by Marc Hyden:
Nebraska’s unicameral legislature just became the first conservative state to repeal the death penalty in over 40 years. How Nebraska did it is even more incredible. Before a bill can reach the governor’s desk in the Cornhusker State, the measure must be voted upon three times, and three times Nebraska legislators voted overwhelmingly to abolish capital punishment, even defeating a filibuster. As promised, Governor Ricketts vetoed the bill, prompting a showdown between the conservative legislature and the governor’s office. On Wednesday May 27th, 16 Republican senators joined their colleagues on the left to override the governor’s veto to once and for all eliminate the death penalty.
Conservatives across the nation have been increasingly opposing the death penalty because it violates many of our foundational principles, namely valuing life, fiscal responsibility, and limited government. Indeed, many pro-life conservatives believe that capital punishment runs contrary to pro-life views. As Nebraska Senator Mark Kolterman said, “I don’t think we ought to take people’s lives. If I am going to be pro-life, it needs to be all the way around.” Further complicating the issue is that so many mistakes are made due to prosecutorial misconduct, faulty forensics, and mistaken eyewitness testimony. To date, more than 150 people have been wrongly sentenced to death and released while others have been executed despite serious questions regarding their verdict.
Conservatives still have many other reasons to oppose the death penalty. Nebraska Senator Bob Krist voiced his concern about the high cost of the death penalty. He said, “It just seems to me…that life in prison without parole is the cleanest and least expensive option,” and he is right. Nearly two-dozen studies have found that the death penalty process is far more costly than life without the chance of release. Nationally, capital cases have caused budget crises, tax increases, and bizarre decisions from county administrators. In Richardson County, Nebraska, the local government decided to mortgage its ambulances to fund two capital trials once the county began running low of funds.
Capital punishment exemplifies the quintessential broken government program. According to Nebraska Senator Colby Coash, “If any other system in our government was as ineffective and inefficient as is our death penalty, we conservatives would have gotten rid of it a long, long time ago.” The death penalty is an abject failure that is without any tangible benefits. Studies have revealed that it doesn’t keep the public safe by deterring heinous acts of murder. In fact, murder rates have gone down in states, including New York and New Jersey, after capital punishment was repealed.
The death penalty often harms the ones it is supposed to serve – murder victims’ families and friends. Capital punishment requires lengthy trials and a complex appeals process, which is accompanied by constant media attention. As a result, the death penalty creates uncertainty for murder victims’ families and keeps them stuck in the legal process for years and often decades.
The effort to repeal the death penalty is increasingly being spearheaded by conservatives. Republican legislators in Kansas, Kentucky, Missouri, South Dakota, and others have sponsored measures to end capital punishment because it fails to live up to our values. Many national leaders including Dr. Ron Paul, Jay Sekulow, Richard Viguerie, and Colonel Oliver North are also speaking out against the death penalty. Nebraska is proof that there is a new wave of conservatism, choosing traditional principles over petty politics. Nebraska has also demonstrated that the American political system isn’t irrevocably broken and that the left and the right can still work together to achieve common goals.
Marc Hyden serves as the Advocacy Coordinator with Conservatives Concerned about the Death Penalty, a Project of EJUSA. Prior to this work, Marc was a Campaign Field Representative with the National Rifle Association, Campaign Manager for Republican campaigns, the Legislative Liaison with the Georgia Office of Homeland Security, and Legislative Aide to the Georgia Senate President Pro Tempore.