Commonsense Conservative For Ohio


Buzzfeed: Stop The War On Drugs, Says Top Republican

By Evan McMorris-Santoro

May 12, 2014


Rob Portman will call President Obama’s clemency plan “a Band-Aid on a deep wound” in a speech Tuesday. Can conservatives end the war on drugs?

WASHINGTON — Ohio Republican Rob Portman, a leading figure in his party who is sometimes mentioned as a candidate for president in 2016, will call for a reevaluation of the “war on drugs” and the massive prison population it has created in a speech set for Tuesday and shared exclusively with BuzzFeed.

But Portman is also expected to warn that President Obama’s plan to use executive power to make reforms to drug sentencing could prevent larger, lasting changes from coming to pass.

“President Obama recently announced that he would grant clemency to hundreds of non-violent drug offenders,” Portman is set to say Tuesday in a speech at the American Enterprise Institute. “That may be within his power, but it’s like placing a Band-Aid on a deep wound. It may cover up the problem of prison overcrowding today, but it doesn’t address the deeper problem that drives recidivism.”

Portman’s words come as crime, punishment, and drugs emerge as a rare and unlikely point on which Democrats and Republicans in Washington are finding common ground. Conservatives like Portman, troubled by the vast federal spending on jails and seeking a distinctly conservative approach to crime and poverty, have found allies in Democrats and civil libertarians who have long argued for a less punitive approach to illegal drugs.

Portman’s speech lays out a plan to fight poverty using what he calls “constructive conservatism.” In the speech, the Republican senator describes that as a “bottom up” approach that lets communities develop plans to fight poverty, prove their results and then spread those ideas across the country with the help of federal grants and other assistance.

The possibility of bipartisan action on criminal justice reform drives the sections of Portman’s speech related to the war on drugs and the prison population. In the prepared remarks, the Ohio Republican calls for a reauthorization of the Second Chance Act, aimed at reducing the recidivism rate with job training, drug counseling and other programs he first wrote with a Democrat 10 years ago. Vermont Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy is co-sponsoring the bill this time around, and Portman will highlight in the speech a second bill called the Recidivism Reduction and Public Safety Act (co-sponsored by Rhode Island Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse) that aims to bring the Second Chance act reforms to the federal prison system.

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