By Wesley Lowery in The Washington Post
Many of the headlines after day two of the Conservative Political Action Conference were about Rick Perry’s well-received speech, in which he harped on what he deemed the “two Americas”: red-state America and blue-state America.
But as much as the Texas governor’s morning address impressed the crowd, it was the second event in which he participated Friday that will be far more important if the Republican Party is serious about winning more swing voters in 2016.
Perry appeared alongside several other conservatives, including Grover Norquist, on a panel about criminal justice reform and how those reforms are being pushed by several Republican states.
While it was sandwiched between better-attended sessions, the discussion of Republican progress on reforming the criminal justice system was one of the few CPAC sessions that laid out a true pathway forward for a party that desperately wants to expand demographically.
Much of the Democrats’ successful messaging in recent years has painted Republicans as obstructionist. Democrats have noted the repeated attempts by congressional Republicans to repeal the Affordable Care Act, and each week House Democrats rail against the Republican leadership’s refusal to allow votes on immigration reform and raising the minimum wage.
And much of the CPAC lineup consisted of panels that will likely be fodder for that type of Democratic messaging (for example, “Obama’s IRS: Political Arm of the Left?”).
But on issues of sentencing reform and prison recidivism, Republicans — especially several governors in Southern states — have been the leaders, earning praise from prison reform groups.
Why is the Republican party so interested in criminal justice reform? The Texas Governor Rich Perry puts on a show for CPAC using full words, a strong attitude, and new geek eye wear. He uses the red state – blue state approach to economics. He talks about comparing the state of Texas with New York City while ignoring the rest of the nation. Maybe I am missing the message. No matter where we have lived, we did not want our state to look like Texas or to look like one large city in the state of New York. Both are uniquely different but politics should be local. With as much trouble as the GOP is having with corruption in its own party, do we want them in charge of criminal justice reform?