Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Jon Bruning: A Man Lost to His Own Ambition

by Kyle Michaelis
In September 2005, I wrote a glowing piece thanking Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning for his principled, common sense demand that Nebraska politicians reawaken to the value of mercy in the exercise of their pardon and commutation powers. At the time, the Lincoln Journal-Star reported:
Sometimes the get-tough attitude on crime should be tempered by mercy, Attorney General Jon Bruning said during an unsuccessful attempt Wednesday to get an inmate’s life sentence reduced.

Bruning failed to persuade the other Pardons Board members — Secretary of State John Gale and Gov. Dave Heineman — to give a second chance to a man sentenced when he was 18 to life without parole for his role in a murder.

Bruning admitted this stand could jeopardize his own re-election bid. “We are continually trying to get ourselves re-elected by trying to be tougher than the next guy,” Bruning said. “And at some point, it’s got to end”....

With the 2-1 decision, the Pardons Board continued its 14-year record of denying requests to commute life sentences. But the decision sparked a passionate debate on being tough on crime.

Bruning pointed out that, historically, the state Pardons Board commuted life sentences several times a year until the early 1990s. And Bruning admitted his own get-tough record. “I’ve been so tough on crime, it makes me want to throw up sometimes,” he said.

But there is a time to consider mercy, he noted. Bruning said he was willing to commute this sentence “at my own political peril”....

“It’s the voice of the people driving this issue of law and order,” Gale said.

“It’s the voice of politicians who are trying to get re-elected,” Bruning said.
How right Bruning was. Unfortunately, today Bruning betrayed every principle and every truth he spoke by letting his ambition to run for higher office in 2008 guide his taking action that would have made him "want to throw up" less than two years ago.

Tuesday's Lincoln Journal-Star reports:
The three-member Board of Pardons refused 2-1 to commute the life sentence of a man who has spent 29 years in prisons for the death of a retired postal worker. The decision means Reginald Bennett has no chance to be paroled out of prison....

Gov. Dave Heineman and Attorney General Jon Bruning said Bennett’s case was not extraordinary enough to merit commutation....

Bruning...pointed to Bennett’s decision three decades ago to follow his attorney’s advice and reject the plea agreement. “Ultimately I’m not sure the system failed him. He could have taken the deal,” Bruning said.

Bruning also pointed to death penalty opponents, who say the state should do away with the death penalty because “life means life.” But a decision to commute a life sentence “is proof that life doesn’t mean life,” he said.

In addition, approving one commutation would open a flood gate for the 200 people in Nebraska’s prison system with life sentences, Bruning said.

“If we open the gate, it is going to be very difficult to say no to anyone. So do we want to open the gate?”....

Only Secretary of State John Gale said he believed Bennett’s case was one of the exceptions....

Gale pointed to Bennett’s record in prison, his lack of a previous criminal record, the fact he called for an ambulance and stayed with the victim until it arrived, and his strong family and church support and his record in the prison.

“I think this is one of those rare cases that deserves an opportunity for commutation.”
What changed between 2005 and 2007? Only Jon Bruning's taste for power. What a shameless and pathetic son of a bitch. Here, Bruning finally had the opportunity to prove that he stood for something - ANYTHING - more than Jon Bruning. This is a pretty clear demonstration that he's forsaken conscience and humanity for his own ego and ambition.

Did Bruning ever care about the value of mercy? Was ever really willing to take the right action at his own "political peril"? I suppose it doesn't matter now. He got his headlines at the time. Maybe that was all he ever wanted.

Bruning can fabricate whatever justification he wants - a 30 year-old plea bargain rejected by a 21 year-old kid, "life means life", opening the flood gates - but it's hard to imagine a worse load of complete bullshit.

I don't often use such harsh language on the site, but I don't know any other way to convey the full degree of my outrage at this sinful, unforgivable hypocrisy. It is sad enough that Nebraskans have elected three straight governors like Heineman who have let politics trump compassion for 16 years. But, Bruning has brought this ongoing controversy to a new low - pandering to our worst instincts in violation of that which he knows is right.

These other politicians? Maybe they really don't know better. Maybe they really do believe that being blindly tough on crime serves the public interest. Maybe they really do believe that there's no place for mercy and rehabilitation in our criminal justice system.

Jon Bruning, though, does know better. He's gone on record saying so. And, that makes his action all the more shameful and all the more sinful.

Below is a picture of Reginald Bennet's mother responding to Bruning's unsurprising flip-flop that decided her son's fate. She may be alone in her tears, but her loss is our loss - a blow to everything that is good and right about Nebraska and its people, who are better than this and deserve better from their elected officials.

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Anonymous Dave Sund said...

I'd ask where Bruning stands on the commuted sentence of a certain former White House staffer, but I'm pretty sure I already know the answer.

Anonymous Anonymous said...

We all make mistakes and I think NNN has just made one. I read all of the blogs and this one was over the top and blatantly misleading. I respect the NNN because it isn’t always just finger pointing and saying the other guy is wrong because he is a Republican.
I don't know all the facts of these two cases and NNN decided not to give any to back up their accusations. But I do know painting a cold blooded murderer as a "victim" is pretty bad. It would be naive to think that both cases were the same and therefore should have been voted on in the same manner. I thought the 2005 case was one in which the guy did not actually murder the person but was an accessory. Could be wrong but I do know that they are not the same.
Too bad NNN did not rise above the easy finger pointing excuse of JB wants more power. I will continue to read and share NNN but ask that you don't pander yourself and for the next 17 months label everything a republican does as politically motivated. You are better than that. At least you have been in the past. And the cursing???? You have got to be better than that regardless of your view if you want credibility of any sort.

Blogger Eric said...

To the anonymous poster:

NNN supplied links to the two articles in the Journal Star talking about these cases. If you want more details, click the link. I also believe that there are a lot of similarities between the cases which you'll see when you read the articles. In fact, when Bruning was for commutation, there was at least opposition to the commutation at the hearing. This time there wasn't.

I think the primary issue here is that Jon Bruning, less than two years ago, passionately chastised the Governor and Secretary of State for not commuting a life sentence.
But now, he is seemingly excluding commutation of any life sentence. What has changed? He may just have had a change of heart, but it is certainly politically convenient. Given his pattern of politically convenient changes of opinion, you have to at least suspect that his ambition has overtaken his principles.

Blogger Kyle Michaelis said...

No one can say exactly what happened in the death of James Sloan Jr. for which Reginald Bennett was convicted of murder. But, the facts do not IN ANY WAY support Bennett being labeled "a cold blooded murderer."

I would like to commend Sec. of State John Gale - a Republican - for making the right choice in this matter and for demonstrating what will hopefully be receptiveness to future pleas for mercy. However, with the current climate of distrust in the Republican Party, one can't help wondering if this wasn't a calculated decision as well to put Bruning in this awkward and quite clearly hypocritical position.

Just how deep down the rabbit hole of Republican politics have we already run?

Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a Republican who usually is 100%anti-NNN, I have to agree with you on this one. JB pulled a 180. Its one thing to go out on a limb when you don't have an opponent to speak off as AJ. Totally another when you have a microscope pointed at you when you decide to run for senate. JB jumped the shark on this one.

I guess I'm only 99.9% anti-NNN

Anonymous Anonymous said...

cases are very different Kyle and you are too smart to not realize that. You really are. Yes """Cold blooded murderer""" is true. Accomplice versus Murderer (convicted). I say there are differences. Please Kyle use your talents to tell the real story and stop pandering. Seriously you have a chance to make a difference. But not by pandering like you are. Funny thingis you are falsely accusing Bruning of exactly what you are doing. You love the extreme Libs worshiping your words. That makes you just as pathetic as extreme Bush supporters. Kyle you still have a chance. Please admit you were wrong. At the very least apologize for your cursing.

Blogger Kyle Michaelis said...


I've never suggested that these cases are one and the same, but that doesn't change the fact that Bruning's rhetorical shift reeks of the very worst form of blatant political hypocrisy.

Bruning's 2005 statements should not put him in a position where he has to vote to commute anyone who comes before the board, but there is simply no reconciling what he said then with what he says now.

I could make many grandiose arguments. I could beat around the bush. I could even be more polite. But, with apologies only to his mother - who is probably a very fine woman - there is no description more apt for Bruning's conduct than that of a son of a bitch (aka "SOB").

I stand by what I have written and accept responsibility for my words. That's a difference between myself and Jon Bruning for which I shall never feel ashamed.

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sad Kyle. Good luck with your 2.0 and I wish you luck and hope you will soon grow politically and learn to accept due criticism.
This is no longer a JB thing but a KM thing. Cursing belittles the message/opinion you were trying to convey.
I will check in periodically and see if you grow politically, which will separate you from the extremism or if you continue to rant without the facts.
Thank you for spending your time on this. If not enlightening (which this piece was not) at least it is a good case study in party extremism.

Blogger Kyle Michaelis said...


I accept criticism. I welcome it. But, I resent your unfair assertion that I am ranting "without the facts."

I have been running this website for a long, long time. You may disagree with my personal outrage at Jon Bruning's hypocrisy, but its childish of you to think you can white-wash the whole situation by putting the fault on my shoulders for my supposed "party extremism."

Sorry...I won't be your straw man. But, come back to NNN 2.0. You'll have all the opportunity to criticize me that you could possibly desire.

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh I will be at 2.0. I am a dedicated reader. Still wish you would stop the cursing and yes, apologize.
I can only imagine your rant if JB said "I will not pardon that SOB because he is a cold blooded murderer." Which BTW he is.
Instead, you show a picture of his Mom crying. Wow! wonder if the dead postman's Mom was crying. Did you check?

To ligten the mood here. I enjoy reading your stuff and thank you for taking the time to do it. Go 2.0!!

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nobody will probably read this but the political fallout by the liberally controlled press should not be a part of the political process. Reggie Bennett is not a murderer at all. First degree murderers plot their crimes. FDM don't use rocks. They don't wait for ambulances. They dont go to the hospital in order to check on the victim. Hmmmm Jon Brunning is a great Nebraskan. Bad council puts a man in jail for life. Jon , the system DID not work. Time to be a true patriot.

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Please let him come home it has been three years! He is a wondderful great man!!! See you soon uncle......


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