I tell people all the time that when I got into politics, I was your typical cookie cutter Republican. I opposed the things the Democrats were for, I wouldn’t listen to their talking heads, and I was rather closed-minded. But one day I started listening and I realized that they’re not always wrong. This was happening not because I’m not a good Republican, but because we all make mistakes and no party is perfect. And also because every party gets a little overzealous while in power but we tend to forget that or turn a blind eye when they’re doing it.
Another thing everyone used to tell me is that the only thing Republicans and Democrats could agree on is agriculture. But now, times are different. In an era where our nation seems largely divided by partisan politics,some issues are breaking down partisan walls. More recently we’ve seen this with the NSA privacy and data collection debate and now, reform of the justice system seems to be maneuvering itself through the political web to find the common ground of both sides.
I had the opportunity earlier this week to attend a FreedomWorks – Center for American Progress joint briefing as part of the Coalition for Public Safety on Justice Reform. The Coalition partners some unusual suspects like Americans for Tax Reform, the ACLU, the Faith and Freedom Coalition, Right On Crime and the Leadership Conference Education Fund, in addition to the two who hosted the summit.
The briefing largely focused on the need for ultimate elimination of mandatory minimum sentences, specifically for non-violent crimes, and the pressing issue of the unconstitutional process of civil asset forfeiture in almost every state and on the federal level.
These issues are on the front line on the federal level, where the Smarter Sentencing Act is held up in the Senate Judiciary committee, the CORRECTIONS Act is still lingering in the background, and across the nation at the state level we’re seeing initiatives. New Mexico and Montana both just completely overhauled their civil forfeiture laws laying the groundwork with a template for other states to follow suit. They’re gaining momentum because they span far and wide across race, economic class, gender, and partisanship.
This isn’t just about poor, black Americans anymore and it no longer affects just those drug dealers many conservatives love to hate. Republicans need to take note of what is crashing down around us: our legal system.
Our criminal justice system is broken. Mandatory minimums and civil asset forfeiture are ruining the lives of people all around us. The Clyde’s Armory (a gun store) case in North Georgia. The seizure of every penny Joseph River’s had to his name as he traveled by train to start a new career out west. The case of a small Mississippi town of 7,000 using over $4 million in seized assets to build a new police station. A rural white businessman who had everything -over $100,000- usurped from his bank account without charge. Meanwhile, mandatory minimum sentences completely eliminate judicial discretion in punishment, while disallowing judges to use the facts and circumstances of each individual case – something we as conservatives should love and adore. It impacts all of us as our prisons are overcrowded and underfunded.
As former Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli said, “It’s not that you shouldn’t trust the system. But you cannot be unwilling to question the process and the players.” We’ve acknowledged that there are issues Republicans and Democrats can come together on, and this is one of those issues.
Over the next few weeks, I will be doing a series of articles to raise awareness about the various aspects of our criminal justice system that need reform both in Georgia and in DC. I’ll examine the the initiatives above as well as the cost and economic impact of all of this. I hope you’ll join me in educating those around you and encouraging our elected officials, Republican, Democrat and Independent, that the time for change is now. But we face an uphill battle in messaging this to our Republican fellows.