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Cotton Honors Fallen Yell County Sherriff’s Lieutenant During National Police Week

May 17, 2017

Over the weekend, I heard a story I wanted to share with everyone here today.

The story goes there were three candles burning on a porch right across the street from the Cornwell Funeral Home in Dardanelle, Arkansas-my hometown, just a couple of blocks away from my home. A family had lit them in memory of the three people who were brutally murdered last week in Chickalah-just a few miles outside Dardanelle. One of those slain was Lieutenant Kevin Mainhart, of the Yell County Sheriff's Department, who was killed after he stopped a man wanted in a domestic disturbance. In honor of his five years of service to Yell County-on top of the 20 years of service he rendered to the West Memphis Police Department-his fellow officers escorted in their cruisers the white hearse carrying his body from the state crime laboratory in Little Rock back to Dardanelle. The family across the street had lit a green candle specifically for Lieutenant Mainhart, and the three candles burned all night. But as the hearse pulled into the funeral home, the green candle suddenly went out.

You could say it was nothing more than a strange coincidence. But I think it's something especially poignant about the sudden, tragic loss of Lieutenant Mainhart's life-so close to National Police Week, which began on Sunday. Like that green candle, Lieutenant Mainhart lit up his community, and like that flickering flame, his life was too brief. And like every American this week, I wish to pay my respects to Lieutenant Mainhart and the noble profession he chose.

One of the things that struck me about Lieutenant Mainhart's death was that it came so early in the morning. The stop occurred at 7:18 a.m. He had the whole day-and his whole life-in front of him. He was only 46 years old, but he'd made the most of his time on this earth. He was a husband, a father, an Air Force vet, a beloved member of our community. Hundreds of people don't line the streets for just anybody. And yet in a moment, he was gone-his family bereft, our community in mourning. It's a reminder how precious and fragile every life really is.

It also goes to show just how brave every police officer really is-because this is the risk they take every morning: They put on the uniform, they kiss their family goodbye, and they go to work-never fully certain that they'll get home that night. And yet the ever-present threat of death doesn't weigh them down, it doesn't hold them back, it doesn't dim the brilliance of their service. They give it their all day after day without giving it a moment's thought.

That, to me, is the ultimate sign of character: when you do the right thing without even thinking about it.

People like this, they're hard to come by. And the sad truth is, we need a lot of them-a free country always does. Because there's no freedom without security. We are so used to this basic fact-that for most of us, most of the time we're safe-that we forget how remarkable it is. Not so many people on God's green earth can take that safety for granted. We often forget what it takes to secure it. We forget how easily we can lose it and lose men and women like Lieutenant Mainhart in an instant.

And it's with this in mind-this grave understanding of what our safety requires-that I once again speak against continued efforts to water down federal sentencing laws. I thought this ill-advised idea had expired last year, especially after Donald Trump's election. But advocates for criminal leniency are at it again, even though violent crime continued to rise in our cities for two years straight and law enforcement officers are being killed in the line of duty. I've already made my position clear: If we want to take a second look at punishments for first-time drug possession, let's do that-but you should know that fewer than 500 people are in federal prison for such offenses. If we want to clean up our prisons, rehabilitate felons and help them achieve redemption, by all means, let's do that, too. I'd even consider a bill to speed up review of inmate's applications for pardons, and commutations, to help the president exercise his constitutional authority. But we should not-we should not- lower mandatory minimums for violent crimes, repeat offenders, and drug trafficking. There's nothing compassionate about putting the lives of innocent people-and our law-enforcement officers-at risk.

Because Lieutenant Mainhart isn't the only one: there were three police officers killed in the line of duty last year in Arkansas. Robert Barker in the McCrory Police Department, William Cooper in the Sebastian County Sheriff's Office, and Lisa Mauldin in the Miller County Sheriff's Office.

Every one of these losses was too steep a price to pay, and unwise criminal-leniency policies put at risk their fellow officers and our communities.

I know it's considered old-fashioned to be "tough on crime"-or even worse, cold-hearted and mean. But a man doesn't put a lock on his door because he hates those on the outside. He does it because he loves those on the inside: his wife, his kids, all of his family-because they're the joy of his life. The men and women of law enforcement don't just protect their own families-they protect all of our families. Every day those men and women put their lives on the line for their fellow citizens. And the least we can do is stand behind them and support them-both for the work they do and for the lives they lead.