Nebraska Conservatives Battle One Another Over Repeal Of Death Penalty

Nebraska’s unicameral legislature voted on Thursday to repeal the state’s death penalty. It’s a battle that has pitted conservatives against conservatives. Those Republicans who support the repeal have some surprising reasons why.

The vote was 30 to 13 in favor of repeal. Although the legislature is technically non-partisan, the 30 in favor include 17 Republicans, 12 Democrats, and one Independent. Nine Republicans signed on as co-sponsors of the bill.

The margin supporting the repeal is enough to override GOP Governor Pete Ricketts’ promised veto. While that would seem to guarantee success, Nebraska is unique in having only one chamber, so the measure faces two more rounds of voting. Should opponents decide to filibuster at some point, the sponsoring coalition would need a super-majority of 33 votes to bring it to an end.

Ricketts said through a press release:

“Today’s vote for Sen. Chambers’ plan to repeal the death penalty is out of step with Nebraskans who tell me that they believe the death penalty remains an important tool for public safety.”

It’s hard to see any logic in that. The state hasn’t executed anyone since 1997. The current problem with using it involves the same situation that other states are encountering: the drugs used in lethal injections are no longer available.

But it’s the reasoning of conservative state senators that is most surprising. Their main argument is that the repeal makes fiscal sense. Sen. Colby Coash said:

“If capital punishment were any other program that was so inefficient and so costly to the taxpayer, we would have gotten rid of it a long time ago.”

That’s a solidly conservative viewpoint. But scratch a little deeper and viewpoints emerge that Americans aren’t used to hearing from the current crop of Republicans. One of those comes from Sen. Tommy Garrett:

“I may be old-fashioned, but I believe God should be the only one who decides when it is time to call a person home. The state has no business playing God.”

Such a statement is almost shocking when GOP politicians routinely indicate they can personally call down the wrath of God to punish all who don’t fall in line with their beliefs.

Garrett’s not the only one who is voting from a moral sense of what’s right. Other senators have expressed the feeling that if they’re going to be anti-abortion out of their religious beliefs, they also need to be anti-death penalty. The inconsistency of many conservatives in the way they apply their religion is, of course, a common criticism from other political factions that want the death penalty repealed.

Sen. Coash added a dose of reality for conservative opponents who are still out for blood:

“The death penalty is not justice, it’s revenge.”

Blood lust is exactly what the death penalty is, and the senators who are fighting the repeal apparently have no shame about it, quoting the Old Testament’s “eye-for-an-eye” philosophy in their arguments. That’s the new brand of conservatism that Americans have become used to hearing.

The fact that there is a change in tone in Nebraska is encouraging, whether the repeal succeeds or not.  An activist group, Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty, are working in Nebraska and other states to repeal the death penalty and replace it with a life sentence without possibility of parole — which is what would happen in Nebraska. On their website, the group says:

“Conservatives today are finding more reasons than ever to be concerned about the death penalty, as the evidence mounts that the system makes mistakes, fails to keep us safe, and wastes millions of dollars.”

The rest of us are going to have to wrap our minds around the fact that there’s a group of conservatives with which a coalition can be formed — at least on this one issue. Who ever thought that day would come again?


Featured Image via Facebook page Nebraska Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty