Bankrupt of any new, modern, or real ideas, the Republican caucus in Olympia is attempting to appeal to the raw emotion that is easily conjured up when voters think of the proper punishment for people who molest, rape and kill children with sexual motivation. Republicans apparent motivation is that they believe it will pay election dividends in 2006. But will it deal more effectively with the crimes of sexual offenders?
Okay! There is no pro sex offender lobby group in Olympia. No one is going to go before a Washington State legislative committee and argue that we should be more tolerant with sex offenders. In fact Washington State has led the nation in tough laws dealing with sex offenders over the years. Laws that call for indefinite civil committments of sexual predators when prison sentences end for instance.
Why then have the Republicans chosen to turn this issue into a circus sideshow during the current session of the Washington State legislature?
The Republican caucus in Olympia decided prior to the session they needed a hot potato political issue to run their election campaigns around in 2006. They have revealed this strategy by their actions in Olympia since the start of the legislative session. They decided that the center piece of their platform in 2006 would apparently be sexual offenders. With the politicizing of this extremely emotional and polarizing issue they believe they have found a win-win election wedge issue for 2006.
Republican conservatives only need to focus the media attention away from their shortcomings as leaders with any new ideas or the more pressing problems of the State and towards labeling Democrats, in the minds of the 2006 electorate, as being a party reluctant to punishment sex offenders. It is somewhat ironic due to the fact that Washington State, as indicated before, has some of the toughest laws already on the books in the nation when it comes to dealing with sex offenders.
The Democratic response to this has been to propose tougher penalties for sex crimes also, in a effort to address the Republican concerns. House bill 2411 primary sponsor is Mountlake Terrace Democrat Al O'Brien, a retired Seattle Police Sergeant who served for 29 years in that capacity. The Democratic proposals mirrors the Republican proposals, for the most part, but also reflect input from victims, advocates for victims, prosecutors, police, and the legal community.
You must remember the Republican Legislative opening day ploy to just skip the regular legislative hearing process all together and pass a sex offender bill immediately that day without any input from anyone. When the Democrats rejected this proposal the pre-made radio ads quickly followed, in key Democratic districts, indicating that the Democrats had voted against getting tough with sex offenders or were being soft on crime.
What total bullshit!
At the end of a recent emotion packed hearing on a Democratic sponsored bill to strengthen sex offender laws, Republican John Ahern of Spokane offered that he had recently talked to unidentified “Moslem” who’s opinion on what to do with sex offenders he agreed with. “They just kill them” he then added. Said before an audience, at the committee hearing, composed predominantly of emotionally spent victims, and the relatives of victims, the statement played pretty good to say the least. I would say that Ahern was preaching to the choir on this one. A Democrat on the committee quickly added that this is the same culture that often kills women outright if it is perceived they have in someway brought dishonor to the family, inferring that maybe the Ahern analogy was a little extreme and somewhat off point.
Let’s just form a posse and when one of these perverts rapes or molests a child will catch them and just string them up. No need to pay attention to proof beyond a reasonable doubt, the rule of law, evidence, or a trial, is apparently the current Republican position. Nor are the circumstances or relationship of the victim to the offender ever to be considered. But, the reality of prosecuting these types of crimes is much different to prosecutors, the police, and victim advocates who are often dealing with young or reluctant victims and with such things as the rules of evidence or placing compelling proof of guilt before the jury.
The Democratic caucus in Olympia has a tough job framing their position on this issue in the mind of the average voters. It's easy for the Republican caucus to just say “hang them all”. The Democratic position has more nuances to it and prosecutors and police say the democratic position may actually lead to more actual convictions for longer time then the Republican hang them high or lock them up and throw away the key rhetoric. But most voters apparently have trouble with nuance when it comes to sexual offenders.
Although Democrats have proposed laws that mirror the popular trend toward a version of Jessica’s law, which is named after Jessica Lunsford, a 9 year old who was raped in murdered in Florida, that calls for 25 years to life in prison for sex offenders who commit violent sexual crimes against children. The Democratic legislative proposal mainly differs when it comes to victims who are known by the offender. It must be added that the Democrat proposal does not protect people in positions of authority like a coach or teacher or pervert priest. The Democratic proposals also orders closer monitoring of convicted sex offenders with such things as tracking by global positioning satellite.
But most often when these crimes happen it is in the family setting and done by someone known to the victim. Prosecutors believe victims in these types of cases will be reluctant to testify or supply evidence if it means a parent or relative will be put away for life. Juries will also be reluctant to convict sex offenders knowing that these new laws will mean life in prison. This is the argument that stronger laws may in effect end in less convictions than under the current laws on the books. Democrats are walking a fine line here in a effort to get it right. They have been listening to victims, prosecutors, the police and victim advocates about what type of laws would work best in the real world situtations, not just what may make a good sound bite on conservative talk radio or a divisive issue in a future election campaign. Several bills have also been proposed by Democrats to deal with the aftermath of these sex crimes on the victims. Such as victim avocation and counseling.
Today Americans are bombarded daily on radio and the cable news channels with one sensational story after another about a sexual predator somewhere wreaking havoc. The media realizes the high emotional appeal this has to Americans and the potential boost to their ratings. The Washington State Republican caucus is simply trying to use this lurid appeal as a political tool to manipulate public opinion in their favor at the polls.
Overall the attempt by the Republican caucus to overly politicize these issue shows a lack of any new ideas of substance by the GOP on the major problems that this state faces. These, like other Republican “wedge” issues, do more to further victimize the victims of sex offenders by overstating the problem and polarizing interest groups. Who want to do the right thing? They have in effect turned the devastated lives of these victims into a political football they hope to kick thru the uprights come election day in November 2006.
Also see prior post on this subject: No strikes your out!
Blogger artistdogboy note: This story reflects artistdogboy's personal opinion and not that necessarily of his brother Representative Al O'Brien (D)