MADISON (WKOW) -- While marquee issues such as the economy and education continue to define the developing governor's race, the difference in policy approach may be most stark between Republican Governor Scott Walker and Democratic challenger Mary Burke when it comes to gubernatorial pardons.
Walker has ruled out all pardons, maintaining pardons undermine the decisions of the criminal justice system.
Burke says a pardon process is part of assuring justice.
"I would have made sure the pardon board is fulfilling that function of being able to review requests, forwarding on to the governor those requests that deserve merit. And I would review those and approve the ones, I thought did," Burke says.
Pardon Power blog author and Rockford's Rock Valley College political science professor P.S. Ruckman says Burke's stance in this campaign would have been unimaginable twenty years ago, when pardoning even non-violent offenders was often politically toxic, in the context of a war on drugs.
"No one would have done that twenty years ago, that would never have happened," Ruckman says. "For someone to even say that, much less as a campaign kind of promise."
Ruckman says while Walker, several other governors, and President Obama have approved few, or no pardons, the rising cost of incarceration contributes to changing views of pardons.
Ruckman says Maryland democratic gubernatorial candidate Heather Mizeur, like Burke, has vowed to consider, and grant pardons, if elected.
Ruckman also says a former Michigan governor placed priority on pardoning women criminals who had been past victims of domestic violence.
But Ruckman says he's seen no evidence the pardon issue could emerge as contributing to the notion of a so-called Republican war on women, in social policy.
Walker's pardon stance has remain unmoved , even when confronted with a pardon bid from Madison's Eric Pizer, a decorated Marine Corps veteran who served two deployments in the Middle East in the Iraq war. Pizer has asked for a pardon from a ten year old felony battery conviction, in order to regain the right to carry a gun, and pursue a law enforcement career.
Ruckman says Walker's potential as a presidential candidate likely influences his pardon view. He says former republican Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty provides a cautionary tale. Pawlenty's 2012 presidential bid was hurt by sex crime charges involving a man he was involved in pardoning.
"As soon as that story hit, the media everywhere said, 'He's toast. It's over,' " says Ruckman.
There are more than 2,600 pending pardon requests before Walker. While Walker carried out the steps to enable the functioning of a pardon advisory board, no board members have been appointed.
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