Sunday, February 08, 2009

Local Decisions Are Best Made Locally

There’s such a fine line in politics between populism and pandering.

In his political career, Shelby County’s top prosecutor Bill Gibbons has had his share of the latter and his attempts at the former have generally seemed forced and artificial.

We were reminded of that again this week with more evidence of an insatiable appetite for mandatory sentencing. Apparently, in time, we can eliminate all judges and put a calculator on the bench to dispense justice as mere calculations.

Prosecutorial Leadership

It’s too bad, because in a number of cities, prosecutors are leading campaigns to educate the public about the root causes of crime and to mobilize support for programs to attack them. Also, in other places, there is a growing realization that the growing “corrections-industrial complex” is aimed at keeping more and more people in prison because they in essence are the profit centers for politically-connected vendors such as Corrections Corporation of America.

It is of course politically expedient to propose mandatory sentencing, so voters rarely hear the other side of the issue. For that reason, we admired Cardell Orrin, local political reformer and strategist, for asking the right questions about what is most successful in finding the proper balance between punishment and rehabilitation.

In a city plagued by crime like ours, it’s hard to ask such questions, but they nevertheless are the ones that deserve serious consideration. The U.S. is already the West’s leading prisoner nation, and if Memphis is intent on becoming the leading prisoner city, we cannot in time support the growing costs of such a system.

State Mandates

Meanwhile, this week, Attorney General Gibbons – a member of a party that espouses less government intrusion in local affairs and in the value of the best government being closest to the people – said that he would support state legislation to win a police residency argument that he couldn’t win locally.

This act of political overkill was put forth by yet another Republican, Tennessee Rep. Brian Kelsey, whose naivete is only matched by his self-righteous rigidity, and whose obsessive headline-hunting led him to proposal a state bill to outlaw the ability of cities to make their own decisions about the residency requirements of their police force.

It’s always fascinating to watch these hide-bound conservatives rail against liberals who try to dictate their agenda through government regulations, but when given a chance, can’t seem to resist the chance to do exactly what they criticize.

State Interference

After all, it seems better and more responsive government for such decision to be made by each city based on its own needs and policies. While we too advocated for the relaxing of the police residency requirements, we nonetheless abhor the interference of state government into a decision that is best left to local officials.

The Memphis City Council majority that had won the vote on policy residency should be commended for their willingness to reopen the issue and pursue a compromise on the politically divisive issue. After all, they had the votes and didn’t have to do anything, but in the end, cooler heads prevailed on both sides of this issue and the compromise allows for applicants to come from within 20 miles of Memphis.

And yet, the attorney general was unwilling to let go of the issue regardless of the divisiveness. He told the Memphis Flyer’s Jackson Baker that “it is possible” to pass a state law that would dictate and force Memphis and every other local government in Tennessee to eliminate any residency requirements that they had passed.

Talking The Walk

While he may think that this position will play well in Memphis, it’s less clear about whether cities across Tennessee believe that edicts from state government should trump local self-determination.

It’s uncertain about the ultimate political impact of Mr. Gibbons’ position. It is certain, however, that this will be a long campaign for governor.


Kerry said...

From Gibbons' point of view, it makes total sense to ratchet up the rhetoric about mandatory sentencing and building more prisons to warehouse our society's less desirables. It is regrettable that Kemp Conrad campaigned--and won--on a similar message. It's not like Gibbons can sell himself in places like Williamson County or Knox County as a Memphis-area conservative who has had a lot of success in fighting crime. Most of the rest of the state regards us as a third-world country. If you're pandering to the hardline vote like Gibbons, or you're a megalomaniac like Kelsey, the lock-'em-up-throw-away-the-key shtick is the only thing you've got left.

That being said, I'm baffled at how totally tone-deaf Gibbons seems to be in creating his gubernatorial platform. Who runs a statewide campaign based on crime?

Anonymous said...

" Apparently, in time, we can eliminate all judges and put a calculator on the bench to dispense justice as mere calculations."

This is what I would call an unproductive statement, you may call it sarcasm. It's still unproductive.

In a stance against complacence and frustration, sentencing must be more along the lines of "appropriate to the crime committed" and judges have discretion. Right now sentencing is too lax and offenders have zero deterrent or other choices once they are "out".

Where does Cardell Orrin stand on rehabilitation? Is he going to re-invent the wheel as most Memphians think is appropriate?
W don't need to throw away the key for most felons, most offenses are deemed "rehabilitatable" however, right now, you can sit in Div 5 or 1 and see how they let those who are not rehabilitatable go free after one year or no time. Rehab?

Rehab? How much FEDERAL money do we get to REHAB the current crop?
Where is the money Spent?
How much State Money is sent and where is it spent?
There is a working program that has an 80% non return to prison stat and doesn't cost what we pay "for nothing".
I've talked to the company that designed the program and the have NEVER EVEN RECEIVED A QUERY FOR MEMPHIS OR SHELBY COUNTY!
THAT should worry you!

Who runs a statewide platform based on crime when they haven't solved or thoroughly looked for solutions to the problem within or without the budget?

EXCUSE ME FOR SAYING THIS, but, THAT seems extremely stupid.

Anonymous said...

Gibbons has no shot at winning. Kerry said it well; the rest of the state looks askance at anything from Memphis, rightly or wrongly. And a DA from memphis can hardly run on his record of effective crime fighting. The rest of the candidates don't really have to even campaign for Shelby County votes, they can win without us, just proving more and more our irrelevance to the rest of the state.

antisocialist said...

I agree with Kerry.

Gibbons is a non-starter anyhow. He's got Kustoff running his campaign? Kustoff's claim to fame is what - getting Bush 43 elected in Tennessee? That must've been tough.

However, sending Gibbons to Nashville would get him out of our hair. . . . Something to think about.

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