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In 2014, I endorsed then-Representative Tom Cotton to be the next U.S. Senator to the great state of Arkansas. I still stand by this decision. Senator Cotton has represented Arkansas well. However, there is one issue on which I must strongly disagree with the Senator: criminal justice reform.

Last month, Senator Cotton published an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal outlining his strong opposition to Congress' attempts to pass meaningful prison and sentencing reform. He argues that sentencing reform is soft on crime and that the United States, with over 1 million people serving sentences in state or federal prisons, has an under-incarceration problem.

On the issue of criminal justice reform, my friend Sen. Cotton has dearly missed the mark.

When I was governor of Arkansas, the Arkansas Department of Correction director, Larry Norris, used to tell me, "We lock up a lot of people that we are mad at, rather than the ones we are afraid of."

I learned a lot from being responsible for the corrections system in my state for almost 11 years, and there is a reason that most conservative Republican governors are taking a lead role in reforming a system that isn't working. The federal government currently locks up nonviolent offenders for decades, and sometimes life, at an enormous cost to the taxpayers. Empirical evidence, not liberal talking points, show conclusively that lengthy, rigid, one-size-fits-all sentences do not make us safer and did not cause the crime decline our country has enjoyed over the last 30 years.

Luckily, the Senate, with President Trump's support, is working on adding sentencing reform provisions to the House-passed FIRST STEP Act, a prison reform bill. These sentencing provisions will ensure we save limited prison resources for those we are afraid of, not those we are mad at.

The sentencing reforms on the table are limited, modest, and don't get rid of mandatory minimum sentences. Rather, they bring balance and sanity to some federal sentencing laws that produce unjust and absurd results too often. Under current federal law, defendants can face half a century for selling drugs in their living room and having a firearm in their bedroom. I do not endorse drug distribution, but a tactic known as "stacking" allows prosecutors to treat (and ultimately sentence) first-time, low-level offenders as if they were Pablo Escobar. The "stacking" reforms being considered would give people their just deserts, not an absurd punishment.

Under current federal law, we also lock up drug dealers for life without parole with no hope for release, save for the mercy of our president. Granted, these drug dealers are repeat offenders, but life without parole should be reserved for people who commit mass murders or engage in police killings. Locking away nonviolent drug dealers for life is not only a waste of our taxpayer dollars and prison resources, it makes a mockery of the seriousness of violent offenses that do deserve a lifetime in prison. Again, no one is suggesting leniency for repeat drug offenders, merely balance. Current proposals would reduce the mandatory life without parole sentence to a mandatory minimum of 25 years--still a very long sentence by any rational person's measurement.

At an average of about $33,000 per year per inmate, over-the-top sentences are simply not cutting it. They are not reducing crime in a meaningful way. As a conservative, if the federal government is going to spend my money, they better have something to show for it. Conservative states like Georgia, South Carolina, Iowa, Mississippi, and Louisiana have all reduced, repealed, or reformed their mandatory minimum sentencing laws and are proof that you can shrink prisons and cut spending without sacrificing public safety.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, I support sentencing reform as a man of faith.

As a nation of laws, we should hold offenders accountable. But as a nation founded on Judeo-Christian values, we should be able to temper our justice system with mercy. The mandatory minimums described above, and many more like them, affect not only the person serving the sentence, but also that person's family, neighborhood, community, and church.

Senator Cotton is unfortunately out of step with the evidence, the times, and his party's values on criminal justice reform. Criminal justice reform is fully in line with the conservative values of our state, and Senator Cotton should support President Trump's efforts to have a criminal justice reform bill on his desk this year.


Mike Huckabee is a former governor of Arkansas and a signatory to the Right on Crime Statement of Principles.

Editorial on 09/01/2018

Print Headline: Cotton is wrong


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Archived Comments

  • BoudinMan
    September 1, 2018 at 6:58 a.m.

    Sorry, Huck-a-grifter, you lost me when you said Cotton-in-his-ears represented AR well.

  • RBear
    September 1, 2018 at 7:12 a.m.

    When a conservative leader calls out a conservative senator over a policy, you have to pay attention. I agree with Huckabee in his column calling out Sen. Cotton's opposition to prison and sentencing reform being considered in Congress now. In most cases, we lock people up because we "just don't like their kind" instead of really looking at the crime and the paths to reform. Granted, we don't get it right all the time as evidenced by the young man who killed the elderly lady in Hot Springs. But those cases are a tenth of a percent of the overall caseload.
    It's time to take a look at some of these crimes and consider alternatives. At the rate we're going, correctional facilities will outstrip our states' and nation's budgets when the money could be invested in reform and diversion. Think about the investment if just one year's cost of incarceration was spent on diversion programs and education. You can't find that ROI ANYWHERE in the financial sector today.
    But Huckabee's column highlights another problem with Cotton and that's how disconnected he really is with the issues of the state and the nation. Cotton is probably one of the lowest achievers in the Senate and spends more time just coddling to the president who we already know is an underachiever. Cotton gains traction ONLY because he dog whistles and the freaks come running. He's never really tackled key issues affecting our state. His "rebuke" of Trump on tariffs that hurt AR farmers was a joke.

  • WGT
    September 1, 2018 at 8:36 a.m.

    Both of these biological organisms, Huckabee and Cotton, believe in a talking snake that duped a female into eating a piece of magical fruit which subsequently brought about the moral decay of humanity.

  • GeneralMac
    September 1, 2018 at 9:39 a.m.

    "non violent drug dealers".............oxymoron

  • Skeptic1
    September 1, 2018 at 9:51 a.m.

    We are a state with a disproportionate number of people in prison. We have communities that have shutters on storefronts, and Main Street ghost towns, but have new multi-million dollar detention centers that have become the factories that communities rely on for their livelihood. Jefferson County is all but a penal colony with crime and punishment as their employment base and sad legacy. The United States imprisons more of its citizens than any other country in the world including China and we have the highest homicide rate of any western country, clearly building more prisons is not the answer.

  • Knuckleball1
    September 1, 2018 at 9:54 a.m.

    Neither Tommy Boy or the Huckster have a clue.... they are kinda like the Trumpster living in another World just not the one the rest of us live in. Kinda Like the Pot calling the Kettle Black....!!!!

  • GeneralMac
    September 1, 2018 at 9:55 a.m.

    car dealers are " non violent"

    However, if the car dealers were mostly convicted felons, carried a gun, did their sales in alleys and out of houses, and if a car deal " went bad" the result was a shooting...........they would NOT be called "non violent" either.

    What world does Mike Huckabee live in ?

  • Skeptic1
    September 1, 2018 at 10:02 a.m. are not cute, you are not clever, you are someone that takes pleasure in being cynical and rude. Your constant sniping to people of faith says more about you, if you were secure in your atheism you wouldn't feel the need to ridicule those who believe in something higher and better than themselves. I will pray for you, you are clearly conflicted and suffering.

  • RBear
    September 1, 2018 at 10:19 a.m.

    fake Huckabee lives more in reality than you do holed up in your trailer in Boone County. Drug offenders who are locked up for disproportionate sentences could be better served by treatment programs than taxpayers funding their incarceration. But logic will always fail to escape you as you attempt to defend Clueless Cotton.

  • UoABarefootPhdFICYMCA
    September 1, 2018 at 10:31 a.m.

    Well Pastor, meet Soldier boy.