Office of the Governor Scott Walker
Walker is not backing up his position on the pardoning system with any actions.
Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker has declined using his executive power to pardon during his entire time in office. A cynic would say this is his way of avoiding a potential Willie Horton-esque campaign ad against him in a scenario where someone he pardons goes on to commit a heinous crime.
But in a recent interview with the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism, the governor offered a rationale steeped more in the language of fairness.
"What about all those other individuals who may not have an advocate but who have equally turned their lives around?" said Walker.
First of all, kudos for Gov. Walker for sitting down and doing the interview. While the folks at the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism are happy to be tough on Democrats as well as Republicans, Bill Lueders is not a friendly audience like talk radio host Charlie Sykes, nor does he out softball questions like many newspaper editorial boards. Tougher interviews are in the governor's best interest too. If Walker wants to (ugh) run for President, he'll need to get better with interviewers and take harder questions about his record and agenda.
Second, Walker's statement about pardons, taken entirely on its own, is correct. I believe Eric Pizer, the Marine veteran who Walker declined to pardon last year, shouldn't be disqualified from serving as a police officer because of a single punch thrown in a bar fight. But there have to be dozens, if not hundreds, of people in Wisconsin who have a similar story -- they just lack the strong PR campaign Pizer had. Why does the veteran deserve the pardon and not the guy working at the auto shop?
A felony conviction takes away a person's rights for the rest of their days, a lifetime of punishment for a single mistake. The loss of rights range from employment opportunities to hunting permits. The line between misdemeanor and felony is thinner than you would think, and the distinction can sometimes seem arbitrary. How many Wisconsinites had the course of their lives determined by the wrath or mercy of a judge?
Let's also not forget the racial aspects of felony convictions. Once again, I'll take the opportunity to mention that Wisconsin has the highest incarceration disparities for felony convictions in the nation. With that, African American males comprise a huge portion of our ex-felon population. Our legal system has created a scenario where, statistically, whites are far more likely to have civil rights than blacks -- not financial access, not the ephemeral white privilege, but actual legal rights and liberties. That creates an uncomfortable feeling.
The way we treat former felons needs to be reformed. It is possible in Wisconsin to expunge felonies committed while young but it is very difficult. Previously, the governor's pardon power has been used as a stop-gap recourse for dealing with expungement hurdles. Walker could use his anti-pardon stance to push for reform of the system, to make it easier for people who have demonstrated change to move on with their lives.
But I doubt he will. Walker seems entirely uninterested in using any of his political clout to move legislation forward. No, he seems more interested in meekly half-protesting "right-to-work" legislation than proposing an agenda of his own.
It's a shame because this is an issue where Walker is actually right.