Tuesday, January 29, 2013

JuiceBlender: Maryland Death Penalty Debate Brings Marriage Equality Dejavu, Garagiola vs. Cuomo, 60% of MD Dems Pro-Life

Below Maryland Juice provides a few updates on the status of the rapidly escalating movement for death penalty repeal in the Free State, but first we provide a little bit of context on the debate.

BACKGROUND: DEATH PENALTY DEBATE CREATES FEELINGS OF DEJAVU - The current drive to make government executions illegal in Maryland is giving me some serious dejavu. In particular, the fight to persuade lawmakers to support repeal is conjuring up parallels to our recent ridiculous debate about whether to grant equal marriage rights to same-sex couples. Just as happened with marriage, Senate President Mike Miller is allowing death penalty repeal to proceed for a floor vote, even though he personally opposes the proposal.

And just as happened with marriage equality last year, progressives are now breathtakingly close to changing state law to make Maryland a more civilized state. Meanwhile, many of the same Democrats who dragged their feet on marriage equality over the years are also supporters of state executions (surprise, surprise). And once again, a majority of Democratic voters are on one side of the issue (ie: Maryland state government should not commit murder), while a super-majority of Republican voters are on the other side of the issue (ie: Maryland state government should commit murder).

Similar to the marriage equality debate, there is a strong (but not perfect) correlation between an elected official's choice of party and their views on the death penalty. But just as happened with marriage equality, there are some exceptions to the rule. For example, Republican Senator Allan Kittleman is again thinking about joining a mostly Democratic legislative coalition in support of abolition. Notably, Kittleman was the only Republican to support marriage equality in the Maryland Senate. And just as with marriage equality, polling numbers are showing a rapid trend in the direction of social justice. Below we explore a few of these themes via JuiceBlender. Enjoy.

JUICE #1: STATE SENATOR ROB GARAGIOLA VS. MARIO CUOMO ON DEATH PENALTY REPEAL - Maryland Juice has been dismayed to see Democratic lawmakers representing safe, liberal districts voluntarily embracing legalized government murder as state policy in Maryland. For example, we've highlighted State Senator Rob Garagiola's support for taxpayer financing of Maryland state government employees committing premeditated murder, but we haven't yet heard why it is he's in favor of the death penalty.

KING MILLER'S POLICY LOGIC: Other pro-death Democrats like State Senator Mike Miller have stated why they want Maryland taxpayers to continue funding government executions. In comments appearing in Patch.com this month, Miller basically stated he believes that some murder victims deserve more justice than others. He supports the death penalty for those who kill teachers in particular (excerpt below):
PATCH: Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller would like to add to the list of capital punishment eligible cases.... "If someone's going to go to an elementary school classroom and kill a teacher, in my opinion teachers are the front line of democracy," Miller said.... Miller said he has six sisters who are teachers.

Though I can appreciate that Miller's consent has allowed the death penalty to repeal effort to proceed, I find it impossible to hold my tongue on this sort of offensive policy logic. Though I value the role of educators immensely, I'm not sure what factor (other than being the profession of the Senate President's family members) warrants the law granting greater or lesser measures of justice to victims based on their profession. It is even more gross considering that we are talking about the application of murder by the state. I don't know about you, but I do not want the Democratic leader of Maryland's Senate making decisions about life or death in such a regal and biased manner.

ROB GARAGIOLA EXPLAINS HIS SUPPORT FOR GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEES EXECUTING INMATES - In comments that appeared in The Baltimore Sun, Sen. Rob Garagiola explained why he supports having Maryland government employees execute inmates (excerpt):
ROB GARAGIOLA: "I think to myself, 'What if my daughter was a victim of one of these crimes, or a family member?'.... 'It's more from the gut,' Garagiola said."

MARIO CUOMO'S REBUTTAL TO ROB GARAGIOLA'S GUT  - Garagiola's explanation is an obvious and common argument from death penalty supporters. Perhaps influenced by Dukakis' fumbles on this issue, politicians often explain their views on capital punishment after imagining what they would want if the victim was their family member. This vengeance-based explanation is closely related to Mike Miller's impulse to expand the death penalty to include those who murder teachers. But former New York Governor Mario Cuomo -- often thought of as the conscience of the Democratic Party -- has handled this argument well for years.

Cuomo essentially asks policymakers not to make their decisions from the viewpoint of a crime victim's grieving loved one. He urges lawmakers to resist their negative impulses and instead govern from the best part of their hearts, rather than from the perspective of their darkest moments. He reiterated this view most recently in a 2011 column that appeared in the NY Daily News. Years after leaving public office in New York, Cuomo is still trying to get the law off the books, even though the death penalty has been effectively dismantled in the state. I must admit that his views track very closely to mine on this issue, and as a result, I find myself questioning the fitness for public office from those who believe executions are legitimate public policy tools. I hate to be harsh, but that's honestly how I feel about the matter (see below):
MARIO CUOMO: I have studied the death penalty for more than half my lifetime. I have debated it hundreds of times. I have heard all the arguments, analyzed all the evidence I could find, measured public opinion when it was opposed to the practice, when it was indifferent, and when it was passionately in favor. Always I have concluded the death penalty is wrong because it lowers us all; it is a surrender to the worst that is in us; it uses a power  - the official power to kill by execution  - that has never elevated a society, never brought back a life, never inspired anything but hate.

And it has killed many innocent people.... All states should do as the bold few have done and officially outlaw this form of punishment....

People have a right to demand a civilized level of law and peace. They have a right to expect it, and when at times it appears to them that a murder has been particularly egregious, it is not surprising that the public anger is great and demands some psychic satisfaction.

I understand that. I have felt the anger myself, more than once. Like too many other citizens, I know what it is to be violated and even to have one's closest family violated through despicable criminal behavior. Even today, I tremble at the thought of how I might react to a killer who took the life of someone in my own family. I know that I might not be able to suppress my anger or put down a desire for revenge, but I also know this society should strive for something better than what it feels at its weakest moments....

Cuomo also wrote about his efforts fending off the death penalty as New York Governor, despite the seeming bloodlust from the New York public:
MARIO CUOMO: For 12 years as governor, I prevented the death penalty from becoming law in New York by my vetoes. But for all that time, there was a disconcertingly strong preference for the death penalty in the general public....

New York returned to the death penalty shortly after I was defeated by a Republican candidate.... That law is a stain on our conscience. The 46 executions in the United States in 2008 were, I believe, an abomination....

Note that Cuomo's condemnation of vengeance-based policymaking is right on target with the death penalty, but it could also be applied to many other areas of policy where a stubborn minority of Democrats disappoint on issues (eg: war and militarism issues). Indeed, the death penalty has always been a primary proxy issue for Maryland Juice; I think it reveals much about a lawmakers policy mindset.

JUICE #2: POLL SHOWS 60% OF MARYLAND DEMOCRATS OPPOSE DEATH PENALTY VS. 77% OF REPUBLICANS IN SUPPORT - Now that we let Mario Cuomo have his say, we can get back to more tacky reasons to support death penalty repeal. Numerous news outlets are buzzing with commentary about the latest poll of Marylanders views on the death penalty. According to a recent Gonzales survey, 60% of Maryland Democrats oppose the death penalty and two in three respondents would support life in prison without parole instead of death. Indeed, support for executions comes heavily from Republicans and then some independents -- two groups that cannot vote in Democratic primaries. Bottom line: the death penalty is not even a winner for candidates in Democratic Primaries, and if anything it would appear to be a liability for a Democrat seeking statewide office in the 2014 primaries. Check out a quick summary from the Gonzales poll below:

Maryland Juice recently appeared (via telephone) on Bruce Depuyt's News Channel 8 show to discuss these and other poll results:

JUICE #3: ACTIVISTS RALLY IN ANNAPOLIS FOR MARYLAND DEATH PENALTY  - Yesterday, dozens of anti-death penalty activists rallied in Annapolis, and some brought multiple affiliations to the event:

CBS Baltimore carried the following TV coverage of the rally:

JUICE #4: DEAD MAN WALKING & HEATHER MIZEUR  - Del. Heather Mizeur, who is currently exploring a run for Governor, brought some advocacy starpower to the death penalty debate recently. She penned an op. ed. with Sister Helen Prejean of Dead Man Walking fame that appeared in The Baltimore Sun. Their comments highlight numerous policy flaws with the death penalty (excerpt below):
SISTER HELEN PREJEAN & HEATHER MIZEUR: We are all united in the belief that capital punishment is a uniquely severe and irreversible component of our legal system that neither deters crime nor guarantees justice. States that impose capital punishment do not have lower rates of criminal homicide. Indeed, the Federal Bureau of Investigation reports that states with the death penalty generally have the highest murder rates. A national survey of chiefs of police ranked the death penalty as one of the least effective ways to reduce violent crime....

In Maryland, 76 percent of murder victims are African American, yet all of the men sitting on death row are there for killing a white person. A Maryland commission concluded that black offenders killing white victims were at greater risk of a death sentence because they were more likely to be charged with a capital offense by the state's attorney....
Life in prison is smarter economically, too. Taxpayers are expected to benefit from a $1.4 million reduction in litigation costs after the first year of repeal, and $800,000 in savings the year after.

Put simply, the death penalty does not make us safer; it does not save us money; it does not work; and it cannot be fixed. It must be abandoned....

JUICE #5: FLASHBACK TO KIRK BLOODSWORTH, AMERICA'S FIRST DEATH ROW INMATE EXONERATED THROUGH DNA - Many Free State residents seem unaware that the very first person to be exonerated from death row through DNA testing was a Marylander named Kirk Bloodsworth. CNN had a short summary of his trials and tribulations, and I hope the story gives Maryland Juice readers pause about the death penalty (excerpt below):
CNN: Kirk Bloodsworth is a free man now. He is free to pursue a living as a crab and commercial fisherman in his hometown of Cambridge, on Maryland's rustic Eastern Shore. He got married last year and bought a new fishing boat two years ago.

He lives simply and works hard -- just the type of life he dreamed of when he was incarcerated for nine years, twice convicted of brutally raping and killing a 9-year-old girl outside Baltimore in 1984. He spent one year awaiting trial, two years on death row and six years serving a life sentence.

Bloodsworth, 39, won his freedom after taking a DNA test. In 1992, when the science of forensic DNA testing was in its infancy, Bloodsworth pushed for a test in which the DNA in a small semen stain on the girl's panties would be compared to his DNA. It was not a match. The state of Maryland set him free and paid him $300,000 for wrongful imprisonment.

"They basically railroaded me," Bloodsworth said. "They put me on a rail and let me go where they wanted me to go....I was not involved. It's not fair for Baltimore County to do what they did to me and still not give me an apology. To this day, they won't...."

Come on, are we really debating this???

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