Saturday, May 21, 2011

Politico Tackles Pardon Issues Facing GOP Presidential Candidates

Politico's Maggie Haberman is thinking shades of Willie Horton as she examines whether the potential GOP presidential candidates have any pardon-related issues that helped sink the 1988 presidential campaign of former Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis. Willie Horton was a violent sex offender who raped and murdered a woman while out on a weekend furlough from prison while Dukakis was governor. Then-Sen. Al Gore first raised the issue when Dukakis was seeking the Democratic nomination and he was campaigning against him for the nomination. An independent group supporting George H.W. Bush ran TV ads in the fall election highlighting the case and the controversial furlough program as evidence Dukakis was soft on crime.

Former Arkansas Gov Mike Huckabee was viewed as the GOP candidate with the most exposure on the issue because of the large number of pardons and sentence reductions he meted out largely based on religious conversions inmates claimed they had undergone while serving in prison for their crimes. Huckabee has opted against another presidential run so the issue with him is moot.

According to Haberman's story, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty has an embarrassing case of a statutory rape convict he pardoned who later stood accused of repeatedly molesting another girl. He also had a well-publicized case where a repeat sex offender was released early from prison who later murdered a young college student. Pawlenty took responsibility for both cases and sought tougher sentences for sex offenders.

Gov. Mitt Romney can boast that he never pardoned a single prisoner while serving as Massachusetts governor. He does, however, have a case of a violent criminal offender sprung from prison early by his parole board who later killed a police officer.

Haberman's research on Gov. Mitch Daniels is pretty weak. She completely overlooked the botched case of Thomas Hardy, a repeat offender who was mistakenly released from jail due to errors made by state correction officials and wound up killing Indianapolis Officer David Moore execution style after Moore pulled Hardy over for a traffic stop. There was also a recent case of a rapist being released from prison due to another error by corrections officials who raped a woman in a restroom at a pharmacy within days of his mistaken release. Here's what Haberman wrote on Daniels:

Like Romney, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, who’s been circumspect about whether he’ll run, has also used his pardon pen sparingly. Since taking office in 2005, according to his official website, he’s issued just over 40 pardons and clemencies.

Almost all of them were for people who’d committed relatively minor offenses, and who’d gone on to change their ways. A large handful of those pardons were for minor drug offenders, while just one was a clemency for a death row murderer who had been deemed insane since his trial over a decade ago.

He’s issued none since 2008. The only obvious problems he could face are with the pardoned drug offenders – which opponents could use to remind people of Daniels’ own bust in college for pot possession – and a pardon of union official Steve Quick, an ally of former Indianapolis Mayor Stephen Goldsmith, for a small crime almost 30 years earlier.
Haberman's description of Quick's crime as "a small crime almost 30 years earlier" is laughable. Quick and another man held up a woman and her boyfriend at gunpoint in a parking lot outside an eatery near the downtown area. The woman wound up shot in the chest, although it was Quick's accomplice who pulled the trigger. Quick and his brother had also been arrested and charged with murdering a man outside a liquor store within a year of committing the armed robbery case, but those charges were later dropped due to an evidentiary problem. I discuss Quick's pardon in detail in this post from earlier this year.

Jon Huntsman, a former Utah governor, seems to be in the clear because as governor he had no pardon or sentence reducing powers. Those powers were exercised by a parole board made up of his appointees, but there doesn't seem to be any big issues during his term as governor.

U.S. Rep. Michelle Bachman never served as a governor, but as an elected official she did urge President George W. Bush to pardon a campaign contributor who had a conviction for money laundering. The contributor later was charged on new charges of money laundering, which proved embarrassing to Bachman, who withdrew her letter of support upon learning of the new charges.

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