What are we to make of pardons?
Thousands of Mississippians feel betrayed this weekend, betrayed by a man they trusted, a man they listened to, believed in and voted for — twice.
Gov. Haley Barbour’s decision to grant pardons and clemency to more than 200 criminals on his last day in office is simply inexplicable to most Mississippians.
After a couple of days of silence, Barbour attempted to explain his decisions late last week.
Barbour said he was “very comfortable” with his decisions in a news conference on Friday.
But attempting to spin his acts with a one-two punch of politics and religion falls far short and doesn’t provide sufficient and meaningful explanation for his actions.
“What I didn’t think was that politicians would go out and tell the public we let 200 people out of the penitentiary,” Barbour said. “I didn’t anticipate this would be all about politics.”
It’s all about politics, but perhaps not Barbour’s political foes taking shots at him. Instead most of the pardons and clemency appear to be about political favoritism, good old boy politics and the luck of “who you know.”
Barbour disagrees, further spinning his tale. It’s important to remember he’s a master lobbyist.
The former governor suggests that it’s his religious tenets that are at play.
“I believe in second chances, and I try hard to be forgiving,” he said Friday.
“I am very comfortable and totally at peace with these pardons.”
Barbour and those he pardoned are just about the only folks who seem comfortable with his actions.
Pretty much everyone in the state is upset about it.
The initial shock of the massive scope of the pardons and clemency subsided at least a little as more details were released.
Of the 215 criminals involved, approximately 189 were already released from prison; meaning Barbour’s paperwork was mostly meaningless to the average citizen. Fears that hundreds of murderers were being freed were overblown.
Logically, however, Mississippians feel wronged by the realization that even one murderer is being set free “just because he served as a servant in the governor’s mansion.”
Apparently that’s been the practice for several governors — work as an inmate trusty in the governor’s mansion and you can get freed “just because.”
It’s a ridiculous practice.
The Mississippi Parole Board gives eligible inmates the chance for freedom.
What’s interesting is that the trusties — who apparently are almost always murderers — are usually ineligible for parole.
State law prohibits parole as an option for inmates convicted of committing a long list of crimes after June 30, 1995.
But state law — at least in its present form — allows for the governor to override state law.
Normally, that relief valve is considered a good one. However, it appears to have been abused in this case.
To add insult to the public injury, it appears state law may not have been followed in the process, either.
The public is supposed to be properly notified of upcoming parole decisions — state law requires notices be published in a local newspaper 30 days in advance. Many of those notices appear to have never been made.
Perhaps the only good that might come from the incident will be if the public uproar encourages state lawmakers to restrict the ability for governors to become unchecked dictators when it comes to overriding the courts.
Kevin Cooper is publisher of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3539 or email@example.com.