Thursday, January 10, 2013

EXCLUSIVE: Candidates for Maryland Governor Talk Death Penalty // READ: Brown, Gansler, Mizeur & Ulman's Views

DEATH PENALTY REFERENDUM IN 2014? - Maryland Juice has been following the surging possibility for death penalty repeal in the 2013 legislative session in Annapolis. Senate President Mike Miller (a death penalty supporter) made waves by announcing he would find a way to bring the issue to the floor for a vote if Gov. Martin O'Malley (a death penalty opponent) lined up the needed votes. We also reported that the current whip-count was within one or two votes in the State Senate, and yesterday Mike Miller predicted that the repeal effort would ultimately succeed. In comments that appeared in The Capital Gazette, Miller also suggested the death penalty repeal bill could end up on the ballot in 2014 (excerpt below):
CAPITAL GAZETTE: A ban on the death penalty is likely to pass at least the state Senate, that chamber's president said after concluding the first day of business at the General Assembly on Wednesday....  Miller predicted the resulting law will be petitioned to the ballot for the November 2014 elections.

"I think it will go forward. There are people that can be persuaded," said Miller, himself an advocate of capital punishment for certain crimes, such as killing police officers or correctional officers....

EFFECT ON 2014 DEMOCRATIC PRIMARY - If Mike Miller is right, the death penalty could create very interesting crosscurrents in the 2014 Democratic Primary. We can surely expect campaigning on the issue will start to ramp up, and the issue will almost certainly draw a hot-button aura similar to the ones surrounding the Dream Act or marriage equality during the referenda votes last November.

As a result, Maryland Juice decided to interview the four remaining Democrats running for Governor in 2014 and see where they stood on death penalty repeal.

Earlier this week, Maryland Juice contacted Sen. Brian Frosh & Del. Jon Cardin, two candidates for 2014 Attorney General, to find out their views on death penalty repeal. As it turns out, both Democrats campaigning for the seat support abolition of state executions. But unlike in the AG's race, there appear to be vast differences between the gubernatorial candidates on the death penalty. 

Below Maryland Juice highlights exclusive commentary from Lt. Governor Anthony Brown, Attorney General Doug Gansler, Delegate Heather Mizeur and Howard County Executive Ken Ulman. We asked each would-be Governor whether they planned on supporting death penalty repeal this year, and here's what they (or their spokespeople) had to say:


Our justice system in Maryland is strong, and full of men and women who work each and every day to keep Marylanders safe. Yet it is also prone to inaccuracy and – occasionally – bias. As public servants, we have a responsibility to acknowledge the flaws of this system, even as we seek to improve it.

That is why I favor lifetime sentences as an alternative to the death penalty. In an imperfect system, it is the only way to prevent the wrongful execution of an innocent defendant.

Nothing is more important than the protection and safety of all Marylanders, and we will remain committed to tough and appropriate punishments for those who are convicted of serious crimes. But as we work towards a stronger, more just Maryland, we must do so while continuously searching for solutions that ensure that justice is served while also protecting the innocent and wrongfully convicted.

The Attorney General will not be actively participating in the death penalty debate in 2013. His focus will remain that if we continue to have the death penalty in Maryland, that it be administered in a fair and race neutral, socio-economically neutral manner.

Delegate Mizeur strongly supports a full repeal of the death penalty. It is one of her top priorities for the 2013 session.

There are some heinous crimes for which capital punishment is an appropriate penalty, as recent national events remind us. At the same time, there are legitimate and well-documented challenges with implementing a fair, just and error-free capital punishment system. I will continue to seek the counsel of trusted members of the legal community, friends, victims, scholars and others as I evaluate whether Maryland's criminal justice system should be altered to exclude the death penalty.

SUMMARY: Based on the statements above, it sounds like Lt. Gov. Brown and Del. Mizeur will be supporting repeal in 2013, while Attorney General Doug Gansler remains a fan of state executions. Gansler has historically been a public proponent of the death penalty, stretching back to his time as State's Attorney in Montgomery County. Howard County Exec Ken Ulman seems to support the death penalty but is perhaps keeping an open mind. The infographic above reflects my assessment of the gubernatorial field on this issue.

WHIP-COUNT UPDATE: The Washington Post confirmed the rumored whip-counts showing a close vote in the Maryland Senate. More importantly, WaPo started naming wavering legislators and new recruits for abolition (excerpt below):
WASHINGTON POST: The Post identified 23 likely Senate votes for a repeal bill, one short of passage. But an additional four members have said they would consider supporting O’Malley-backed legislation, which is also a priority this session for the NAACP and the Catholic Church....

The Post’s count of likely Senate votes to repeal the death penalty includes 19 members who co-sponsored a similar bill last year, one senator who voted for a repeal bill previously in committee and two -- Sens. James E. DeGrange Sr. (D-Anne Arundel) and Edward R. Reilly (R-Anne Arundel) -- who voiced their support in interviews in recent days....

The count also includes Sen. James C. Rosapepe (D-Prince George’s), who was unavailable for an interview but has told colleagues that he is inclined to support a repeal bill.

Four other senators interviewed by The Post expressed mixed views and said they are open to hearing arguments by opponents. They include Sen. Allan H. Kittleman (Howard), the only Republican in his chamber to join a majority of Democrats last year in supporting same-sex marriage legislation....

Others who acknowledged being open on the issue include Sens. John C. Astle (D-Anne Arundel), Ronald N. Young (D-Frederick) and Katherine A. Klausmeier (D-Baltimore County).

MOVEON.ORG PETITION FOR ROB GARAGIOLA: Notably, State Senator Rob Garagiola's name does not appear in The Washington Post's round-up of persuadable legislators. Indeed, Maryland Juice previously suggested that Montgomery County Democrats contact Sen. Rob Garagiola and encourage him to support the end of state murder. Garagiola is currently listed as the only Montgomery County supporter of the death penalty in the State Senate but was recently endorsed by numerous progressive organizations in his run for Congress last April, including CASA, MoveOn, NEA, Human Rights Campaign, SEIU, Sierra Club, and the League of Conservation voters. You may be wondering why I'm listing groups that don't pertain directly to the death penalty, and that's simply because there's a reason we call it the progressive movement. The existence of a philosophical tie between these issues is perhaps more obvious to those who work at the national level and see the issue correlations and coalitions that emerge around federal legislation.

But even still, its not too much to push local Democrats in super-safe districts to get with the program. Folks involved with all of these aforementioned groups -- and who are also anti-death penalty progressives -- should be tapping Garagiola on the shoulder about this issue. It seems like we are constantly having to ask legislators to evolve on social justice issues when these Democrats would suffer no political consequences for helping move the needle for progressive issues. What gives?

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