Tim Murphy

Tim Murphy

Reporter

Tim Murphy is a reporter in MoJo's DC bureau. Last summer he logged 22,000 miles while blogging about his cross-country road trip for Mother Jones. His writing has been featured in Slate and the Washington Monthly. Email him with tips and insights at tmurphy [at] motherjones [dot] com.

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Rick Perry's Death Penalty Problem

| Fri Jul. 8, 2011 9:56 AM EDT

Texas Governor Rick Perry's close relationship with fringe figures of the religious right is likely to be an issue for him if, as looks increasingly likely, he decides to run for president. But his central role in an international incident could loom even larger. Last night, he declined to intervene in the execution of a Mexican national, Humberto Leal, by lethal injection, despite public requests from the White House and the government of Mexico to hold off. Here's the AP:

A Mexican national was executed Thursday evening for the rape-slaying of a San Antonio teenager after the U.S. Supreme Court turned down a White House-supported appeal to spare him in a death-penalty case where Texas justice triumphed over international treaty concerns...Police never told Leal after his arrest that he could seek legal assistance from the Mexican government under an international treaty, and his case had prompted appeals on what it could mean for other foreigners arrested in the United States and for Americans detained abroad. His appeals lawyers said such assistance would have helped his defense.

Perry's death penalty record is the sort of thing that, in a normal political climate (as opposed to the current one), would cripple any realistic shot at the Oval Office. He refused to stay the execution of Cameron Todd Willingham, and, after the fact, when the evidence began to overwhelmingly suggest that Willingham had been innocent, he replaced three members of the commission that had been reviewing the case. (Perry stands by the execution, insisting that Willingham was a "monster.") After two decades on death row, Anthony Graves was released only after a lengthy investigation from Texas Monthly showed that he had been wrongfully convicted. And Perry's doggedly embraced the death penalty even as studies continue to show that executions are costing his cash-strapped state hundreds of millions of dollars.

Perry has presided over more than 230 executions as governor. As the Texas Tribune notes, he's commuted the death sentences of 31 death row inmates, but in 30 of those cases, that was only because the Supreme Court ordered him to. The high court intervened against again last March, ordering that the state was required to consider DNA testing in an appeal from a death row inmate. In 2010, a Houston district judge ruled the state's death penalty system was unconstitutional because it violated the 8th and 14th Amendments. Earlier this year, a Texas House committee considered a bill to put a two-year moratorium on executions, in light of continued evidence of wrongful convictions. And in April, a psychologist frequently employed as an expert by the state in death penalty cases was banned from performing mental evaluations after she was found to be using "unscientific" methods in her official analyses. Through it all, Perry has maintained the same confident tone: "I think our system works."

The Leal execution is about more than just criminal justice. It also speaks to Perry's hostile relationship with Washington, which is at the root of his appeal to the tea party. He's clashed with Obama over perceived slights in disaster-relief funding and border security (although Texas has grown fat off border pork). Now, Perry's returning the favor: The White House told the governor his decision would put Americans at risk when they travel abroad; Perry decided that wasn't his problem. As with his suggestion in 2009 that Texas could secede from the Union over Obama's policies, it's a case of Perry demonstrating less than total allegiance to the national interest. Is that presidential? That's for voters to decide.

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Iowa Conservatives Unveil Anti-Gay Marriage Pledge

| Thu Jul. 7, 2011 3:51 PM EDT
Bob Vander Plaats

On Thursday, one of Iowa's most influential social conservative organizations, The Family Leader, informed GOP presidential candidates that to win the group's endorsement, they'll have to sign a pledge. Family Leader president Bob Vander Plaats, a former Mike Huckabee ally, wants GOP contenders to commit to a list of 14 red-meat items, including opposition to gay marriage, a ban on Islamic Sharia law, a rejection of pornography, and an affirmation that married couples have better sex.

The group, which spearheaded the successful campaign to unseat state supreme court judges who had voted to legalize gay marriage, has been courted by candidates like Michele Bachmann and Tim Pawlenty as a way of tapping into the state's huge bloc of conservative Christian caucusgoers. What's in the pledge? Here's a quick rundown:

Presidential candidates who sign The Marriage Vow will sign off on support of personal fidelity to his/her spouse, appointing faithful constitutionalists as judges, opposition to any redefinition of marriage, and prompt reform of uneconomic and anti-marriage aspects of welfare policy, tax policy, and divorce law. The Marriage Vow also outlines support for the legal advocacy for the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), humane efforts to protect women and children, rejection of anti-women Sharia Islam, safeguards for all married and unmarried U.S. military personnel, and commitment to downsizing government and the burden upon American families.

The document itself gets more specific. Point 5 begins with a "Recognition of the overwhelming statistical evidence that married people enjoy better health, better sex..." Point 9 rejects "forms of pornography and prostitution, infanticide, abortion and other types of coercion or stolen innocence."

So who will jump on board? Much of the platform seems to mix fairly well with standard conservative talking points, but there might be a few dissenters. At the New Hampshire Republican debate last month, for instance, frontrunner Mitt Romney pointedly came to the defense of Muslims and smiled away any suggestion that American Muslims would be any less qualified to serve in his administration than anyone else. Because Sharia Islam is actually just a synonym for Islam, it would seem like a radical departure for Romney to suddenly embrace the Family Leader's far-right language. He also declined to sign the Susan B. Anthony List's pledge, which affirmed candidates' opposition to appointing pro-choice officials, because he felt it limited his flexibility to make cabinet and judicial appointments.

Update: That was quick. Bachmann's on board.

Flashback: Bachmann Praises Huck's Birther Ally

| Thu Jul. 7, 2011 8:37 AM EDT

Two months back, I reported on Mike Huckabee's ties to Janet Porter, a social conservative crusader who has suggested that President Obama is a Soviet mole, that Haitians are "dedicated to Satan," and that gay marriage caused Noah's flood. Now Kyle Mantyla points out that Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), floated by some as Mike Huckabee 2.0, also has ties to Porter; Bachmann spoke at her conference in September, 2009—six months after Porter accused the President of being a spy:

Of course, the radical views held by Porter and the others in no way dissuaded Bachmann from attending. In fact, Bachmann appeared on Porter's radio program ahead of the event and used it as an opportunity to [praise] her and endorse the May Day at the Lincoln Memorial prayer event Porter was planning for the following spring.

That May Day event ended up being so infused with Seven Mountains Dominion Theology that Porter lost her radio program and almost ended her career at a Religious Right activist, until she showed up in Ohio earlier this year where she began scheduling fetuses to "testify" on behalf of her extremist anti-choice "Heartbeat Bill."  In her downtime, she was busy praying for God to give Christians control over the media and every level of government.

Seven Mountains Dominion Theology, for the uninitiated, posits that Christians have an obligation to fill the ranks of government and other key areas—mountains—of life ahead of the second coming. Bachmann's relationship with Porter isn't as deep as Huckabee's (who called her a "prophetic voice"). But it does underscore a problem she'll face as she looks to establish her credibility with mainstream Republicans: Bachmann has made it in politics by forging alliances with folks whose ideologies make her own conspiratorial views and anti-gay positions seem downright pedestrian.

Michele Bachmann’s Marcus Bachmann Problem

| Wed Jul. 6, 2011 9:04 AM EDT
Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) and her husband, Marcus Bachmann, greet the crowd at a campaign stop in South Carolina.

Politico's James Hohmann published a story Tuesday on the unique role of Rep. Michele Bachmann's husband, Marcus, on the campaign trail. Aside from the obvious points about how he's had to pick up the slack on the home front since his wife left for Washington, the piece notes a few of the recent controversies that could become "liabilities" on the campaign trail—namely, the fact that his family farm received subsidies, and that his Christian therapy practice accepted Medicaid funding.

That might be a stretch. The fact that Marcus Bachmann received farm subsidies is bad because they're the kind of government handout the candidate loves to hate, but it's really not the kind of thing that sways voters—especially when you consider that a lot of Republican primary voters also receive farm subsidies. There is one part of the Marcus Bachmann story, though, that is already becoming an issue for the Bachmann campaign.

Michele Bachmann's Redistricting Whopper

| Tue Jul. 5, 2011 9:40 AM EDT
Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.)

In successive weeks, GOP presidential candidate Michele Bachmann has been the subject of fawning profiles in the nation’s two most influential conservative political magazines, the Weekly Standard and the National Review (subscription required). The stories, which lean heavily on interviews with the congresswoman, are revealing in that they more or less present Bachmann's life story as she'd like to portray it—her political conversion after reading Gore Vidal's Burr, her travels in Israel, her unexpected entry into state politics. And her perpetual underdog status: Both stories report that Bachmann had so riled up Minnesota Democrats that, when they drew up new state senate districts in 2002, she was their top target. Here's the Standard's Matthew Continetti:

Bachmann won the state senate seat in November 2000. The question was how long she'd be able to keep the office. Redistricting forced her to run against a 10-year Democratic incumbent, Jane Krentz, in 2002. A committee chairman, Krentz had the support of environmental and women's groups. The Democrats who controlled the state senate had created the new district with her in mind.

National Review's Robert Costa says much the same thing: "Minnesota pols tried to shoo her out of office during the 2002 redistricting process."

You can see why this is an appealing narrative for Bachmann. In her telling, she was exposed early in her career to the ruthless Democratic political machine. Why? Because liberals are afraid of her. This isn't the first time she's parroted this line, either. In 2006, when she was seeking the GOP nomination for her first congressional campaign, she sent out a video stating that she was "the number one target of Minnesota senate Democrats" who "redistricted me out of my Senate seat so I had to run in a completely new district against a 10-year [Democratic] female incumbent." 

But that isn't what happened. At all.

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