Dear Governor Perdue,
Tomorrow, you will be joined in Perry by literally thousands and admirers and well wishers. You will hopefully have the luxury of enjoying the day knowing you will not be on the ballot in 2010, and can just have “real” conversations with your friends instead of guarded, political ones. It should be fun.
While you’re having your shindig, Wendy Whitaker will be in a Columbia County Jail. She will be there because she was forced to move from a home she and her husband owned because 12 years ago, when she was in high school, she and a classmate engaged in oral sex.
Because of this action as a teenager, Mrs. Whitaker must now register as a sex offender. Despite that she has since lived a pretty normal life, her commission of a pretty normal act in high-school has branded her for her remaining days.
Unfortunately, the product of our system of elections is politicians trying to out “tough on crime” the next guy. And as such, we look at criminals, especially certain classes of criminals, as nameless, faceless beings who deserve whatever we can dream up. And in our quest to punish these folks for our own political benefit, we don’t look close enough at loopholes and unintended consequences that drag otherwise normal people into these classes of no return.
Until such time our politicians can act like adults when deciding on punishments and sentencing, and specifically, learn the difference between someone who commits a sexual act and is a sexual predator, we’re going to need someone to be the adult in the room.
Wendy does not deserve to be a political issue for the 2010 race. The candidates looking to fill your shoes don’t need to be asked if they want to let her get on with her life, or use her to send a message that we will remain tough on crime. Wendy did something she regrets 12 years ago, but she did her time. She should be allowed to move on.
Governor Perdue, it is time to transcend political posturing and judge what is right in this case. Unfortunately, you don’t have the power of either commuting her sentence or issuing a pardon. That power is with the pardons and paroles board. Unless they can be persuaded to do the right thing, the power lies in the state legislature.
A proper, long term fix for Wendy and any others like her will require use of actual political capital would be to get the General Assembly to differentiate between those who commit a questionable sexual act, and those who are sexual predators. In a legislative session during an election year, this may be a bridge too far, but it is the proper, right, and just road to take.
You will not be on the ballot in 2010, if ever again. You don’t have to worry about how this looks politically. You just need to decide what is right, and what is just.