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U.S. Senator John Kennedy spoke to an American Government class at Denham Springs High Friday October 19, 2018. Kennedy talked about the federal budget, Kavanaugh hearings, Puerto Rico hurricane recovery, the Middle East and other topics.

A big federal criminal justice reform bill passed the Senate Tuesday, on the strength of that rarest of things in Washington: true bipartisan support. Eighty-seven senators voted yes on the measure, which had earlier passed the House, and President Donald Trump is eager to sign it into law.

U.S. Sen. John Kennedy was one of the few holdouts.

That tells us one thing: Apparently Kennedy’s opposition to the increasingly popular concept of reducing prison time for non-violent offenders and helping released prisoners incorporate back into outside society wasn’t just about his possible gubernatorial ambitions.

Gov. John Bel Edwards had championed a similar — and similarly bipartisan — effort at the state level, with Kennedy as one of his loudest critics. But Kennedy announced earlier this month that he’s not going to run against Edwards next year.

So he turned his attention to trying to block this bill, which had the support of fellow Republican U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy, and failing that, trying to water it down. Three times, Kennedy and a handful of allies tried to add amendments, and three times they failed.

Kennedy has consistently warned that these bills risk public safety, but he almost never acknowledges the reality behind them, that mass incarceration disproportionately devastates certain communities and costs too many taxpayer dollars. He has consistently harped on fear rather than embraced hope.

Fear that someone who gets released does something violent is indeed real, which makes the groundswell for reform all the more remarkable. The overwhelming majority of politicians who backed the measure showed courage in taking that risk.

You can decide for yourself what Kennedy showed by going down swinging.


Follow Stephanie Grace on Twitter, @stephgracela.