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Rep. Laurie Schlegel, R-Metairie, addresses the House during legislative session regarding Sen. Beth Mizell's bill, SB44, which concerns transgender athletes and provides for the Fairness in Womens Sports Act, Tuesday, May 17, 2022, at the Louisiana State Capitol in Baton Rouge, La.

It is unlikely that wishy-washy liberal sentiment features much in table talk at chez Schlegel in Metairie, where a married couple of Republican officeholders reside within a sea of kindred spirits.

Nobody can have been surprised that state Rep. Laurie Schlegel voiced her displeasure when Gov. John Bel Edwards recently commuted the sentences of 70 lifers and other long-term prisoners. Laurie Schlegel wants stricter oversight of the clemency process, and got herself quoted to that effect in the paper.

Laurie Schlegel's husband Scott sits on the state court of appeal. He cannot comment on issues pending or likely to pend before the courts, but presumably agrees with his wife when she says gubernatorial commutations add to the woes of crime victims. Laurie Schlegel was hardly a controversial choice to opine publicly on this one, for the public is presumably on her side, regardless of party affiliation.

Public opinion may have softened somewhat in recent years, and maybe lock 'em up and throw away the key is not quite the sure-fire vote winner it used to be in Louisiana. But we are still mighty conservative in matters of crime and punishment and have more parole-ineligible lifers than any other state.

The term-limited Edwards, the only Democratic governor in the deep South, did not reveal that he planned mercy for a slew of serious felons until the eve of his departure from office, when it is too late to make a difference anyway. This is not how politicians handle the announcement of policies they expect to be popular. Edwards has granted 123 commutations this year, most of them to lifers too old to be much of a threat to society anymore.

Letting prison inmates go never will be how elections are won, and Edwards will not want to be tagged as a bleeding heart.

He might be a bit of one anyway. As a devout Catholic and a lone Democrat facing a conservative tide, Edwards may sometimes be guilty of unfashionable liberal instincts. We saw this recently when Edwards came out in favor of clemency hearings for 55 death row prisoners.

Attorney General Jeff Landry, who succeeds Edwards as governor on Monday, helped put the kibosh on that one.

Whatever liberal instincts Edwards may have harbored made little difference in the long run; a governor cannot just up and spring a prisoner. The state Board of Pardons and Committee on Parole must recommend it first and retains the final say.

Pardoned ex-prisoners are not exactly flooding the streets anyway. Louisiana has more than 4,000 lifers, so the beneficiaries of Edwards' charitable instincts represent a tiny fraction of the state total yearning to get out of the pen, says Andrew Hundley, director of the Louisiana Parole Project.

Louisiana spends a king's ransom each year to keep doddery old former offenders locked up. A cheaper way could surely be found to keep the law-abiding safe while still imposing some inconvenience on yesterday's perps. We are squandering a heap of money we could find a much more intelligent use for.

The Legislature has reduced a few of our more savage mandatory minimums, but Louisiana courts remain known for issuing draconian sentences. Sometimes the thirst for vengeance can take precedence over the quest for justice and overwhelm liberal sentiment.

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