The No-Pardoner’s Tale

Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee are fighting over pardons. Huckabee issued an extraordinary number of pardons and commutations when he was governor of Arkansas, and, as we noted here, Huckabee’s championing of parole for rapist Wayne Dumond was an embarrassing lapse in judgment.
Romney has made an ad contrasting his record on pardons and commutations with Huckabee’s:

Romney’s record is indeed extraordinary: in his years as governor of Massachusetts, he never granted a single pardon or commutation. Tough on crime, indeed!
But Huckabee is now fighting back. He defends his own record:

“My opponent saw 100 of them. I saw 8,700 of them, 90 percent of them I denied,” Huckabee said, defending the ones he approved.
“Many of the clemencies were 35-year-old single moms trying to get a job and raise a family and they couldn’t get hired because we require background checks,” he said. “They wrote a hot check when they were 17 or 18 years old. I think they were good decisions and I stand by them.”

Well, maybe. But Wayne Dumond was no single mom. So Huckabee tries to change the subject, criticizing Romney for his stinginess with pardons and suggesting that it was politically motivated:

Turning the tables, Huckabee pointed to Romney’s denial in Massachusetts of the request for pardon from an Iraq war veteran who was trying to become a police officer after his National Guard service. Anthony Circosta’s offense was that, as a 13-year-old, he shot a friend in the arm with a BB gun.
Huckabee accused Romney of denying the request for political reasons.
“Here’s a young man who made a mistake when he was 13,” Huckabee said. “You have to decide whether we make a decision based on our political future or the future of a young man who was strong and went to war. The smart political thing is always deny all of them.”

It’s worth noting that Romney never attacked Huckabee’s motives, only his judgment. Huckabee’s quickness to attack a rival’s motives is perhaps revealing. Beyond that, Huckabee wants to steer our attention toward Anthony Circosta and away from Wayne Dumond. I hadn’t heard of the Circosta affair, and was surprised to see that it has generated a lot of news coverage, like this ABC News article.
It’s apparently true that Circosta shot another kid with a BB gun when he was 13, went on to become an Iraq war hero, and applied for a pardon so that he could become a Massachusetts policeman. Romney apparently denied the pardon request twice.
But, while seemingly true, the story makes little sense. Huckabee’s charge that Romney denied a pardon in order to enhance his own political standing is silly. Pardoning Circosta would have been popular with Republicans (and everyone else), which, of course, is why Huckabee now wants to talk about the incident. Far from being a case of political pandering, Romney’s refusal to pardon Circosta’s transgression as a 13-year-old looks like a case of over-scrupulous adherence to principle.
Or else, perhaps, an appropriately scrupulous regard for separation of powers. Does anyone understand the premise that Circosta couldn’t become a Massachusetts policeman unless he obtained a pardon for having shot another kid with a BB when he was 13? I don’t. Was he tried as an adult? Presumably not. Apparently either the State of Massachusetts, or a particular locality where Circosta wanted to be a policeman, enacted a statute or regulation providing that no one who had ever had a “firearms offense”–including an errant shot with a BB gun at age 13–could thereafter be a police officer.
The appropriate response to such a statute or rule is not to ask the Governor to pardon everyone, as to whom application of the rule would be ridiculous. The appropriate response is to repeal the statute or rule. It seems that Massachusetts’ liberal legislature, or some the state’s liberal municipalities, passed a dumb anti-gun law. Now Mike Huckabee says that Romney should have taken the liberals off the hook by negating the effect of that prohibition. I don’t blame Mitt Romney for declining to do so. But on a political level, Huckabee’s effort to deflect attention from his own prodigality with pardons, commutations and parole recommendations may well succeed.
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