By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal
JACKSON – Sometimes, perhaps not often, politicians take actions for reasons other than politics.
Such is the case, I believe, with the more than 200 pardons and suspensions of sentences handed out by former Gov. Haley Barbour on his way out the door of the Governor’s Mansion earlier this month.
Now private-citizen Barbour says he provided the pardons because he believes in Christian forgiveness and in second chances. The conservative Republican seemed sincere when he explained the reason for the pardons in a recent news conference from the law office where he now works.
And truth be known, what other reason could there be for the pardons? Perhaps there could be a connection to Barbour for one or two of those receiving the clemency. But I cannot imagine an ulterior motive the former governor would have for the vast majority of pardons after looking at the records and backgrounds of many receiving the pardons.
So one can argue with whether it was the right or wrong thing to do. But I find it difficult to argue with the former governor’s motives.
By the same token, Barbour said Democratic Attorney General Jim Hood was playing politics, making political hay, when he went to court to try to block the pardons. It seems the Constitution mandates a person seeking a pardon from the governor to provide a 30-day notice in the newspaper of that intention. Hood said it appears most receiving the pardons did not provide that notice.
It also should be noted that the vast majority of the pardons were for people who have completed their sentence with the state Department of Corrections. Only 10 pardons were granted to people still in custody of the Department of Corrections. The pardons for the people out of prison will expunge their record and restore certain rights – like the right to vote and to own a gun.
Throughout Barbour’s two terms as governor, he often clashed with Hood. Often those clashes wound up in court. Hood won some of those legal tilts. Barbour won some, but probably came out on the losing end more than not.
Perhaps some of those battles were about politics. But more often than not, they were about policy.
Barbour is fond of quoting his former boss – Ronald Reagan – as saying good policy makes good politics. That may be true most times, but it is hard to believe the pardons are good politics for Barbour.
Hood is, at his heart, a prosecutor. He served as district attorney in Northeast Mississippi before being elected attorney general in 2003. His family has been the victim of a violent crime. Throughout his tenure, he has gone out of his way to align himself with crime victims.
He has at times taken on cases that were politically unpopular.
The policy Hood is pursuing in regards to the pardons, no doubt, is good policy in his eyes – and apparently the eyes of many – and it is no doubt good politics. Of course, Barbour says his political career is over. The 64-year-old has said he does not anticipate running for office again. He has downplayed the possibility of following Thad Cochran in the U.S. Senate, saying Mississippians do not want to elect a senator in his mid-60s to try to build seniority in the nation’s upper chamber.
But it is foolish to think Barbour does not care about his gubernatorial legacy. There is much to talk about when it comes to his legacy – the Katrina recovery, the rise of his Republican Party, the recruitment of Toyota, changes to the civil justice system.
For better of worse, the pardons will be part of his legacy. And at some point, Barbour, as he is fond of doing, will want to appear on the news talk shows on Fox, CNN or one of the networks to pontificate about the national elections. At that time, he probably will again face questions about the pardons. They have been a big national story.
The fact is, I can understand Barbour’s explanation of why he did what he did, and I can understand Hood’s stance as well.
What is confusing is that their positions do not coincide with how we normally portray Republicans and Democrats.
Because in this instance, Haley Barbour sounds like the bleeding-heart liberal.
Bobby Harrison is Capitol Bureau chief for the Daily Journal in Jackson. Contact him at (601) 353-3119 or firstname.lastname@example.org.