The issue of Senate recruitment is in the news again, as Jim Webb decides to retire and the Democrats are now praying that Tim Kaine will enter the race for Senate in Virginia. We’ll see if President Obama can convince him, but as Ezra Klein points out, this administration has been very bad in the area of Senate recruitments.
But the White House hasn’t always taken the recruitment of challengers that seriously. In 2008, they brought Iowa’s Tom Vilsack, Arizona’s Janet Napolitano, Kansas’s Kathleen Sebelius, and Colorado’s Ken Salazar into the administration. The payoff? They almost lost Salazar’s Senate seat and Democrats had to find weaker candidates in Iowa, Arizona, and Kansas. It stands, to me, as the administration’s single most baffling set of political decisions. There were plenty of other people capable of running the various cabinet agencies. There were no other people capable of replacing the threat Vilsack would have posed to Chuck Grassley or that Napolitano would’ve posed to John McCain, and thus no one who could’ve done as much to convince them that cooperating a bit on initiatives like health-care reform would be in their interest. Similarly, Sebelius was the only Democrat in Kansas who even had a chance of winning the state’s open Senate seat. Why pull her to Washington in a different capacity?
I think the Obama administration has been unfairly attcked by many on the left, but when it comes to politics after the 2008 election, this administration clearly made some huge mistakes. It’s stunning when one considers that Rham Emanuel was helping to run things.
Frankly, I think the Obama team got way overconfident in the political situation immediately after the 2008 election. They knew they had tough fights ahead, but they had such big majorities they probably felt they didn’t have to worry to much about a handful of Senate seats.
That proved to be a disaster. McCain would have been vulnerable against Napolitano, particularly after he swung way to the right in the primary. Grassley was also vulnerable in Iowa. They plucked some of their best candidates, and none of them are critical in their current roles.
Hopefully they have learned their lesson and they will push Kaine hard to run in Virginia.
I argued yesterday that Jim Webb’s proposed commission on prison reform could be the first step to ending the drug war. Now Jim Webb has confirmed that he’s open to all possible outcomes regarding drug policies.
“I think everything should be on the table, and we specifically say that we want recommendations on how to deal with drug policy in our country. And we’ll get it to the people who have the credibility and the expertise and see what they come up with,” said Webb.
What about legalizing, taxing and regulating marijuana?
Webb paused. “I think they should do a very careful examination of all aspects of drug policy. I’ve done a couple of very extensive hearings on this, so we’ll wait to see what they say about that,” he said.
So it’s on the table? Webb flashed a wry grin, laughing mischievously.
The last government study group to look at drug policy, the 1972 Shafer Commission, recommended that President Richard Nixon decriminalize marijuana. He didn’t.
Jim Webb is a serious guy with impeccable military credentials. He’s not someone who can be pushed around by the “law and order” crowd. Proponents of legalization or decriminalization want this to happen overnight, but they are not being realistic. A thorough study by experts will give politicians cover as they try to deal with this political minefield.
At the very least, advocates of reform should be pushing the feds to leave regulation of marijuana to the states. This will make it much easier to get sensible policies, as progressive states like California and Massachusetts lead the way.
Jim Webb and Arlen Specter “introduced bipartisan legislation to create a blue-ribbon commission charged with conducting an 18-month, top-to-bottom review of the nation’s entire criminal justice system and offering concrete recommendations for reform.”
“America’s criminal justice system has deteriorated to the point that it is a national disgrace,” said Senator Webb. “With five percent of the world’s population, our country houses twenty-five percent of the world’s prison population. Incarcerated drug offenders have soared 1200% since 1980. And four times as many mentally ill people are in prisons than in mental health hospitals. We should be devoting precious law enforcement capabilities toward making our communities safer. Our neighborhoods are at risk from gang violence, including transnational gang violence.
Webb continued: “There is great appreciation from most in this country that we are doing something drastically wrong. And, I am gratified that Senator Specter has joined me as the lead Republican cosponsor of this effort. We are committed to getting this legislation passed and enacted into law this year.”
“There have been many commissions in recent years, but the problems which we are now confronting warrant a fresh look,” Senator Specter said. “This commission has the potential to really make some very significant advances in public security and protection from the violent criminals. I look forward to working with Senator Webb and my colleagues in the Senate on this important legislation.”
The high-level commission created by the National Criminal Justice Commission Act of 2009 legislation will be comprised of experts in fields including criminal justice, law enforcement, public heath, national security, prison administration, social services, prisoner reentry, and victims’ rights. It will be led by a chairperson to be appointed by the President. The Majority and Minority Leaders in the House and Senate, and the Democratic and Republican Governors Associations will appoint the remaining members of the commission.
Commissioners will be tasked with proposing tangible, wide-ranging reforms designed to responsibly reduce the overall incarceration rate; improve federal and local responses to international and domestic gang violence; restructure our approach to drug criminalization; improve the treatment of mental illness; improve prison administration; and establish a system for reintegrating ex-offenders.
One of the key terms above refers to the need to “restructure our approach to drug criminalization.” This is critical if we’re ever going to reform the Drug War, and perhaps a commission on prison reform is the best way to attack the billions wasted on prohibition. We should be focusing on violent criminals, not drug offenders.