Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Politics Daily "Copy Editor" Needs Editing

Carla Baranauckas, a "copy editor" at PoliticsDaily.com, is apparently anxious to sting Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty the way Al Gore stung Michael Dukakis with a question about "weekend passes for convicted criminals" back in the 1988 Democratic debates. It was Dukakis, of course who granted a weekend furlough to convicted killer Willie Horton, who then proceeded to kidnap a couple, stab a man and rape a woman. The sensible person reasonably asks, "What in the world does that have to do with Governor Pawlenty?"

Baranauckas says Pawlenty "granted" a "pardon" to Jeremy Alan Giefer. In fact, in Minnesota, the pardon power is not vested in the governor. It rests with a State Board, consisting of the Governor, a justice of the State's Supreme Court and the State's attorney general. In addition, any decision by the Board must be unanimous. Finally, Giefer was not granted a "pardon," in the sense of Minnesota law. He was granted a "pardon extraordinary," which has specific statutory requirements. True, some of these details are eventually explained by Baranauckas. But not before generally misrepresenting the circumstances, obviously for effect.

Mr. Giefer was no kidnapper, or violent rapist for that matter, much less a convicted murderer. Seventeen years ago, he was charged with third-degree criminal sexual conduct (aka "statutory rape"). The "victim" was his girlfriend - now his wife of many years. At the time, she asked that the charges against him be dropped. Much later, she supported her husband's bid for clemency. We are guessing the family of Willie Horton's victim would not have supported weekend passes, much less clemency!

This Horton/Giefer analogy really flies well, does it not?

Willie Horton robbed and then stabbed a 17-year old gas station attendant 19 times and dumped the body in a trash can. Horton's crime and character were such that he was sentenced to life in prison without even the possibility of parole. Back in Minnesota, Giefer was given a mere 45-day jail sentence.

Baranauckas then notes, what we all know now, and what nobody knew when the State Board of Pardons granted the pardon extraordinary (see how easy it was to write that?), that Giefer is now "charged" (not convicted) with "repeatedly sexually assaulting a young female relative." So, it is then very oddly suggested that Governor Pawlenty "finds himself having to explain Giefer's pardon."

Really?

Given the statutory requirements of the pardon extraordinary in Minnesota, a fair minded person might actually conclude that Pawlenty need not "explain" anything at all. Indeed, anyone who does not understand has probably 1) made no effort to understand or 2) is simply enjoying pretending to be confused. Minnesota law clearly requires that the recipients of the pardon extraordinary have completed their sentence. Giefer had completed his sentence. The law also requires a waiting period, the length of which is dependent on whether or not the crime involved violence. Giefer waited well past the amount of time set by law. Are we going too fast? Confused, are you? In addition, Minnesota law requires that applicants have a clean record, no brushes with the law since the original conviction. Giefer was convicted of nothing since the original offense. Zip. Notta. Clearly, if a person sits down to write about this story and is not keenly aware of all of this, then they are making considerable effort to be ignorant, or to send the wrong signals ... perhaps to create another Willie Horton.

With a castle already built of Styrofoam, Baranauckas claims "the situation" for Pawlenty "has become quite complex." It has? Why? She writes, "He has long been a voice for being tough on crime and earlier this year spoke out in favor of doubling prison sentences for sex offenders." Ah, there's the rub. If Pawlenty is "tough" on crime, he is a theatrical, cartoon-like poser, playing to his rabid "base." If, on the hand, the State Board refuses to treat all sexual offenders - and all sexual offenses - uniformly, with Draconian boiler-plate indifference, he is "hypocritical," if not "soft" on crime.

Baranauckas asks "Should a convicted criminal be forgiven?" and "Should a political candidate be forgiven for making apparent mistakes?" as though these are questions both serious and relevant.

The pardon power is in the U.S. Constitution. Most high school students are aware of the fact that the clemency power is an important part of our system of checks and balances. Clemency powers exist in every state. Forgiveness is as "American" as Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Press and the freedom of  journalists and bloggers to both criticize and distort the record and views of public officials without any serious fear of being punished.

"Apparent mistakes?" While it is certainly honorable for Governor Pawlenty to express sadness at the news of the current charges against Giefer, it would be nothing less than outrageous and utterly preposterous for him to concede to the sloppy notion that, somehow, he made a "mistake" and - God forbid - apologize for it. The Board made a decision in good faith and no one has a single reason in the world to think otherwise. It made its decision on the basis of (and consistent with) clearly defined State law and the information that it had. In such a circumstance, no one could / should do otherwise. Consequently, the after-the-fact second-guessing of the uninformed, the misinformed and partisan cheerleaders should be greeted perhaps, at first, gently, and with care, but then, very quickly with pure scorn.

If failing to perfectly know everything and failing to perfectly predict the future are crimes, Governor Pawlenty should dramatically confess and run, not walk, to martyrdom. The shallow, self-righteous nature of the critics of this decision would, in the process, be made even more stark!

Finally, the most unforgivable shortcoming of Baranauckas' "analysis" of Horton-Giefer is its equivocation regarding the decision making of Dukakis and Pawlenty. Willie Horton would have never had the opportunity to kidnap, stab and rape outside of prison had Michael Dukakis not granted the furlough. On the other hand, Minnesota's Board of Pardons did not spring Mr. Giefer from prison. He was already out of prison, and had been for a long time. As a result, Giefer could have easily committed all of the crimes that his now charged with - and some - without a pardon extraordinary. Whether or not it was granted by the Board is completely irrelevant. How hard is this to see? How difficult is it to understand? Seriously! See complete disaster here.

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