Sunday, May 7, 2006

keith ellison and crime control

every political candidate must say something about crime, but the level of discourse -- from both the democrat and republican side of the aisle -- seems to have slipped a bit in recent years.

candidate a: i'll make sure that all sex offenders serve at least fifty years, plus a lifetime term of double-secret probation.

candidate b: my opponents advocate coddling the worst of the worst! i propose sentences of at least fifty hundred years.

candidate c: under such a proposal, a cryogenically frozen offender could get off scot-free in five short milennia! fifty hundred years is fine and good, but we need to ensure that the pee-wee hermans of the world never see the light of day. i've introduced a bill that would mandate life without parole, plus fifty gazillion years.

in contrast, state representative keith ellison is one politician who talks more sensibly and pragmatically about crime and punishment. representing minneapolis' north side, mr. ellison has been outspoken on contentious crime issues. he is responsive to his district's demand for better public safety and cognizant of the consequences of punishment for individuals and communities. in particular, he has championed the issue of reenfranchisement and reintegration, as well as sentencing alternatives for drug offenders. i was especially moved by his remarks on the right to vote at a recent conference.

i am not blogging to endorse a particular candidate or party, but i am genuinely excited when i meet a politician who seems responsive to social science knowledge in my area of expertise. when i heard that representative ellison was one of many dems seeking to succeed martin sabo in the u.s. house, i asked my political science buddies whether he had a chance. they uniformly praised his oratory and intelligence but doubted his ability to leapfrog others in the distinguished field. well, mr. ellison just won the democratic party's endorsement for the 5th congressional district this weekend. if he takes the september 12 primary, he would surely be a heavy favorite in the overwhelmingly-democratic district this november.

i don't reside in his district and i've only really discussed crime with mr. ellison, but i came away impressed with his vision and his guts. many politicians are so terrified of being portrayed as soft on crime that they seem to suspend their own basic principles, good judgment, and reasoned analysis. if elected, part of me thinks that representative ellison could help articulate a clear alternative vision of crime, punishment, and public safety. of course, another part of me worries that he'll either have to dilute the vision or risk getting tarred with the "soft on crime" brush.

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