Sunday, February 12, 2012

Barbour Stunts: The Solution

Had the honor of publishing an editorial in the Jackson Clarion-Ledger today. There were just a few changes made to the original, but nothing major. Here is the core of what we see as the solution to Haley-Barbour-like stunts:
... Mississippi legislators should also take note of what Alexander Hamilton says in Federalist 74 regarding Haley Barbour-like pardoning. Hamilton argues the executive will rightly exercise "scrupulousness and caution" in granting pardons, and do so with “circumspection" if there is "dread" of being “accused of weakness or connivance" and the executive is in "apprehension of suspicion or censure" for pardons which are considered "injudicious" or "affected." Which is to say, the best check against the abuse of the pardon power is, and always will be, constant public scrutiny.

... Mississippi gubernatorial candidates need to be asked about their view of pardons. Do they intend to grant them? If so, how often? Or, how little? And why? They also need to be questioned about last-minute pardons and what factors they would consider in granting pardons. Candidates should explain their view of the State's Parole Board, how important they consider its work and whether or not they will generally follow its recommendations? Such scrutiny would, of course, provide a public record, which would allow for additional scrutiny, the entire term.

... the total number of applications and positive recommendations sitting in the governor’s lap at any given point in time should be front and center on the Board's web page. Press releases should report these data once a month.

You see, the Board did not suddenly meet, and dump hundreds of clemency applications on Mr. Barbour. He callously sat on incoming materials for eight long years. And where was the scrutiny of his behavior? Where was the suspicion regarding his inaction? Where were the appeals to Christian mercy during that long, horrible drought? What price did he pay for incompetence / neglect? The fact is, Barbour had very little reason to dread anything, not only because he was leaving office, but also because he was governing in an environment of ambivalence.

In sum, Mississippi can address pardon fiascos without overhauling its Constitution or rejecting what the Founding Fathers considered an important feature of our system of checks and balances and separation of powers. Mr. Barbour well deserves his share of the blame. But dread and circumspection can (and should) be created by a well-represented public that cares, a process that is transparent and an attentive press.
See entire editorial here.

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