I've been following politics for a long time. Right out of the gate I was convinced most elected officials were geniuses for figuring out how to screw over the lowest rung on the ladder for their own benefit. That was before the FBI raided and charged 10 percent of our Legislature with taking bribes. I still think the feds missed a few.
Still, after having sat through those trials, I became a believer in Hanlon's Razor: "Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by incompetence."
I keep wondering about that rule while following a story about Juneau's Republican representative, Cathy Munoz. It's a puzzler. I sent her several questions in an email and she agreed to answer them, even writing she "looked forward to my call," which she took the day after my deadline for this column.
I tried to figure out why she shows more active concern for the sexual abusers of children than for their victims. I'm still baffled. Munoz isn't malicious. She's clueless.
During the legislative session, Munoz sponsored a bill that was widely criticized by people and organizations who help victims of child abuse. AWARE, Aiding Women in Abuse and Rape Emergencies, said the bill would "make it harder for a court to find domestic violence, child abuse, and neglect relevant issues in awarding custody."
The executive director, Saralyn Tabachnick, testified, "I find HB 334 to be one of the most disheartening bills I've ever spoken to in my nearly 30 years at AWARE." Why would a judge not want to consider a history of violence in awarding custody?
Munoz offered an amendment to another bill (Senate Bill 91) to have the age of consent revised if both perpetrator and victim were under the age of 19. Why? Well, it sure wasn't to keep kids "playing doctor" from finding themselves on the sex offender registry.
An influential constituent, Tim Grussendorf, had requested the legislation to protect his son, who, according to the Juneau Empire, was "indicted on six counts of sexual abuse of a minor in the first degree and one count of attempted sexual abuse of a minor in the first degree for engaging in oral sex and other sexual acts with a person under 13 years old on multiple occasions in January 2013."
Under 13 years old! The younger Grussendorf was 18 at the time of the alleged offense. To some colleagues, Munoz's concern about the young perpetrator's future over the victim was reason enough to withdraw the amendment she'd offered.
Munoz was unable to advance either of these proposals, even as part of a Republican super-majority, one that routinely votes against the interests of regular Alaskans. Munoz should have known she was far out on the limb when she couldn't sell crazy to people who consider it a political ideology.
Of course, all this is just background as we try to make sense of newly published letters Munoz wrote to judges appealing for leniency for other constituents convicted of heinous crimes against children.
This raises a question that would be easily answered by most of us:
Is it appropriate for an elected official to push to ease the punishment of a child-abusing constituent? Munoz couldn't answer that one for herself, so she wrote one letter as "a citizen," and ran that past the ethics cops, who allowed as how that was indeed something she could do. Then she wrote another letter to the court on her official legislative letterhead and signed it, "Cathy Munoz Representative."
In one case, a mother left two daughters for several years in the care of their biological father, knowing he was sexually abusing them and filming the abuse. That mother was charged with eight felony counts of child endangerment.
Munoz explained to the judge the negligent mother is trying to move "forward in her life under difficult circumstances." No doubt times are tough for her, but I bet they're not as tough as having your dad rape you for the camera.
"I'm impressed by her strong Christian faith and her dedication to regular attendance. She regularly volunteers with Church activities such as greeting parishioners and helping with childcare for our members," Rep. Munoz went on. Wow. That impressive display of faith almost makes up for knowingly not protecting your children from a pedophile.
Munoz is impressed with the woman's child care skills? You cannot make this up. Munoz said she wrote the letter to give aid to the woman even though her abuser husband had been incarcerated for more than two years at the time of her advocacy.
It goes on. Munoz's next beg to the court was to reduce the already minimum sentence recommended for Thomas Jack Jr., who was convicted of sexually assaulting a preteen girl in his care. Apparently six years for each count of sexual assault seemed not quite right for Munoz. It does to me too. I think it should be at least 100.
Munoz wrote, "Tom's conviction has had a profound impact on me. There have been times when I laid awake at night unable to sleep concerned over the length of his sentence and the cold reality that he may never see freedom again."
Really? Apparently, the reality of a child sexual assault victim somehow does not disturb your sleep?
The idea that Jack preyed upon the most vulnerable possible victim, from his position as caring for her, seems like a pretty good reason for him never to see freedom again. That's something that doesn't trouble my sleep at all.
Munoz continued that Jack "is not a violent person, and I believe he would respond well to rehabilitation."
Her perception of his rehabilitation prospects seems like wishful thinking at best, given that Jack still refuses to admit what he did. I think it's generally accepted that successful rehabilitation involves admitting your wrongdoing.
I'd like to suggest the next time Munoz can't sleep because of the harsh sentencing of a child sex abuser, maybe she should try counting the Alaskans who struggle to fall asleep while thinking about the crimes committed against them. If it helps, she could try picturing them jumping over a pasture fence.
As to Jack being "not a violent person"? The Juneau Empire reported: "During a criminal investigation, the victim told a Juneau Police Department detective that she was sexually abused by Jack for about two months. She talked about the physical pain she felt when Jack would 'push' himself on her body."
Rape is inherently violent. Munoz is wrong. Jack is clearly a violent person.
Rep. Munoz thinks the blowback from her advocacy is politically motivated. I'd like to think with Alaska's dismal record for sexual assault that we could put politics aside and see her advocacy for what it is. Misplaced at best.
Well, researching and writing this column has pretty much pegged the needle on my blood pressure monitor, so let me close by asking one final question of Rep. Cathy Munoz of Juneau: When are you resigning? You are patently unfit to serve in elected office.
Shannyn Moore is a radio broadcaster.
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