Scott Walker

Scott Walker: Not the Candidate for Conservative Criminal Justice Reform

Record does not suggest support for the 'Right on Crime' movement.


More than just the guy who fought the unions and won.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker doesn't seem to have a lot to say about domestic criminal justice on his newly launched presidential campaign site. He does mention his role in authoring Wisconsin's Truth in Sentencing Act, which, as one might guess from its title, is not about offering relief to people in prison. It did the exact opposite, sending thousands more people in Wisconsin to prison for long stretches, often for non-violent crimes.

He may not be running on a tough-on-crime record, but a close look at Walker's legislative history indicates that's exactly the kind of conservative he is. BuzzFeed has taken such a look and has a list of the type of crime legislation Walker sponsored while serving in Wisconsin's Assembly. Among the legislation, he introduced a bill intended to authorize chain gangs, attempted to outlaw letting prisoners (and guards) from lifting weights, and sponsored several bills that would enhance sentences or create new mandatory minimums.

BuzzFeed notes that Walker is now a bit quiet about his law-and-order background. Campaign aides declined to answer BuzzFeed's request to comment about Walker's past positions on crime legislation. The Marshall Project, a non-profit media site focused on covering the criminal justice system, recently pointed out how Walker's position on handling crime separates him from some of his fellow GOP nominees:

[H]is implacably hard-line stance on clemency and parole, as well as his seeming unwillingness to endorse the "Right on Crime" agenda of decriminalization, reduced sentencing, and alternatives to incarceration, is at odds with much of the field.

Rand Paul wants to repeal the federal ban on marijuana and help rehabilitated young adults expunge their criminal records. Ted Cruz thinks drug-related offenses should not be punished so harshly, and has suggested that the plea-bargaining system is unfair. At last year's Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), Rick Perry famously asked, "You want to talk about real conservative governance? Shut prisons down. Save that money." Jeb Bush is a Right on Crime signatory. Even Chris Christie, who fits the mold of a Scott Walker (with his union-busting and self-proclaimed refusal to cow to the opposition), recently wrote that "we will end the failed War on Drugs that believes incarceration is the cure of every ill."

But Gov. Walker doesn't seem to think there is much of a crisis in the criminal justice system.

"People being incarcerated for relatively low offenses is not a significant issue in the state of Wisconsin," he said a few weeks ago during a forum for the Republican contenders at Disney's Magic Kingdom. He did not mention that Wisconsin incarcerates twice as many people as Minnesota (which has about the same population) and a higher percentage of African-American men than any state in the nation.

Walker has a reputation for not granting pardons, opposes parole, and he proposed dissolving a clemency advisory board. He has shrugged off efforts at marijuana legalization—ambivalently, not particularly harshly. As Jacob Sullum noted, he seems inclined to allow other states to go their own way on that particular issue.

Who knows whether we will see some changing of positions in Walker's campaign as bipartisan support for sentencing reform continues rolling along. One thing all this coverage of Walker's previous legislative work highlights: He has successfully managed to make the bulk of the media coverage about him about his actual record in Wisconsin. Whether primary voters like Walker or not, it seems clear they'll be making that decision heavily influenced by the knowledge of what Walker has already done, not just on who he is or whatever he may promise as a candidate. 

NEXT: Hillary Ran Gamut From Goldwater Girl to Populist Demagogue in Economic Policy Speech

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  1. I think the best hope for reform of the criminal code lies in Congress. The president enforces the laws that the congress legislates. The most a president can legally do is nibble around the edges of his discretion, while congress actually can make large scale changes.

    1. Apart from ineptly squawking at the President, the Congress is faux-begrudgingly deferential to the executive branch to the extent that it’s much likelier a President with a mind for reform would catalyze legislative action toward it. I doubt our craven lawmakers are capable of functioning as the independent branch of government that they were intended to be.

  2. Right on public unions. Wrong on the drug war.

    I’m torn.

    1. the only one who is really right on the drug war is Rand Paul.

      1. and even he doesn’t advocate for legalizing everything.

      2. Hardly right, but certainly way better than most.

    2. Also, from a state that is home to the packers… how many more negatives do you need?!

    3. And only really right on some public unions.

  3. So it sounds as if he’s pretty much status quo on crime.

    1. That makes him an asshole.

      1. Well as he is running for public office that’s a prerequisite.

        1. All he needs now is a shit-eating grin to match Santorum from the last election, and he’s ready.

  4. That’s it, you sonsofbitches!, I’m formally announcing my candidacy for the office of the President of the United States.

    I will do no campaigning. (that’s my whole platform.)

    1. But . . you just campaigned.

    2. By saying you won’t be campaigning while at the same time announcing your candidacy aren’t you therefore campaigning?/suffers aneurysm and dies.

      1. I was for campaigning before I was against it.

        I’ve been very firm on this.

        1. As long as you evolved and didn’t flip-flop I think you can have my support.

          1. I’ve only ever been involved with any sort of flip-flop when I visit the beach.

        2. I’ve been very firm on this.

          The porn thread is up there.

    3. I wonder what “not the candidate for….” item will be discovered about you.

      1. It will probably be that I’m not the candidate for campaigning. I promise, stoutheartedly, to not campaign.

        1. Then start non-campaigning already!

          1. I heard rumors that he masticates in public…

  5. OT. Encryption related:…..ation.html

    Where it’s noted it took the Federal Govt less than two hours to convince the NYT to re-write this:

    released the paper, which concludes there is no viable technical solution that would allow the American and British governments to gain “exceptional access” to encrypted communications without putting the world’s most confidential data and critical infrastructure in danger.

    And other great dirty things said about statists…

    into this:

    is a formidable salvo in the standoff between intelligence and law enforcement leaders on one side, and technologists and privacy advocates on the other.

    1. One of the terms used in the article was classified until recently.

    2. No government has the authority by right to dictate the form in which we author, store, or broadcast our data. Fuck off, slavers. Encrypt the shit out of everything.

  6. jesus, this is tedious. The “not the candidate for….” calculus applies to every candidate who has ever sought any office.

    1. Agreed. Although, election season is already in full-swing for the Reason staff – bash all Republican candidates, and start the Obama praise.

      1. Uh. is there a link to some of this Obama praise?

        I think Reason should see their job as to bash all candidates. And they seem to do an OK job of it. I could do with less election coverage at this stage, though.

        1. Ennui.

        2. At this moment the top four stories are essentially pro- or neutral Obama, but careful to mention GOP Hawks; three anti-Trump stories (as though he is a serious candidate), and several anti-Walker pieces.

          Aligned with you re: less election coverage.

        3. Uh. is there a link to some of this Obama praise?

          They seem pretty happy with his Iranian nuke deal.

  7. Even Chris Christie, who fits the mold of a Scott Walker…

    That must be one big mold.

    1. Emo Phillips –

      “When I was born they threw away the mold!

      …some of it grew back…”

  8. So, basically, Walker is essentially about as hardline against criminal justice reform as Hillary Clinton?

    1. Clinton’s a demonic construct. Satan devised the creature in order that the forces of Hell might more easily conquer the mortal realm, her mission being the systematic deconstruction of civilization. Each time you mention her name, hellfire is stoked to a new height, and God kills a kitten.

    2. No, no, Clinton means well and made some soothing, noncommittal noises about reforming the system. That’s *way* better than Walker!


  9. But what does Trump think of this subject? Why isn’t there a Reason post on this? Pleeeze??

    1. I want to hear more about Trump’s hair. That thing is amazing.

    2. Would you please shut up about your milkshitting boyfriend?

  10. Not the Candidate for Publicly-Funded Hasidic Preschools
    Not the Candidate for Staving Off Colony Collapse Disorder
    Not the Candidate for Ocean Acidification Research
    Not the Candidate for Cheating at Solitaire
    Not the Candidate for That Thing Where Everyone at a Party Gets Real Quiet at the Same Time
    Not the Candidate for Otherkin Awareness
    Not the Candidate for the Search for El Dorado
    Not the Candidate for I? I? Cthulhu Fhtagn
    Not the Candidate for Chinchilla Farming

  11. I don’t disagree with the article but:

    He did not mention that Wisconsin incarcerates twice as many people as Minnesota (which has about the same population)

    This is cherry-picking data. MN incarcerates the least out of any state. Comparing any state to MN will lead you to believe that they incarcerate a (relatively) large amount.

    (MN native who lives in WI).

    1. If one is looking for reasons why a given state has a high incarceration rate, one of the things you should always look at it is the demographics of the state. On account of one demographic cohort, rightly or wrongly, generating a disproportionate amount of prison inmates.

      Wisconsin has 50% more African Americans than Minnesota.

      The other variable that’s worth a look is economics. Looking at GDP per capita, Wisconsin’s is about 25% or so lower than Minnesota’s.

      Adjust for those variables, and I wonder what the comparison looks like.

      Full disclosure: “Facts” taken from Wikipedia.

  12. Bush, the yawning patrician; Walker, the scrappy evil bastard; Trump, the uh Trump; Christie, the fat evil bastard; Carson, the token insane neurosurgeon; Graham, the bitchy old queen; Fiorina, the token failed executive; Huckabee, the lovable religious evil bastard; Jindal, the token geek. I’m seeing a decent heist movie emerging.

    1. Interesting.

      Gotta cast the villains, though:

      Hillary: the corrupt, soulless oligarch, undoubtedly the target of the heist.
      Sanders: the clueless, avuncular henchman, good for comic relief.

  13. If he will appoint Daviid Clarke Jr as atty gen or anything he has my vote

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