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JP Grace: Maybe prison reform will help GOP image

Aug. 26, 2013 @ 10:25 PM

They keep getting worse instead of better: the tactics, rhetoric and image of the national Republican Party. Not that the party has not had some sharp "heads-ups." Eight months ago Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal said the GOP needed to "stop being the 'stupid party.' " And in May of this year former GOP Presidential contender Bob Dole averred that someone ought to hang a sign on RNC headquarters reading: "Closed for repairs."

More recently Republican pollster Whit Ayers said that unless the party cooperated in passing immigration reform to legalize the status of undocumented immigrants, "We could lose the House of Representatives in the 2014 elections."

So what are GOP national chairman Reince Priebus and his compatriots up to? Led by former South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint, now head of the conservative Heritage Foundation, they have been staging a series of "emergency" town hall meetings to rally support for blocking or defunding Obamacare.

The onset of the insurance exchanges to allow uninsured individuals to buy insurance at accessible prices -- often with government subsidies -- looms less than a month away. Some commentators on the left have suggested lately that the Republican Party needs to sabotage that development because if the exchanges prove to be a success, the GOP will be left with much egg on its already mud-splattered face.

From what I've seen in TV news clips, the anti-Obamacare town halls are not going well.

Too many instances of senior citizens standing up and asking tough questions, such as, "If you take away Obamacare, what do you propose to do for us to help us get insurance?" Since the Republican congressmen (and women) hosting the town halls are rather short on answers, the mood of the crowd tends to turn against them.

Then the party hires a rodeo clown to play a bull in a Missouri arena wearing an Obama mask with someone approaching from behind and shoving a broomstick up the "bull's" rear quarters. This before a jeering almost all-white crowd. This brings showers of media criticism and unfavorable comparisons to a Klan rally (and I once covered one back in the mid 1970s in North Carolina -- vicious, mean-spirited).

Finally, Priebus announces that CNN and NBC will not be allowed to cover 2014 GOP primary debates because of those two networks favorable attention to presumed 2016 presidential contender Hillary Clinton. (Documentaries have been in the works highlighting her role as U.S. Secretary of State.) Instead, Priebus has suggested that the likes of rightwing talk show hosts Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck ought to serve as debate monitors. Presumably on Fox.

Heck, why not just Priebus himself or GOP spin meister Karl Rove? I mean, go for it.

Who would've thunk it? A correction of image may be at hand from an unlikely quarter. There is growing evidence of a compromise in the making on the issue of criminal justice system, read "jails and prisons," reform.

Libertarians of the Sen. Rand Paul stripe, evangelical Christians (who tend to vote majority Republican), and Democrats from conservative to liberal all seem to be converging toward alternative sentencing for non-violent offenders, and early release programs for good behavior.

The question is as much economic as anything else. The way this country has been incarcerating people, we have been heading toward bankrupting states based on prison building and maintenance. Many political observers find themselves in agreement that home confinement, lower-cost minimum-security prisons and more drug rehab programs are a better answer. Can you say "Allelujah?"

John Patrick Grace is a book editor and publisher based in Huntington and also teaches the Life Writing Class. He has been involved in a variety of prison ministries for over 30 years.

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