Saturday, July 27, 2013

Paying your debt to society...paying and paying

As many ex-cons as this country has created, you’d think we would love them. Not only do we not love them, we want to make sure they live the rest of their lives with as many disadvantages as possible. Who pays the price? The entire community.

Twenty-years ago David Koch was convicted of a crime in Alaska. The crime wasn’t deemed serious enough to warrant incarceration. A jail sentence was suspended. Koch was given two-years probation. Koch completed his sentence and hasn’t reoffended. He moved to Cody, working as a radio announcer. You’d think he had paid his debt to society and could move on. But no.

Pat Nolan knows how this works. Nolan was once the powerful Republican leader of the California House of Representatives. His life changed when he was arrested for taking illegal contributions. Nolan spent two years in prison.

His political career over, his real life began. Chuck Colson, one of the casualties of Watergate, started Prison Fellowship. Colson recruited Nolan. That was the early 1990s. Today Nolan serves as the director of PF’s Center for Justice Reform.

Nolan came to Wyoming in 2000 to support drug courts and other common sense changes in Wyoming’s criminal justice system. He made an impression on lawmakers that has since waned.

David Koch’s case speaks to how much reform is needed in Wyoming and America’s justice system.

Despite an electorate who feels we should lock criminals up and throw away the key, we don’t. Nearly all are eventually released. The length of Nolan’s time in prison is about average. Legislators debate how long sentences should be but seldom ask whether the system returns convicts to the community as better persons than when they went to prison.

We incarcerate at an irrational rate, using expensive prison cells for people who could be safely rehabilitated in the community using practices proven to work. We then impose additional burdens on their ability to rejoin the community.

A prison sentence is only the beginning of the price a convict pays. Nolan cites an article in the Journal of the American Bar Association. The title makes the case. "Ex-offenders face tens of thousands of legal restrictions, bias and limits on their rights."

The ABA reports incarceration has become such a routine response to crime that one in five Americans is an ex-con. Many enter prison already disadvantaged with low education levels, mental health and substance abuse diagnoses, spotty job records, and little family support. When they come out things get worse. They reenter the community with the enormous stigma of being an ex-con. The ABA says “today’s ex-offenders could face up to 50,000 legally mandated collateral consequences, including restrictions on housing, employment, public benefits and immigration.”

Enter David Koch. Twenty-years after serving his time, paying the price…the law still wants a piece of his flesh. It isn’t enough that he has become an honest, contributing member of the community. Two decades later, the law says he can’t even vote. He did. Now he faces five years in jail and a 10,000-dollar fine, as well as the loss of his job and standing.

The case reminds me of the admonition of a professor in my first year of law school. When students argued the outcome of a case was “unfair” he suggested we walk outside and read the sign on the front of the building. This is not, he said, a school of fairness. This is a College of Law. There is a difference and it is one that does not make the community safer.

Legislators seldom want to work hard enough to find real answers to complex problems. When it comes to criminal justice, constituents don’t reward politicians who advocate for reforms. But jail cells are enormously expensive, especially when filled by aging inmates. Even more expensive is recidivism. When policies and the law combine to create little more than a revolving prison door, the community is not safer, the costs soar and lives that could be redeemed are lost.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

”a '60s and '70s hippie who has never grown up."

It says something that the initial speculation about next year’s Republican primary for the senate is NOT about whether Liz Cheney will defeat Mike Enzi. Instead it’s about which Democrat will be around after that war to bury the dead and house the refugees.

Republicans agree on the consequences of Liz Cheney’s selfish decision. Al Simpson said that Liz Cheney running against Mike Enzi would be “a disaster – a divisive, ugly situation – and all it does is open the door for the Democrats [in Wyoming] for 20 years.”

It’s been more than 40 years since that door opened for Democrats. It’s been more than 30 years since the door was slammed in my face in 1982. So I was entertained, maybe a little baited, to see my name thrown into the hat by the speculators. To be fair, I was listed third following Dave Freudenthal and Mike Massie. Given their qualifications, that made me an afterthought, mentioned only because these lists must always come in threes.

After speaking to my old friend Jack Mueller a reporter for said,The third name is Rodger McDaniel, one-time boy wonder of Wyoming politics and favorite of the party's left. A former congressional staffer, state legislator, and ordained minister, McDaniel, in Jack Mueller's words, "is a liberal, even by Colorado standards. He is a '60s and '70s hippie who has never grown up.

“Mueller recalled, ‘McDaniel and his wife burned their marriage certificate in protest recently to show solidarity for gay marriage. He won't have much money, but he will be loud and energetic and the media will love him."

Until reading those words and thinking of myself in those terms, I had given no thought to running again. But maybe what Wyoming needs is just that…”a '60s and '70s hippie who has never grown up."

That would be a candidate who understands the worth of protecting the civil rights of all Americans. A “60s and '70s hippie who has never grown up” would recognize the unsustainable nature of our treatment of both the middle class and the natural environment. A “60s and '70s hippie who has never grown up" would remember the tragedy of Viet Nam, Watergate and the corrupt influence of money in politics, how little progress has been made in gender equality, the meaning of personal privacy and free press, and the importance of having visionary women and men on the US Supreme Court instead of doctrinaire placeholders whose only qualification is to pass partisan litmus tests.

Mr. Mueller called me “a liberal, even by Colorado standards.” What we have now are “conservatives by Washington standards.” What Wyoming has gotten out of its four-decade reliance on a one Party system is a Republican primary where the issue will be which of the two candidates is the most partisan and most divisive. Liz Cheney’s decision to put self above party and country will produce the most divisive political campaign in the state’s history. It will be “conservative” only by the standards of conservatism in Washington, standards becoming unrecognizable to Wyoming conservatives.

Wyoming Republicans opened the door to the Tea Party, the Liberty Group, the Constitution Party and WyWatch. They just didn’t close the door in time. They thought they were creating an “open tent.” Instead, they may have arranged their own lynching.

Alas, this aging hippie won’t be the one to walk through the door the GOP is opening for Democrats. I lost my primary around the kitchen table. Among those old enough to vote, i.e. my wife and adult children, the vote was 3-0 against tilting at the windmill. Those old enough to speak but not to vote, i.e. grandchildren Rhyland, Edythe and Penelope, said I should run.

I’m not breaking the tie. The voters had their chance to elect a young hippie to the Senate in 1982. They won’t get another opportunity. This “60s and '70s hippie” is now in his 60s, on his way to his 70s and enjoying life too much for that.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Dick Cheney's daughter for the Senate. Why?

My biography of former Wyoming Senator Lester Hunt provides evidence that Democrats once walked the earth in this state. Following the demise of the dinosaurs and sometime before the near-extinction of the Democratic Party, Wyoming voters had been known to choose non-Republicans to fill congressional seats.

The last time a Wyoming Democrat was elected to the Senate was 1970, forty-three years ago. Gale McGee won a third term that year. A seismic shift came six years later when voters decided they’d rather have a doctrinaire Republican in the senate than an effective senator.

Next year, voters may have that choice again. The difference is the choice may be made, not in a general election contest between a Democrat and a Republican, but in the primary election. In 2014, the congenial conservative incumbent Mike Enzi is up for reelection. Dick Cheney’s daughter Liz wants his job.

To prove how badly she wants it, she bought a Cowboy hat and moved from Virginia to Wyoming last year so she could meet residency requirements. It’s a lesson learned at her father’s knee watching him scurry to the Teton County courthouse in 2000 upon learning that fellow-Texan George W. Bush wanted him on the ticket. The US Constitution prohibits two people from the same state to run for president and vice-president. Cheney hastily registered to vote in Wyoming so that he could accept the nomination.

He then claimed he was from Wyoming in order to become Veep before he was even qualified to buy a resident fishing license here. Now it’s Liz Cheney’s turn to requisition the state as a means of winning high public office. She apparently doesn’t care an iota about the destruction her ambition would cause.

Former Senator Al Simpson, whose seat Mike Enzi won when Simpson retired, told the New York Times that an Enzi-Cheney primary would cause “the destruction of the Republican Party in Wyoming.” Simpson added, “It’s a disaster — a divisive, ugly situation — and all it does is open the door for the Democrats for 20 years.”

Sadly, it would do much more than open the door to Democrats. Whether she defeats Enzi or not, her candidacy will close another door to rational, bipartisan politics in Washington. Liz Cheney’s problem with Enzi isn’t just that he has a job she wants. Enzi is not nearly so consumed with partisanship as his colleague John Barrasso. It’s become common knowledge that the most dangerous place in Washington these days is no longer the Anacostia neighborhood after dark. The most dangerous place in Washington is that space between Barrasso and a Fox News camera.
Mike Enzi is not like that. He sees the Fox News shows as places where destructive partisanship is spawned and so he largely avoids them. Enzi actually works with Democrats, forging tough compromises without compromising his values. He was known for working with Ted Kennedy. Had Kennedy lived, he and Enzi might well have negotiated a settlement to the destructive war over healthcare reform.

If an Enzi-Cheney race simply opens the doors to a two-party system in Wyoming, the voters would benefit. More likely it will result in even greater single-party partisanship, political intolerance, and a debate over which candidate can cause the most gridlock in Washington. The NY Times observed, “Ms. Cheney’s broader line of attack on Mr. Enzi, though, may be that he is too willing to work with Democrats and not vocal enough in pushing conservative causes. Ms. Cheney, a State Department official in the administration of President George W. Bush, is a pugnacious partisan and has called President Obama ‘the most radical man ever to occupy the Oval Office.”

The woman who calls Barack Obama ““the most radical man ever to occupy the Oval Office” wants to become the most radical person to have ever represented Wyoming in the United States Senate. And Liz Cheney apparently doesn’t care how much earth she has to scorch to get what she wants.

The apple didn’t fall too far from the tree.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Churches can make their choices but the constitution doesn’t leave anyone a second-class citizen.

Justice Antonin Scalia, who relishes his role as a self-appointed judicial defender of bigotry, waved a white flag dissenting from one recent gay marriage decision. "In sum,” he said, “that Court which finds it so horrific that Congress irrationally and hatefully robbed same-sex couples of the 'personhood and dignity' which state legislatures conferred upon them, will of a certitude be similarly appalled by state legislatures' irrational and hateful failure to acknowledge that 'personhood and dignity' in the first place. As far as this Court is concerned, no one should be fooled; it is just a matter of listening and waiting for the other shoe."

Only a day apart, Scalia opined that the states could deny federal protection to prevent voter suppression while voting to deny states the right to legislate marriage equality. He reminds us of when one of President Nixon’s appointees to the Supreme Court was deemed “mediocre.” Nebraska Senator Roman Hruska famously said the mediocre “are entitled to a little representation, aren't they?”

Scalia would suggest that even the bigots “are entitled to a little representation, aren't they?”

Even Scalia recognizes these rulings were admonitory. States have been warned. Legislators can either do what the constitution requires or the courts will do it for them. The decisions were victories for state’s rights but ultimately, the high court sent a warning shot across their bow. If the states don’t do it, the federal courts will have no choice but to guarantee homosexuals equal protection under the law.

In the case determining the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) to be nothing but a defense of bigotry, United States v. Windsor, the majority decided, “DOMA is unconstitutional as a deprivation of the equal liberty of persons that is protected by the Fifth Amendment.” Weighing Leviticus against the Constitutional guarantee of equality, five of the nine justices said the latter, “must at the very least mean that a bare congressional desire to harm a politically unpopular group cannot justify disparate treatment of that group.”
Using that criterion, civil contracts are as unacceptable as the status quo. Civil contracts are to marriage equality what “separate but equal” was to the battle for the rights of African Americans. “Whites only” drinking fountains are no different than “heterosexual only” weddings. Churches can make their choices but the constitution doesn’t leave anyone a second-class citizen.
The case overturning the California ban on gay marriage sent the strongest signal of what lies ahead for politicians who read their Bible but not our Constitution. Justice Roberts said the proponents of California’s Proposition 8 had suffered only a “generalized grievance” when the ballot initiative they sponsored was struck down.
Those words, “generalized grievance,” relegated to the waste bin the arguments heard ad infinitum from opponents of equality. Those like state senator Leslie Nutting of Cheyenne, who claim the rights of same-sex couples somehow violates “the sanctity of marriage,” or WyWatch and state representative Lynn Hutchings’ claims that gay marriage threatens heterosexual marriage, that marriage is about the ability to reproduce, or the arguments that gay couples shouldn’t raise children…and other unsubstantiated claims…the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court said those arguments were all “generalized” grievances, not giving adherents the right to come into a court to challenge people seeking equal protection under the law.
Note to Nutting and Hutchings: Chief Justice Roberts wrote, in another case striking down a school integration program, "The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race." Ergo, the way to stop discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is to stop discriminating on the basis of sexual discrimination.

The thud you heard when Justice Roberts finished speaking was indeed the other shoe dropping.

Wyoming legislators can choose between prejudice and the Constitution. Don’t hold your breath. Time and resources used to work for equal rights in the Equality State would be better spent taking the case to the federal court.

The time has come and even Justice Scalia knows it.