House Speaker Paul RyanPaul RyanOvernight Regulation: Senators call for 'cost-effective' regs | FCC chief unveils plans to roll back net neutrality Overnight Tech: FCC chief unveils plan for net neutrality rollback | Tech on Trump's sweeping tax plan | Cruz looks to boost space industry Not too shabby: Trump tax plan nails corporate rate, errs on income MORE’s primary opponent, Paul Nehlen, frequently attacked Ryan’s support for criminal justice reform. Nehlen accused Ryan of pushing Obama’s agenda on jailbreak criminal justice reform policies.
Not only was Nehlen’s narrative wrong, his political calculus was flawed. Ryan clobbered him on Election Day, winning the primary with more than 80 percent of the vote.
First and foremost, it is conservatives in big red states like Texas, Georgia, and South Carolina who have led the way on justice reform issues for a decade. These efforts yielded great success in safely reducing the prison population, saving significant taxpayer resources, and most importantly lowering crime and recidivism rates.
Texas Governor Rick Perry, Georgia Governor Nathan Deal, Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin, and Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin are just a few of the conservative leaders who are the most ardent champions of, and effective spokespersons for, criminal justice reform. Given all the state successes, President Obama’s support is actually a bit late to the party.
Republican U.S. Senator David VitterDavid VitterFormer senator who crafted chemicals law to lobby for chemicals industry Former GOP rep joins K Street lobbying firm Capitol Counsel Lobbying World MORE, vying for conservative Louisiana gubernatorial seat, learned the hard way that attempting to tie his opponent to Obama’s criminal justice reforms was unproductive. With support from law enforcement, John Bel Edwards doubled down on his push for “bipartisan” criminal justice reforms. Edwards is now the Governor of Louisiana.
Additionally, polling data from dozens of states across the country shows overwhelming support across the political and ideological spectrum for criminal justice reform. Replacing one-size-fits-all mandatory minimum sentences with penalties that reflect individual cases polls out the roof in battleground states like Michigan (91%) and Ohio (87%).
Surveys in states that will have hotly-contested Senate races such as Florida, Illinois, North Carolina, Nevada, and Speaker Ryan’s home state of Wisconsin show support for reform issues ranging from the 60s to high 80s. The smart political play is to embrace these reforms.
Doing otherwise could backfire. Just ask Alaska’s then-incumbent Senator Mark BegichMark BegichPerez creates advisory team for DNC transition The future of the Arctic 2016’s battle for the Senate: A shifting map MORE. In the state’s 2014 U.S. Senate race, Begich attacked his Republican opponent, Dan Sullivan, alleging he was soft on crime. Sullivan emerged victorious over Begich and is currently serving as the junior senator from Alaska.
In a time when one in three American adults has a criminal record and every single American family is impacted by our broken justice system, supporting reform not only makes for sound policy but also smart politics. Which is why this irrational fear of supporting federal legislation similar to the aforementioned state reforms is all the more baffling.
Despite strong champions for reform on both sides of the aisle in both chambers, Congress has failed to bring this legislation to a vote. And the longer the wait, the less likely a bill will get across the finish line this year.
But Paul Ryan’s trouncing of his ill-advised primary opponent could be a game changer. After all, in the new era of smart on crime policy, reform opponents are 0-3.
Holly Harris is the Executive Director of the U.S. Justice Action Network (USJAN) the largest bipartisan coalition working at the state and federal level to reform the criminal justice system and former General Counsel to the Republican Party of Kentucky. Andrew Howard is USJAN’s Director of Federal Affairs and former legislative aide to Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellLawmakers push one-week stopgap funding bill Overnight Finance: Inside Trump's tax plan | White House mulls order pulling out of NAFTA | New fight over Dodd-Frank begins Dem rep: Trump's tax plan as believable as 'magic, unicorns or Batman' MORE.
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