Thursday, May 10, 2012

Issues: Libertarian Gary Johnson and the Death Penalty

The key there is "Live."
Gary Johnson opposes
the death penalty. How
about Barack and Mitt?
As we go further into the campaign, if Libertarian Presidential candidate Gary Johnson begins to exceed 5% of the vote nationally, or in a large number of states, and looks like he is actually on the verge of breaking upward, we can assume that the other two campaigns will begin to attack him, and his record.

This is a good thing:  if they are attacking instead of ignoring, this means both that they're scared, and that people are paying attention.

But Johnson supporters have to be ready with the answers--not just sound bites, but definite, researched answers.

For example, Walter Rubel, a journalist in New Mexico who admits that he had only very limited contact with Johnson as governor, nonetheless writes, 
There was no getting around the dysfunction of state government with Johnson at the helm. Like many who make the switch from business owner to politician, Johnson was accustomed to giving orders, not reaching compromises.
This is a variation of the old argument that Libertarians, who want smaller government, are always bad choices for office because you cannot expect anyone who wants to shrink the government to lead effectively when he is in charge of it.  Moreover, Rubel paints Johnson as something of an uncompromising autocrat, "accustomed to giving orders, not reachin compromises."

Gary Johnson's record--despite over 700 vetoes that earned him the nickname "Governor No"--belies that charge, and paints a picture of a man not only open to compromise, but also willing to listen to people of different opinions and even change his mind when the right arguments were made.

The death penalty is a case in point.  Dr. Kenneth Mentor (UNC-Pembroke) has found Johnson an interesting enough case study in political leadership to do a detailed study of the Governor's odyssey with respect to capital punishment.

The story begins in 1996, with Gary Johnson advocating a "get tough on crime" policy that envisioned even the possibility of the death penalty for 13- and 14- year olds under certain circumstances.  By 2002, Johnson had placed the repeal of New Mexico's death penalty on the legislative agenda.

What happened in between is instructive
(warning:  this chronology is fairly long, but it is important reading).  I want to preface it with the "money" paragraphs of the conclusion, an executive summary if you will:

Governor Johnson's reversal has been particularly interesting. He has clearly reversed his position and is likely to sign a repeal of the death penalty if the bill crosses his desk. Thos of us that oppose the death penalty can hope that this happens. We can also act. The Governor has shown a willingness to consider all sides of this issue. This is not always the case for this, or many other, politicians.
Governor Johnson encouraged communication from death penalty opponents. Statements made just prior to Clark's execution were a clear invitation to communicate with the Governor regarding this issue. there can be no doubt that many responded to this call.
Hardly sounds like a man too inflexible to compromise, does it?

Here's the full Chronology:


Chronology of Events
January 16, 1996 - Gary Johnson said that he wanted tougher penalties for serious juvenile crime and would favor the death penalty for children as young as 13 and 14 in some circumstances. This statement angered many in the state.
January 18, 1996 - Johnson's spokespeople make damage control rounds. They tell the media that the Governor is "a citizen and he has opinions about stuff."
March 12, 1996 - Terry Clark was initially sentenced to death. However, this sentence was overturned in September 1995. A new sentencing hearing is now in session and prosecutors are again arguing for execution. They are successful and Clark is again sentenced to death.
February 25, 1997 - The Senate Judiciary Committee votes down Gary Johnson's request to expand the use of the death penalty.
March 8, 1997 - The House approves Johnson's bill to expand the death penalty to include child killers and multiple murders, and drive-by killings.
March 15, 1997 - NM House is debating a bill that adds life in prison without parole as a sentencing option. The bill also places limitations on the use of the death penalty.
February 7, 1998 - Senate is debating a Johnson requested bill that limits death row appeals to two years.
March 14, 1998 - Death penalty bills, one including the limit on appeals, thje other asking for funding to study the impact of the death penalty, die in committee.
December 10, 1998 - Governor Johnson again asks for a two-year cap on death row appeals. He stated that be believed "when you have a certainty of punishment being given, that acts as a deterrent."
January 29, 1999 - Bills to end the death penalty are introduced in House and Senate. these bills have support from New Mexico's three Roman Catholic Bishops. The bill, if passed, is expected to be vetoed by Governor Johnson.
February 5, 1999 - Bill to limit appeals is introduced in committee.
February 25, 1999 - Bill to repeal death penalty clears committee and is scheduled to be introduced to House. House leadership sends to another committee. The bill to limit appeals was tabled.
March 2, 1999 - House Appropriations and Finance Committee table repeal bill.
March 9, 1999 - Senate voted 22 - 9 against repeal.
July 8, 1999 - State Supreme Curt affirms Terry Clarks death sentence.
January 14, 2000 - Governor Johnson asks for limits on death row appeals.
February 17, 2000 - Terry Clark changes his mind and asks that his appeals be continued.
December 9, 2000  - Governor Johnson again voices his support for the death penalty saying that "if you have committed murder, I happen to believe that you should pay for that with your own life."
January 4, 2001 - Bill to repeal death penalty is introduced in House and Senate. Governor Johnson's legislative liaison said the the Governor is willing to sit down and listen to opponents. The staffer reported that the Governor "is generally a supporter of the death penalty, but as the legislation is debated, we owe them the courtesy to fully understand these specific issues."
February 1, 2001 - Santa Fe City Councilors pass a resolution calling upon the legislature to repeal the death penalty. Executions are scheduled to be carried out in Santa Fe.
February 9, 2001 - Senate rejects repeal by 21-20 vote. February 25, 2001 - Senate committee votes to expand death penalty.
March, 2001 - Terry Clark asks that all appeals be stopped.
June 26, 2002 - Santa Fe county commission voted down a measure that would make the county an "execution-free" zone.
August 10, 2001 - Judge rules that Terry Clark is competent and sets November 6 execution date. Clark's attorneys are calling his a "death penalty volunteer."
September 25, 2001 - Corrections department officials outline plans to hire two Texas-based executioners. The executioners are not acting as representatives of the State of Texas. In effect, they are "moonlighting."
October 9, 2002 - Catholic Bishops repeat opposition to death penalty and call for repeal.
October 12, 2001 - A Santa Fe attorney questions the legality of hiring private executioners.
October 18, 2001 - An aid to Governor Johnson reports that a moratorium will not be imposed. However, the aid states that the Governor may be willing to take part in public debate on the issue of capital punishment stating that "his eyes are open."
October 28, 2001 - Governor Johnson states that his mind "is not closed on the subject." "I am of the opinion that swift and sure punishment deters crime," Johnson wrote. "Currently, I do not believe that New Mexico's death penalty serves as an effective preventative measure because it is neither swift or sure." The Governor also stated that the "time period currently allowed for appeals is too long and yet I have come to believe that innocent people might be put to death if these safeguards are not in place."
The Governor wrote that "Those opposed to the death penalty point out the disparities that exist with regard to individuals receiving the death penalty sentence. They argue persuasively that these disparities are a result of several factors including prosecutorial discretion as well as racial and economic discrimination."
"Although I do not intend to declare a moratorium on executions in New Mexico, eliminating the death penalty in the future may prove to better public policy given the reality of the sentence today."
October 31, 2001 - Governor reiterates that he will not stop Clark's execution. Johnson now states that "it's a possibility" that he will place the death penalty on the legislative agenda.
November 3, 2001 - Supreme Court justices refuse to block Clark execution.
November 4, 2001 - Anti-death penalty advocates attempt to halt the execution by challenging the means through which the lethal injection drugs were obtained.
November 6, 2001 - Terry Clark is executed.
November 7, 2001 - State medical investigator rules Clark's death a "homicide."
November 8, 2001 - Albuquerque Journal editorial calls for death penalty debate.
December 19, 2001 - Governor Johnson states that her will place the repeal bill on the agenda if requested to do so. He also said that he was wrong to propse limits on death row appeals. When a reporter asked whether Johnson was ready to sign a bill repealing the death penalty, Johnson replied "that may be the case."
January 15, 2002 - Johnson placed the repeal of the death penalty on the legislative agenda. However, the legislative session is supposed to be limited to budget related issues.
January 16, 2002 - Johnson states that he has "come to believe that the death penalty as a public policy is flawed."
January 24, 2002 - Bill to repeal the death penalty is introduced in the Senate. Many legislators suggest that the 30 day session does not allow sufficient time for debate.
February 2002 - Legislative session ends without action on repeal.
March 12, 2002 - Supreme Court vacate death sentence in 1993 murder case, reducing the death row population to two.
Conclusion
New Mexico's experience with the death penalty has been very interesting. While laws allowing the death penalty have been in existence for much of the State's history, there has not been strong support for its use. Neighboring states have had similar laws and have been willing to carry out executions, in some cases on a regular basis.
This paper is descriptive in nature. As such, there is little effort to analyze the underlying issues. Clearly, the legislature has had a split personality on this issue. Bills that expand or limit the death penalty have been introduced within days of each other. Typically, these bills die in committee with little discussion.
Governor Johnson's reversal has been particularly interesting. He has clearly reversed his position and is likely to sign a repeal of the death penalty if the bill crosses his desk. Thos of us that oppose the death penalty can hope that this happens. We can also act. The Governor has shown a willingness to consider all sides of this issue. This is not always the case for this, or many other, politicians.
Governor Johnson encouraged communication from death penalty opponents. Statements made just prior to Clark's execution were a clear invitation to communicate with the Governor regarding this issue. there can be no doubt that many responded to this call.
This presentation begins with a quote from the Blackmun appeal in Callins v. Collins. Justice Blackmun eloquently wrote that he felt "morally and intellectually obligated simply to concede that the death penalty experiment has failed." Governor Johnson has apparently come to the same conclusion.

2 comments:

john said...

research? Amen!

Anonymous said...

Someone really needs to conduct a technical edit of this document. The errors really get in the way (there are a lot of them).