In the wake of some truly despicable people being elected governors recently (think Rick Scott and Scott Walker, just for starters), we Oregonians got a refreshing reminder this week of just what a great decision we made in returning John Kitzhaber to the Governor’s office.
In a bold move that underscores his ethics and his leadership, Kitzhaber announced Tuesday that he will halt all death penalty executions in Oregon during his term as Governor.
Oregonians have a fundamental belief in fairness and justice – in swift and certain justice. The death penalty as practiced in Oregon is neither fair nor just; and it is not swift or certain. It is not applied equally to all. It is a perversion of justice that the single best indicator of who will and will not be executed has nothing to do with the circumstances of a crime or the findings of a jury. The only factor that determines whether someone sentenced to death in Oregon is actually executed is that they volunteer. The hard truth is that in the 27 years since Oregonians reinstated the death penalty, it has only been carried out on two volunteers who waived their rights to appeal. In the years since those executions, many judges, district attorneys, legislators, death penalty proponents and opponents, and victims and their families have agreed that Oregon’s system is broken. But we have done nothing. We have avoided the question.
Recognizing that Oregon voters have implemented and repealed the death penalty multiple times in the state’s 150-year history, the Governor bravely rejected the tepid “will of the voters” argument that has been used to support this deeply flawed system of injustice. Speaking from painful personal experience, he recalled that the only two executions since the death penalty was reinstated in 1984 were during his first administration, calling those deaths “the most agonizing and difficult decisions I have made as Governor.”
It takes a strong and courageous person to admit so publicly that he was wrong and a great leader to learn from such mistakes and ask his state to do better. Kitzhaber has called on the Oregon Legislature to investigate and implement an overhaul of the system during the 2013 legislative session. Let us hope that they listen to the Governor’s wise words and not the inevitable howling from the right as so-called “pro-life” lunatics insist on death for men and women sentenced in a deeply flawed and bigoted system. I personally get tired of the “pro-life” philosophy of “protect the fetus at all cost, so we can execute them as adults.”
Kitzhaber’s press release is required reading for understanding good government. Bravo, Mr. Governor! Thank you for giving Oregonians one more thing to be thankful for this week.