Pundits and opponents may be drawing parallels, but the case of a killer released by a Mitt Romney judicial appointee won’t likely hurt the GOP candidate the way Willie Horton haunted Michael Dukakis.
Rudy Giuliani’s camp seized on the controversy almost immediately. Giuliani last week said Romney was accountable for convicted murderer Daniel Tavares Jr.'s release from prison last July.
Tavares was set free by Massachusetts Superior Court Judge Kathe Tuttman, a Romney appointee, despite protests from prison officials who said Tavares has assaulted other inmates and might still be dangerous.
Tavares has since been charged in the Nov. 17 murders of Brian and Beverly Mauck of Graham, Wash.
“The governor is going to have to explain his appointment,” Giuliani said. “And the judge is going to have to explain her decision.”
But campaign watchers say efforts to equate the case with the infamous Willie Horton incident fall far short.
Horton had been sentenced to life imprisonment and was incarcerated at the Concord Correctional Facility in Massachusetts when he was released in June 1986 as part of a weekend furlough program.
While on furlough in April 1987, Horton twice raped a woman in Oxon Hill, Md. He stabbed and pistol-whipped her fiancé.
At the time, Michael Dukakis was the Democratic governor of Massachusetts. While Dukakis had not initiated the furlough program, he supported it as a measure to help with criminal rehabilitation.
After the Massachusetts Supreme Court ruled that this right extended to first-degree murderers, the Massachusetts legislature passed a bill prohibiting furloughs for such inmates. However, in 1976, Dukakis vetoed this bill.
Thus, the program remained in effect, and Dukakis continued to support it.
In 1988, allies of Republican George H.W. Bush broadcast a demonic photo of inmate Horton in ads against his opponent Dukakis. The spots accused Dukakis of being soft on crime.
The ads were said to have been a critical factor in helping Bush win the presidency. By spotlighting the Horton case and Dukakis’ role in it, the ads rightly called attention to Dukakis’ soft approach to crime.
In vetoing the bill that would have ended the furlough program for murderers, Dukakis had continued an absurd program that led directly to a rape and stabbing.
Romney, on the other hand, had appointed a judge whose decision to release Tavares on his own recognizance turned out to be wrong. Yet in making such decisions, few judges’ calls are flawless, and there is much to learn about the performance of the prosecutor and what Judge Tuttman did or did not know about Tavares’ record.
Although he mentioned Tavares's violent history, the prosecutor did not ask for a separate “dangerousness hearing” to determine whether Tavares should have been held. In any case, unlike Dukakis, Romney is once removed from the decision that led to a crime.
Romney has called on Judge Tuttman to resign. He said her decision to free Tavares “showed an inexplicable lack of good judgment.”
“Daniel Tavares should have never been let out of jail, given his level of threats against Gov. Romney and other public officials,” Eric Fehrnstrom, Romney’s traveling press secretary, said. “Judge Tuttman was appointed because her entire experience as a prosecutor suggested she would be a law-and-order judge.”
In response to his chief critic, Romney noted that Giuliani proposed Bernard Kerik as Homeland Security secretary while the former New York police commissioner was under criminal investigation. Kerik, a Giuliani friend and once his chauffeur, has since been indicted.
“I must admit that of all the people who might attack someone on the basis of an appointment, I thought he would be the last to do so,” Romney said of Giuliani.
Referring to Romney, Paul Pezzella, a Massachusetts Democratic activist who was Florida state director for the Dukakis campaign, said, “The danger is that if you take it all together, it’s the perfect storm, in that there’s doubts in terms of his conservatism on the social issues and now this adds more doubt that he has been good on issues of law and order.”
But a look at Romney’s record shows that he has neither been soft on crime nor liberal on social issues. As governor, he supported the death penalty in a state that strongly opposes it.
He embarrassed vacationing lawmakers into enacting tougher sentences for repeat drunken drivers. He refused to pardon any prisoners during his four years in office. He also fought to keep sex offenders in jail longer and to publish their photos on the Internet upon release.
Despite saying in a 1994 debate with Sen. Edward M. Kennedy that Roe v Wade should be sustained, Romney as governor vetoed bills that authorized embryo farming, therapeutic cloning, and access to emergency contraception without parental consent. In 2005, he criticized the landmark ruling that legalized abortion and said the states should decide separately whether to allow it.
Romney opponents likely will try to compare the Tavares case with the Horton case. But in the last analysis, they have no case.
Ronald Kessler is chief Washington correspondent of Newsmax.com. View his previous reports and get his dispatches sent to you free via e-mail. Go here now.
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