As the Inauguration of a new Mississippi Governor was underway, the Secretary of State’s office was left scrambling to accommodate the hundreds of last minute pardons issued by outgoing Governor Haley Barbour.
Social media has been inundated with Barbour discussions and the Mississippi press outlets, and even some national media, are having a field day analyzing Barbour, the pardons and yes, even the Republican Party.
Many Democrats and media types are attempting to lump Barbour’s actions in with the conservative cause in Mississippi, especially with the new majority Republicans now hold. But the truth of the matter is that the sheer volume and type of pardons have left many of the staunchest Barbour supporters scratching their heads. Finding a supporter of his actions is like searching for a needle in a haystack.
Now Attorney General Jim Hood has filed an injunction to halt many of the pardons and a judge has granted it. These are the times Hood lives for.
But as we consider Barbour’s pardons, there are two distinct things to look at here… the policy and the politics.
First, the policy.
For the most part, it is simply horrible. Allowing murderers to go free AND have a full restoration of voting rights, gun rights, etc., almost regardless of the circumstances, is just simply bad policy.
Judges and juries matter. The system and process matters. Victims and their families matter. Pardons seem to have been handed out too freely in places where a commutation might have been a semi-just result.
It is no wonder people are up in arms. The scope of the pardons are just mind boggling.
Legislation is being submitted to tweak this process, what many believe to be long overdue.
The politics, however, is something that hasn’t been examined.
Simply put, Barbour and his team handled this poorly, something that has been rarely said of what many deem one of the best political figures in Mississippi history. The public perception immediately became that the pardons were not properly vetted and many felt as if this was done as a sort of reward to cronies on his way out the door.
The initial public perception was also that the doors to the jail were slung wide open for 200 killers and rapists and drug dealers, and Barbour simply got behind the narrative curve.
That perception in hindsight doesn’t appear to be the exact reality as nearly 90% of those pardoned/commuted were not in prison at the time of their pardon/commutation. But this statement came far too late and now carries little weight in the eyes of the public. I do think it was a little more thought through than what some are claiming, but the reasoning is suspect and the communications were just awful.
Keith Plunkett touched on that aspect some and I think he gets it right.
Plunkett writes, “Barbour’s team waited a full 24 hours to release any information, and even then it was a cold reference to numbers. When faced with the mental images of murderers walking the streets a reference to percentage points is of little comfort. The release contained absolutely no statement from the Governor to comfort the many Mississippians who feel betrayed by his action.”
Barbour’s actions and communication strategy spoke of a political tone-deafness that is uncharacteristic for him. Looking at it truthfully, Barbour would not in a million years have made these pardons en masse were he a presidential candidate at this moment. It just would not have happened.
So, why he does it now is truly a headscratcher. It’s situational politics and for someone who prides himself on his principles, it will leave a small but noticeable mark in his history.
Depending on what Hood can muster and then the legislation that is to follow in the wake of this drama, Barbour may be on the tongues of many Mississippians for at least a little while longer. The Bobby Moaks, Jim Hoods and Chokwe Lumumbas of the world are going to have a pretty easy audience as they shout from the rooftops, but at the end of the day it’s likely pure political opportunism for all mentioned.
However, this is certainly not going to be a national story next week. The day after New Hampshire was a slow news day and the story caught fire. His media stock has reduced significantly; he’s yesterday’s news for most media outlets. Next week, CNN will be talking about South Carolina primaries.
Barbour will still go down as the most successful governor in Mississippi history because he is, but there will surely be that one paragraph highlighting these last 48 hours.
Now, newly minted Governor Phil Bryant will need to figure out a way to get this distraction in his rear view mirror as soon as possible and write a new chapter for Mississippi. It would not surprise me to see Bryant support a change in the pardoning policy and avoid the practice entirely when his time comes.
Bryant will remember the way Barbour’s pardons shared headlines with his Inauguration and will surely not stumble across his own finish line as he one day exits the building.