Record editorial: You don’t have to vote for him, but give Mike Lee credit for pushing criminal justice reform
Sen. Mike Lee is not a popular figure in Park City.
And for good reason, too. Throughout his tenure, the penchant of Utah’s soon-to-be-senior senator for clinging to a hard-right, Tea Party ideology rather than embracing compromise has too often stood in the way of getting important things done. And Lee’s reluctance to be a check on the president, most recently displayed in his blocking of legislation to protect Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Trump, is maddening.
Suffice to say, if he were up for reelection in 2020, Lee’s chances of faring better in Summit County, which supported his Democratic opponents in both 2010 and 2016, would be slim.
But give credit where it’s due.
Lee is a sponsor and vocal proponent of the First Step Act, a bipartisan bill that would usher in compassionate, common-sense changes to the federal criminal justice system. By all accounts, Lee has done as much as any senator to push the legislation forward. And after months of uncertainty about whether it would get its due on the Senate floor, the legislation appears slated for a vote by the end of the year.
If the First Step Act passes and is signed into law — it has broad support on both sides of the aisle — it would be a major achievement in the push for criminal justice reform, lowering punishments for nonviolent offenders. The bill takes aim at draconian mandatory minimums and would give judges more latitude to hand down punishments that actually fit the crime. It would also make it easier for prisoners to rack up credit for good behavior and earn early release.
Of course, passage of the bill wouldn’t mark the end of the fight for reform. For one, the First Step Act would only implement changes in the federal system, which covers a small portion of prisoners nationwide. And it doesn’t address other problems inherent in our justice system, like the fact offenders can still serve years in prison for minor drug crimes. In many cases, it’s up to states, rather than the federal government, to reach solutions.
Nonetheless, the bill is a significant step forward. And it will hopefully spark an appetite for taking on further reforms. Americans on all sides have been frustrated with inaction on mass incarceration, so Congress putting aside its partisan bickering to make progress on at least one important issue that affects people’s everyday lives would be refreshing.
To be clear, Lee’s role in pushing the bill to the brink of passage doesn’t absolve his otherwise-poor record on civil rights issues, such as his opposition to gay marriage, nor does it balance out a staunchly conservative agenda that is far out of step with his constituents in Park City.
And it won’t dramatically improve his chances of taking Summit County next time he’s on the ballot.
But on criminal justice reform, Parkites should be grateful for their senator’s efforts.
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