There appears no chance for a second chance in Scott Walker’s Wisconsin.
The governor refuses to accept petitions for pardons, contending it would undercut judicial power. The governor’s position spelled out shortly after he took office seemed a step to avoid controversy. But his refusal to use the power has itself stirred controversy.
Both the federal and state constitutions give the chief executive the power of pardons. The concept dates to the 18th Century Federal Papers. And Article 2, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution gives presidents the “power to grant reprieves and pardons for offenses against the United States, except in cases of impeachment.” The great presidents have used it wisely, history suggests.
The Wisconsin Constitution gives governors the “power to grant reprieves, commutations and pardons, after convictions for all offenses, except treason and impeachment, and with such restrictions and limitations as he may think proper...”
Walker, who seems interested in becoming president of the United States, may be asked as the presidential search begins whether he would adopt a no-pardon approach if he were in the White House.
His inaction attracted broad media attention late last year when a decorated Marine veteran who served two tours of duty in Iraq and Kuwait sought a pardon. Two days after his return from the war zone he had stepped between a jealous husband and a friend. It was a one-punch fight for the six-foot, two-inch veteran. He pled no contest to a felony substantial-battery charge, served two years of probation and paid the victim’s medical bills.
A decade later he sought a pardon so he could apply for a police job. Questioned by reporters, Walker said the veteran should look for some other kind of work.
If you grant one pardon, there will be others seeking pardons, the governor told reporters. More than 800 pardons have been granted by the last five governors, men of both parties. Cynics may suggest Walker has been too busy traveling America giving political speeches to get involved in pardon requests, even though a board traditionally screens such requests.
Donald Bach, a Republican attorney who advised former Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson, told the Wisconsin State Journal he thinks Walker is making a mistake.
“The whole basis of this is there ought to be someone - just one person - who can look at what society has done and say, “I forgive’,” he said.
Or, perhaps, Walker understands the mood of a majority of Wisconsin citizens. Forgiveness may not be a strong point among Badger citizens even if leaders like Pope Francis have urged a more compassionate approach to life.
Wisconsin has tough criminal drug penalties, and law and order is a popular topic for political campaign speeches. The Wisconsin Constitution bans same-sex marriages and the state has among the toughest anti-abortion laws in the nation.
The state also is tight-fisted. Wisconsin ranks 44th in charitable giving, according to Internal Revenue Service data analyzed by the Chronicle of Philanthropy. Those with adjusted gross incomes in excess of $50,000 contributed 3.7 percent of their incomes. The national average was 4.7 percent.
Wisconsin will get a test for forgiveness and compassion this spring when the Milwaukee Brewers baseball team returns to Miller Park. Super star Ryan Braun will be back in the outfield after concluding his suspension for drug use and initially stonewalling league investigators.
Part of the baseball magic is that you dream your team has a chance to do something special in the new year. But how do Wisconsin’s Little Leaguers balance that with Braun’s past troubles? Will they find a new hero in Milwaukee?
Or will Wisconsin fans forgive Braun and give him a second chance to recapture the hearts of both the young and old despite “pardons” being out of style.
Matt Pommer is known as the “dean” of State Capitol correspondents, has covered government action in Madison for 35 years, including the actions of eight governors.