Walker chats criminal justice reform, reelection, Trump

BY ZACHARY HORNER, News + Record Staff
Posted 12/27/18

On Dec. 11, U.S. Rep. Mark Walker, a North Carolina Republican, went on MSNBC’s Morning Joe to talk about criminal justice reform, particularly the FIRST STEP Act.

The legislation is …

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Walker chats criminal justice reform, reelection, Trump

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On Dec. 11, U.S. Rep. Mark Walker, a North Carolina Republican, went on MSNBC’s Morning Joe to talk about criminal justice reform, particularly the FIRST STEP Act.

The legislation is designed to reduce America’s world-high prison population by lowering some mandatory minimum sentences and offering judges more leeway in non-violent drug-related cases. Walker has pushed for the bill alongside Democratic Rep. Cedric Richmond of Louisiana.

Walker was asked by host Joe Scarborough why U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, a fellow Republican, wouldn’t want to have the bill discussed. Walker said the delay was “preposterous” and the bill was truly “bipartisan” and “humanitarian” legislation.

Later that day, McConnell said he’d allow a vote in the Senate on the bill this month. Walker told the News + Record that he doubts he personally had any effect on that, but was pleased with the change of status.

Reached by phone, Walker spoke about that legislation, changes in D.C., what he promises for his Chatham County constituents and recent allegations against and investigations into President Donald Trump.

What’s next for you in working for the FIRST STEP Act, and why should Americans get behind this bill?

We’re still working today because you’ve got (Arkansas Republican Sen.) Tom Cotton and (Republican) Sen. (John) Kennedy from Louisiana that are going against it. We’ve got to push back against that. We think we’ve got a plan to get it through, get it to the President’s desk by the end of the year.

As much as it is a policy issue, it’s a humanitarian issue. If you look at the prison growth (in the U.S.) since 1980, it’s about quadrupled. You’ve gone from 700,000 to 2.3 million, which is more than Russia and Chain combined. It hurts us economically. It hurts the family. When children have an opportunity to grow up around parents, that prevents children from following that same poverty-stricken path. There’s so many tangible reasons why this is a good thing.

As you’re well aware, the House flipped to Democratic control for the next two years. Does that change strategy at all?

Absolutely. When you don’t control the House or have the chairs of each committee, you are stifled when you’re guaranteed something to getting to the floor. I think that’s where relationships come into play, whether it’s through Cedric Richmond or others that we’ve worked on in areas like criminal justice or tax reform, those relationships matter. We’ll just do our best to try to work around it.

What’s on your personal goals list for 2019-2020? Is there any legislation you’re looking to push for?

The big thing is something that we’ve been working on for the last couple years. I’ve met with (former Duke University men’s basketball player and current television commentator) Jay Bilas and others. We’re looking to be able to find a way to let these young men and young women (who play college sports) use their own image and own likeness. If you’re at Carolina and you’re an education major, sometimes you’ll supplement your income by tutoring some of the local high schoolers and get paid for it. Student-athletes can’t do that. To me, that’s preposterous. So what we’re trying to do, we’re trying to go after the NCAA and let these students profit from their likeness and image.

What can Chatham County residents — who voted 56.8 percent to 43.2 percent against you, remember — count on you for this term?

The same thing. Regardless of which county votes in which direction, our job is to be consistent in constituent services. That’s why we have people in there working remote hours. As a minister, if somebody came to me, I didn’t care what their background was. It’s the same thing. If people walk into our office, I don’t care if they’re Republican or Democrat. Our job is to serve. Ultimately — I know there’s a big Democratic continent in Chatham County — I hope that they can see our heart and serve all of those individuals.

You’ve been in Washington for 4 years now. What’s something about Congress, D.C., the political scene that you’ve gathered that might surprise people?

How good people can differ on important issues. There are people, both Republicans and Democrats that I have met, that are principled people who are committed to fighting and standing up for what they believe in, even if I disagree with them or they disagree with me. There’s people on both sides that are what we call “lifers” that are sitting on the back row pushing buttons. There are people up there that are engaged, trying to represent their districts, with fervor and energy. Before I arrived there, I just thought that they were a bunch of liberals. I learned that, for the most part, their heart is in the right place and they’re trying to do the right thing.

There’s been a lot swirling around President Trump regarding campaign finance violations and other allegations. Do you have any comment on those?

His entire first two years has just been constant investigation after another. What I’ve tried to do is separate the policies versus the personality. Most of the president’s history, if I’m being transparent, has not been very moral. It’s not been someone that you necessarily want to model. There’s some things he’s done OK, but there’s some things that I’d advocate against to my own children. But the things that happened years ago doesn’t affect current policy. The focus should be more on the policy and not on the personality.


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