshman senator whose oratory could coax the stars out of the sky.
So here’s the thing. The reason why public trust in sitting governors as candidates is not part of the 21st landscape is this. The American people were so disillusioned with George W. Bush’s presidency – marked by war-mongering in the beginning, Hurricane Katrina in the middle and an economic downturn in the end – that governors have no special favor anymore. In fact, they may have to work to overcome that label.
It’s a 2016 amendment to Broder’s law.
By: Jamie Stiehm, U. S. News and World Report, November 23, 2015
“Products Of Today’s Republican Party”: The Only Way GOP Governors Can Run For President Is By Shafting Their Own States
Given that there are currently 31 Republican governors, it’s natural that more than a few of them would be both successful enough and ambitious enough to run for president. Two more governors are about to formally enter the race: Louisiana’s Bobby Jindal will announce his candidacy today, and New Jersey’s Chris Christie is reportedly ready to join as early as next week. There will end up being as many as four current governors in the race (those two, plus Scott Walker and John Kasich), plus four former governors (Jeb Bush, Rick Perry, Mike Huckabee, George Pataki).
Let’s put the former governors aside for the moment. There’s something curious going on with the sitting governors: three of them are extremely unpopular at home, and the fourth may be the one who provides the explanation why.
Let’s start with the new entrants. Bobby Jindal has long been regarded as a future presidential candidate, but his current profile makes you wonder why he’s bothering to run for president. It’s not just that he’s currently averaging 0.7 percent in presidential polls, putting him in 15th place. Jindal just got through a budget crisis with a ridiculous tax gimmick that made him an object of national ridicule, and nobody is arguing they need to emulate Louisiana’s record of success. One recent poll put his approval in the state at 31 percent.
Chris Christie isn’t doing any better. His approval is now at 30 percent, and it’s pretty clear his tough-guy schtick wore thin a while ago, even in New Jersey (let alone in places like Iowa).
Then there’s Scott Walker, who’s in the first tier of presidential candidates, but has the approval of only 41 percent of Wisconsinites. As the New York Times describes today, he’s in a battle with Republicans in the state legislature:
Leaders of Mr. Walker’s party, which controls the Legislature, are balking at his demands for the state’s budget. Critics say the governor’s spending blueprint is aimed more at appealing to conservatives in early-voting states like Iowa than doing what is best for Wisconsin.
Lawmakers are stymied over how to pay for road and bridge repairs without raising taxes or fees, which Mr. Walker has ruled out.
The governor’s fellow Republicans rejected his proposal to borrow $1.3 billion for the roadwork, arguing that adding to the state’s debt is irresponsible.
And therein lies part of the problem: appealing to the GOP primary electorate means, among other things, never raising taxes, even when refusing to do so initiates a budget crisis. It also means rejecting the Affordable Care Act’s expansion of Medicaid, which shoots your state in the foot for the purpose of ideological anti-Obama purity.
In many ways, Walker has governed from the outset like someone thinking about a presidential primary. He set out to destroy the state’s public employee unions, and now wants to slash hundreds of millions of dollars from the University of Wisconsin budget, not to mention going after tenure (take that, elitists!), which would make it much harder to recruit quality faculty to the state’s beloved university. Those kinds of moves guarantee that he’ll always be a divisive governor, cheering members of his own party and alienating those in the opposing party.
But that’s how you need to govern if you’re going to be able to mount a presidential campaign that isn’t consumed by explaining your heresies. Which brings us to Ohio governor John Kasich, who not only accepted the Medicaid expansion, he invoked a religious imperative to explain his decision to do so. “I don’t know about you, lady,” he told a GOP donor who criticized him for it, “but when I get to the pearly gates, I’m going to have an answer for what I’ve done for the poor.”
Chris Christie accepted the Medicaid expansion too, but at least he can argue that he did so under pressure from a Democratic legislature. And he has attempted to make up for his sin of allowing 400,000 low-income people to get health insurance by proposing to cut Social Security. But Kasich could find himself explaining over and over that he’s a real conservative despite his accommodation to the ACA.
Kasich might try this argument: If this was so terrible, how come I’m the only governor in this race with approval ratings at home over 50 percent?
The problem is that GOP primary voters will probably reply, Who cares? As far as they’re concerned, “success” isn’t defined by whether your constituents are happy with the job you’ve done. Practical achievements like improving the health of your state or even fostering strong job creation are all well and good, but they have to take a back seat to ideological achievements like crushing a labor union, fighting Obamacare, or resisting tax increases.
Governors who run for president are happy to tell you that being a governor is the best preparation for being president, and they have a point. While senators can get away with just making self-aggrandizing speeches without actually accomplishing anything (see Cruz, Ted), governors have no choice but to make similar kinds of decisions to the ones presidents make. They have to set priorities, formulate budgets, and work with a legislature, not to mention the fact that most governors eventually face some kind of crisis that tests their ability to act in trying circumstances. While senators can say “I sponsored some nice bills,” governors have lengthier records to run on.
But it may be no accident that most of the Republican governors currently running for president aren’t popular at home. They’re products of today’s Republican Party, where unflagging commitment to conservative doctrine is what counts as success.
By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Plum Line Blog, The Washington Post, June 24, 2015
“Same Dynamics Of Polarization And Bad Ideology As Anybody Else”: No, Governors Are Not Inherently Superior Candidates For President
For a professional political writer, nothing’s more fun than identifying a cliche your less esteemed colleagues are using that never made sense or has stopped making sense and just blowing it up. One that’s overdue for an explosion is the trope about governors making inherently superior presidential candidates. So that was the subject of my latest TPMCafe column.
Once you start looking at the 2016 Republican presidential field from this perspective, the first thing that jumps out at you is how many governors and former governors are struggling with home-state unpopularity or mistakes they made in office or both. It’s entirely possible, for example, that the entire Scott Walker candidacy could be unraveled by his growing problems in Wisconsin, where a lot of people who either voted for him or stayed home are angry at him for his nasty state budget proposals or for his pattern of doing highly controversial things (e.g., making Wisconsin a Dixie-style Right-to-Work state) he disclaimed or didn’t mention when running for office. That’s because his whole electability argument is that he won over swing voters in Wisconsin three times without compromising with the godless liberals. That argument loses a lot of punch if poll after poll starts showing Walker losing his state–by 52/40 in the latest Marquette Law School survey–to Hillary Clinton.
Then you look at Bobby Jindal, who is obviously miserable being, and miserable at being, governor of Louisiana. As a legendary whiz kid, diversity symbol, and rising star in the House, he was probably on the brink of being regarded as presidential timber before he became governor back in 2007. You think it might cross his mind now and then how much better positioned he’d be if he were now a Senator, or even still in the House, where he could pander to the conservative constituencies he is pursuing all day long without having to worry about Louisiana’s budget problems, which he is only making worse?
I won’t go through the whole column, but you get the idea. Perhaps governors aren’t afflicted with Washington Cooties, but they are actually required to do things that people notice, and are subject to the same dynamics of partisan polarization and bad ideology as anybody else. Republicans in Congress can go on and on and on about education vouchers or supply-side economics or privatizing government benefits without any risk of being held accountable for their “vision” being implemented. Governors are living much more unavoidably in the real world.
You can still make the case, I guess, that for this very reason governors make better presidents than, say, senators. But that’s not entirely clear, either. Sometimes governors get a good reputation simply for being in the right place at the right time, like a certain Texas governor who took office just as a national economic boom was gaining steam, and just as a decades-long realignment was pushing the last of his state’s conservative Democratic aristocracy in his direction. So he got to be a “reformer with results,” and his fellow governors had a lot to do with lifting him to a presidential nomination. Was he prepared to be president? Is his brother prepared now? Even though both men have benefited from their father’s vast network of moneyed elites, and from gubernatorial service, that’s really not so clear.
By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, April 22, 2015
Governors in nearly a half-dozen states want to cut state spending on colleges and universities to help close budget shortfalls, often sparking vehement opposition among state lawmakers of both parties.
Republican governors in Arizona, Kansas, Louisiana, and Wisconsin, and Connecticut’s Democratic governor have proposed higher education cuts for the coming fiscal year. Higher education spending traditionally is a juicy target for budget cutters because schools can make up the lost revenue by raising tuition.
But students and their families already are being squeezed by steadily rising college costs. In fiscal year 2013, schools got about 47 percent of their revenue from tuition, up from about 24 percent in fiscal year 1988, according to the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association. Democratic Governor Dannel Malloy of Connecticut has suggested a tuition hike to compensate for the cuts, but the Republican governors are urging the schools in their states to find the necessary savings by trimming bureaucracy and consolidating campuses.
University officials argue that past budget cuts have pushed them to the breaking point, forcing them, for example, to rely heavily on adjunct professors and teaching assistants instead of full professors. During the recession, 48 states cut higher education spending. Alaska and North Dakota didn’t. They are the only two states spending as much or more on higher education than they did before the recession, when the numbers are adjusted for inflation, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), a Washington, D.C.-based research group.
Some critics have urged the Republican governors to roll back recent tax cuts to spare the colleges and universities. But so far the governors have balked, arguing that lower taxes have helped working families and attracted businesses.
Nowhere is the controversy greater than in Louisiana, which has a complicated higher education system and a Republican governor who is considering running for president.
Governor Bobby Jindal proposed a budget that would reduce higher education spending by $141 million in fiscal 2016. In recent weeks, he has proposed offsetting some of the cuts by getting rid of some refundable business tax credits, which have a total value of $526 million. But the business community is strongly opposing that idea. That leaves the Republican-dominated legislature in a bind, forcing members to choose between education and low taxes, two priorities they generally support.
State Senator Conrad Appel, a Republican, said in an interview that if the higher education cuts Jindal proposed all go into effect “it would be really serious” and a big blow to colleges and universities. He said he wants to scale back the proposed cuts, but wasn’t prepared to say exactly how.
“If we vote to replenish, some of the cuts will be mitigated to some extent,” he said. But, he noted that the Louisiana public university system has “structural inefficiencies” that will mean more budget cuts in the future. He said he told college administrators last week that they should take steps to cut their budgets, whether that means consolidation of campuses or other methods.
“What I don’t recommend is for higher education to ignore the opportunity to fix the problem,” he said. “Either they are going to fix it or we are going to fix it for them and they won’t like it.”
Robert Scott, president of the Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana, said that since Jindal became governor in 2008, the number of full-time employees at state colleges and universities has decreased 23 percent due to budget cuts, and that schools have been raising tuition along the way. But now, he said, “they are about to price themselves out of the market.” He said the flagship school, Louisiana State University, “still has some headroom” to continue tuition increases, but most of the small schools in the state system don’t have that luxury.
John Griswold, a fine arts professor at McNeese State University in Lake Charles, said his state is a test case for cuts to higher education.
“The conditions in Louisiana were perfect for testing an assault on state-funded higher education,” Griswold said. He noted the state has a conservative governor, legislative rules that preclude cuts in most spending except for higher education and health care, and an economic downturn prompted by the drop in oil prices.
“Similar conditions exist in other states, so conservative politicians elsewhere can also demand deep cuts to higher ed, based on populist appeals to ‘good business’ and an end to ‘welfare mentality,’” he said.
Republican Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, a potential presidential candidate who has cut state income and property taxes by $541 million during his tenure, has proposed cutting $300 million from the University of Wisconsin system.
According to Walker, that amounts to a 2.5 percent cut, but other analysts have put the figure as high as 13 percent. The fact-checking service PolitiFact split the difference, assessing the reduction at about 6 percent. The cut would be exacerbated by the fact that there is a tuition freeze in place.
“Through flexibility and empowering current leaders from across the system, (University of Wisconsin) System and campus leadership will have the tools necessary to deliver a high quality education in a strategic manner while saving taxpayers $150 million a year,” Walker’s spokeswoman, Laurel Patrick, said.
Meanwhile, two Republican state lawmakers have called for changes in the governor’s budget that would lessen the cut, including raising out-of-state tuition and requiring the university to spend down reserve funds.
“We will work toward a smaller, more manageable cut instead of the $300 million cut proposed in the governor’s budget,” the two, Reps. Dean Knudson and John Nygren, said in a press release last week.
In Illinois, Republican Governor Bruce Rauner recommended a reduction of nearly 6 percent in direct spending on state colleges and universities. Despite the cut, Rauner argues that “this budget proposal continues to offer state support to our public universities” through contributions to the universities’ retirement system and insurance benefits for university employees.
But Rauner faces strong opposition from the Democratic-controlled legislature and from the state’s universities.
Senate President John Cullerton said on his Facebook page that the governor’s budget cuts will “undermine access to health services, child care, affordable college and retirement security for working- and middle-class families” and vowed that the legislature will amend it. While Rauner has proposed cuts in a range of areas, the education chunk is drawing the most attention.
In Arizona, the Republican-led legislature went further than Republican Governor Doug Ducey in cutting higher education, agreeing to a $99 million cut, down from an earlier legislative proposal of $104 million. Ducey had proposed a $75 million reduction as a way to pay for business tax cuts. Universities and proponents of higher education fought the governor’s cuts so doggedly that they prompted a backlash in the legislature, which upped them.
Arizona State University President Michael Crow called the action a “drastic remedy to the state’s budget troubles” and one that will come back to haunt the state when it has fewer college graduates contributing to the state’s economy.
In Connecticut, Democratic Governor Dannel Malloy proposed cutting $10.6 million from the University of Connecticut system and an additional $20.6 million from the state’s regional universities. Malloy has expressed support for tuition hikes, after several years of urging that tuition merely keep pace with inflation.
In Kansas, Republican Governor Sam Brownback since 2011 has pushed through a 25 percent reduction in the state’s top income tax rate, lowered sales taxes and eliminated a tax on small-business income. As a result, state revenue has declined by $685 million. Brownback now is looking to make cuts in education and elsewhere in an effort to balance the books.
Walter McMahon, professor emeritus of economics and education at the University of Illinois said cutting higher education to close budget gaps is “very, very shortsighted.”
“Spending on education is really an investment,” McMahon said. “As money is invested in human capital formation, each graduate is in the labor force for over 45 years and contributes increased earnings and tax revenue to state coffers.”
He added that statistics show that more educated people live longer, healthier lives and commit fewer crimes, allowing states to spend less on health care and prison costs.
By: Elaine S. Povich, The National Memo, March 30, 2015