February 4, 2016

Walker turns back on pardon duty

By Sen. Lena C. Taylor

Governor Scott Walker… just do your job!

The Wisconsin Constitution states, “The governor shall have power to grant reprieves, commutations and pardons, after conviction…” That’s it. He’s the only person in the entire state who can grant a pardon.

Yet, Governor Walker not only refuses to make pardons, he refuses his duty to convene a committee to even listen to the thousands of people who wrote the Governor seeking pardons.

You would think as an elected official who took an oath to honor the constitution, as the son of a pastor with strongly held religious beliefs, that Governor Walker would have honored his duty to the longstanding, bipartisan tradition of governors using their constitutional obligation to grant well deserving Wisconsinites another chance.

Gov. Walker’s complete dismissal of the pardon process is unprecedented in recent Wisconsin history. Republican Governor Tommy Thompson issued 148 pardons during his years in office. Democratic Governor Jim Doyle issued nearly 300 pardons. Even Governor Scott McCallum pardoned 24 people the short time he was in office. The responsibility to conduct pardons goes back to the beginning of our state. As far as I know, Governor Walker is the only Governor in the history of Wisconsin to refuse to perform this constitutional duty.

Refusing to even consider pardons is a rejection of the commitment to the principle written by drafters of our state constitution, not to mention a rejection of the word of the Lord.

The Bible praises in no uncertain terms the virtues of forgiveness, and the right of humankind to a chance at redemption. In the Sermon on the Mount, Christ reminds us: “For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”

Governor Walker’s unwillingness to forgive, not to mention his refusal to even listen to the people of Wisconsin is a troubling pattern:

  • His unwillingness to talk with legislative Democrats is what landed me in Illinois in 2011.
  • His refusal to include advocates on long term health care policy decisions led to bipartisan changes in this budget.
  • His refusal to listen to senior citizens regarding SeniorCare has led to his attempts to gut the program being denied twice by the legislature.
  • His unwillingness to listen to data driven strategies is what led to the highest incarceration rate of African American men in the nation.

I believe in the duty of government to serve its people, and there is no way to serve without first lending our ears. If we do not even listen to those who have served their sentence and repented their crimes, we deny them an opportunity for full rehabilitation and restoration of their full citizenship.

That’s why I am happy to announce that I have introduced a bill to create an independent pardon council. This bill would create a panel of nine judges from around the state to consider each application for a pardon and make recommendations to the governor and the legislature. This independent body will make sure Wisconsin citizens have a chance to be heard, understood, and have an advocate for their right to a second chance.

Even though Gov. Walker refuses to do his duty, he won’t be governor forever. Not only has his refusal to execute his constitutional responsibility denied dozens and maybe hundreds of people a pardon, he is also creating a tremendous backlog of people who just want their chance to make their case.

My bill will give those people a chance to have their plea heard. At the very least, it is my hope that this independent panel will hear the pleas of hundreds, if not thousands of individuals who want another chance.

Wisconsin’s next governor will have a big job ahead of them cleaning up Walker’s mess with regards to pardons. My hope is that this bill will aid in that effort.

To join Senator Taylor in her Legislative efforts, stay in the loop at Facebook.com/SenLenaTaylor, Twitter.com/SenTaylor, Instagram.com/Lena.Taylor or join her email list by emailing Sen.Taylor@legis.wi.gov.