Washington, D.C. - Reps. Doug Collins (R-GA) and Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) could not be anymore politically different, but these two lawmakers decided to put ideology aside for the sake of criminal justice reform, and because of it, they are the most recent recipients of Allegheny College's Prize for Civility in Public Life.
Last year Collins and Jeffries collaborated to work on the First Step Act, a prison reform bill which, in part, reduces federal sentences for nonviolent offenders and aims to help them smoothly reenter society.
For instance, the First Step Act modifies the "three strikes law," increases judicial discretion to reduce sentences for low-level nonviolent drug offenders and provides retroactive relief for thousands unjustly sentenced during the crack-cocaine era, as explained by Rep. Jeffries' congressional office.
"The FIRST STEP Act is not the end," Jeffries said at the time of its passage. "It’s not even the beginning of the end. It's simply the end of the beginning of a bipartisan journey to eradicate the mass incarceration epidemic in America.”
The legislation passed Congress in December, at which point President Trump gladly signed it into law. Matthew Charles, the first person to have benefitted from the bill, was Trump's guest at the 2019 State of the Union.
Allegheny, my alma mater, presented the civility prizes to Collins and Jeffries Friday morning at the National Press Club. Former Allegheny President Jim Mullen introduced the lawmakers by first acknowledging their shared passions: their Baptist faith, their love of music and, we know, their heart for criminal justice reform. Despite their ideological differences, they "refuse to demonize each other," Mullen marveled.
Rep. Collins commended his friend Jeffries as "a compassionate man" he's proud to call his partner. He described how easy it was to "give in to the temptation to listen to another voice."
Jeffries put it in another, more humorous way: "How can a conservative Republican from rural Georgia get along with a progressive Democratic from the people’s republic of Brooklyn?"
"Doug is just a good man," Jeffries said, in a more serious tone.
In another, more unexpected moment of civility, new Allegheny President Hilary Link, the first female president in the school's history, presented two honorary civility prizes to President Mullen and Gov. Tom Ridge, who created the prize in 2012.
Former civility prizes were awarded to former Vice President Joe Biden, the late Sen. John McCain, Beto O'Rourke, Sen. Lindsey Graham, and Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.