Mississippi pardons: Democrats bash Haley Barbour -- with glee
Haley Barbour, the big, drawly Republican macher from Mississippi, left the governor's office this week after eight years of dominating the Southern state's political life and helping to establish a sweeping statewide hegemony for the GOP unseen since the days of Reconstruction.
But Barbour, who is returning to his roots as a D.C. mega-lobbyist, has also left behind a headline-grabbing brouhaha over the end-of-term clemency he granted to more than 200 Mississippi criminals, including a number of convicted killers.
Mississippi Democrats are taking every opportunity to remind voters of his decision.
On Wednesday, according to the Jackson Clarion-Ledger, a judge blocked the pardons, heightening the drama and uncertainty for the inmates, their families and the families of the victims.
Hinds County Circuit Judge Tomie Green issued the ruling after objections were raised by the only Democrat who still holds a statewide office in conservative Mississippi: Atty. Gen. Jim Hood.
The judge ruled that some of the pardons went into effect without heed to a constitutional rule that requires legal notices to be published 30 days beforehand.
Hood, in a televised interview, said his office was checking to determine which of the convicts had met the rule. "It's unfortunate Gov. Barbour didn't read the constitution," he said. "It's a shame, and he oughta be ashamed."
Anyone out there think Mississippi Democrats are drooling at the rare opportunity to paint their Republican nemesis as soft on crime?
Hood is leading the charge against Barbour on this issue, though other Democrats in the statehouse have said they would introduce legislation to reform the governor's pardon-granting ability. But it's the attorney general who may be the Democrats' best hope to be a viable gubernatorial candidate in Mississippi three or four years from now.
Hood is a fifth-generation Mississippian, an Ole Miss graduate and, according to the AG's website, "an avid outdoorsman and hunter." And Mississippians consistently appear to give him a pass for being a Dem: He's currently serving his third term as attorney general.
Last year, Mississippi elected a Republican, former Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant, to take over as governor from the term-limited Barbour. Republicans also control both houses of the state legislature.
Judge Green, meanwhile, has blocked the release of some prisoners, and ordered others who have already been released to report daily to the state corrections department, and to the judge's courtroom later this month, the Clarion-Ledger's Jerry Mitchell reports.
Barbour, in a statement Wednesday, said that people misunderstood his motives in granting the reprieves, according to the Associated Press. He noted that 189 of the people he singled out were no longer incarcerated.
"The pardons were intended to allow them to find gainful employment or acquire professional licenses as well as hunt and vote," Barbour said. "My decision about clemency was based upon the recommendation of the parole board in more than 90% of the cases."
-- Richard Fausset in Atlanta
Photo: Mississippi Atty. Gen. Jim Hood, at a news conference at his Jackson office on Wednesday, said former Gov. Haley Barbour "didn't read the constitution." Credit: Rogelio V. Solis / Associated Press