Last week, Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire granted an “extremely rare” pardon in a 22-year old drug case, says the Seattle Times. Gregoire, already stringent with her powers of pardon and commutation, had not granted clemency since the shooting of four police officers triggered a nationwide political backlash against such acts of mercy. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee had let the shooter Maurice Clemmons out of prison with a commutation in 2000.
Gregoire still has on her desk a backlog of 14 other petitions with unanimous backing from a state board. Governors are held accountable when a person granted clemency goes on to commit more crimes. That minimizes the political distinction between pardon and commutation, and skews the political calculus – all risk, with little reward from voters for appearing merciful. Proponents of clemency bemoan that fact, but Clemmons is the new case study for its consequences. Even before the Lakewood tragedy, Gregoire, a former prosecutor, was unusually cautious. She has granted clemency 26 times in 53 months, including two commutations to free inmates from prison.