When Rep. Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda’s bill to abolish the Death Penalty in Florida was filed we heard snickers from a number of political insiders including many Democrats. When the bill was killed in committee earlier this month it seemed like a mere formality. Florida after all is a state where the Death Penalty generally has had strong bi-partisan support.
As a death penalty opponent (I support Capital Punishment only in cases of treason against the United States but in no other cases) , I have often been accused of trying to bring “European values” into the American justice system. But recently other states have seen shifts in attitudes on this important issue.
Last month, Arkansas Governor Mike Beebe said he would sign a bill repealing the Death Penalty if one came to his desk. Beebe is unlike one of his predecessors, Bill Clinton who flew home during the 1992 Presidential Campaign to execute a mentally retarded man. Beebe is a Conservative Democrat but since his term is almost over he can safely advocate reform.
Martin O’Malley who is one of the leading contenders for President in 2016 is a long term opponent of the Death Penalty. The Maryland Governir is pushing hard for a repeal this legislative session. The bill he advocates is making its way through the process, clearing a key Senate committee last week and very well could pass the overwhelmingly Democratic legislature.
John Kitzhaber a former Death Penalty supporter in his previous stint as Oregon Governor has now reversed himself and has halted executions in the state. Maggie Hassan, the Governor of New Hampshire is strongly advocating repeal and may get a bill to sign this year.
Even Conservative Republicans Governors like John Kasich (Ohio) and Sam Brownback (Kansas) are having doubts about executions. In fact, Brownback’s new position is similar to mine. I oppose Capital Punishment except in cases of high treason against the United States of America which conforms with Brownback’s new position.
Rising Democratic superstar John Hickenlooper has openly discussed his changing attitudes on the subject. A longtime Death Penalty supporter, Hickenlooper now says he is reconsidering based on the mounting evidence about jury bias and costs.
While momentum is being developed for a reversal of Capital Punishment in other states, Florida which has long been among the leaders in executions nationally continues to avoid the debate. Rep. Rehwinkel Vasilinda has fought a lonely fight to this point but given what has happened in other parts of the country, maybe time is on her side.