Yesterday Gov. Tony Evers announced that he would pardon 71 more people. It was absolutely the right thing to do and absolutely the wrong time to do it.
Evers is now on track to pardon more people than any other governor in Wisconsin history. That makes sense since his predecessor, Scott Walker, issued no pardons at all for eight years. Evers faced a lot of pent up demand by people who had legitimate claims to a pardon and he’s simply acting like any normal governor would.
The people Evers has pardoned have done things to turn their lives around and, for the most part (maybe in all cases — it wasn’t clear from news stories), they are no longer in prison. Evers is not throwing open the prison gates.
But it’s precisely the fact that most or all of these people have served their sentences that makes this unnecessary at this time. Granting people pardons might allow them to own a gun, vote, run for office and hold some professional licenses. These are important things (well, still more people owning guns is not necessarily such a great thing), but it’s not like Evers is releasing innocent people from hellish prisons. He’s essentially restoring some rights to guilty people who have repaid their debt to society and then some.
The problem with his timing is that it comes in the middle of a big uptick in shootings and shots fired incidents, both nationally and here in Wisconsin. As I’ve written several times now, I’m afraid the Democrats have a big blind spot on crime. They just don’t seem to have a sense of urgency about it. Eric Adams surprised a lot of people by winning the Democratic nomination for New York mayor in large part because he did make crime an issue in his campaign. California Gov. Gavin Newsom could lose his recall election in part because of that issue.
You can easily imagine an attack ad next year against Evers along the lines of, “Tony Evers has pardoned more criminals than any governor in history!” That breathless statement will be splashed over pictures of police tape strewn across crime scenes. The Republicans won’t be too nuanced about making a distinction between murderers and gang members and the kinds of restored citizens Evers has actually pardoned.
And, of course, should any one of those many pardoned people wind up committing another serious, violent crime that will not go unnoticed.
Now, you might ask when there is a good time to announce pardons. I have an answer. That time is late November and December in 2022. If Evers could have held off until then he would have increased his chances of making even more deserved pardons during the following four years.
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