A matter of life and death

On Saturday, at the governor’s forum, I said I hate politics. One reason I gave was this: Progressive organizations that endorse candidates that don’t share progressive values.

Here is a case in point. At a public forum Saturday, all three Democratic candidates for governor were asked a simple question and asked to give a “yes” or “no” answer.

Do you favor abolition of Arizona’s death penalty?

We were asked the question twice, for clarity.

Each time I said, “Yes.” Steve Farley also said yes.

David Garcia said, “No.”

This video has been clipped for brevity, but you can see the entire forum here – the “lightning round” questions begin at 46:00 on the video – in order to see that this clip hasn’t been taken out of context.

Why is it hard to connect these dots?

I’ve been calling for an immigration system based on a human rights framework for years and, immediately after the Trump administration started taking children away from their parents and putting them in cages, I called for an end to ICE. After all the celebrity progressive candidates did the same thing, David finally made a similar statement.

Here’s what I’m wondering: If you don’t trust the way the state is managing the lives of innocent migrants and refugees, why would you trust the state to decide who dies? 

David is already walking back his “no” answer, according to statements I’ve seen from his supporters and campaign staff on social media today. Of course he is. He’s been endorsed by organizations that are working to abolish the death penalty. (Maybe this question should have been part of the application process?)

But, you know what? I call bs.

No one who has spent even a minute working in community would hesitate to condemn the death penalty. This is, literally, a matter of life and death.

Even Steve, who supported the the “blue lives matter” bill, which Democrat Senator Martin Quezada called nothing more than a “pointed response to the Black Lives Matter movement,” gets it.

The death penalty is barbaric and unfair

The death penalty is a violation of the constitutional ban against cruel and unusual punishment, it is uncivilized in theory, and it is unfair and inequitable in practice. Let me count the ways:

  1. Racism: Our criminal justice system is shot through with unconscious bias and structural racism. I’ve gone on record about this in the past, led an organization that has been a critical part of the conversation and addressed it in my policy proposals. People of color and those who cannot afford expensive representation are more likely than whites and people of means to receive this sentence. In Arizona there are currently 117 people on death row and 15% of them are African American, even though African Americans make up just 5% of Arizona’s population.  (Chart is from https://deathpenaltyinfo.org/death-penalty-black-and-white-who-lives-who-dies-who-decides)
  2. Mistakes: An execution is a sentence that cannot be reversed – and there have been too many people killed by the state who were later found to be innocent. According to the ACLU, since 1973, over 156 people have been released from death rows in 26 states because of innocence.  Nationally, at least one person is exonerated for every 10 that are executed.
  3. Ineffective: There is zero evidence that the death penalty deters crime.
  4. Immoral: Policies that support state-sponsored killings do not show support to victims and their families. In fact, many victims’ families are standing with those who oppose the death penalty because these policies actually serve to devalue – not honor – human life.
  5. Expensive: Keeping people on death row – where the average stay in Arizona is 19 years – is far more expensive than sentencing them to life in prison.

The death penalty has been under deep scrutiny in Arizona since a widely-covered, horrifyingly botched execution of Joseph Wood in 2014. But we’re late to the conversation. A total of 38 states have abolished the death penalty (19), have a moratorium stopping them (3) or haven’t actually executed anyone for at least the past five years (16).

There is no rational reason for supporting policies that allow the state to murder people. There is every reason to oppose it.

The governor’s role in death penalty cases

In Arizona, the governor’s power to grant reprieves, commutation, and pardons is limited by state statute. There is a board charged with hearing all requests. The governor can refuse to approve a recommendation from the Board, but she cannot stop an execution without this Board’s recommendation.

The Arizona Board of Executive Clemency has never recommended stopping an execution.

The thing is, the governor appoints the Board members.

I can tell you who I’ll be appointing to the Board of Executive Clemency: Individuals who are committed to human rights and opposed to the death penalty.

And I’ll work hard – probably with many of the organizations that endorsed David Garcia – to get a constitutional amendment passed that abolishes the death penalty in Arizona.

Read my policies on criminal justice reform and racial justice.

These aren’t just “issues” and candidates for governor can’t afford not to know this stuff. People’s lives are at stake.

This matters.

P.S. To those of you who may be feeling squeamish right now

I’ve had some Democrats tell me you don’t like when I challenge my opponents on the issues. I have a couple of things to say to that:

  1. In yesterday’s forum Steve made fun of David’s bus and I think he actually compared me to Trump, but I don’t hear complaints about them. Boys will be boys, right? I smell sexism in the water, people.
  2. The establishment media has decided that my views aren’t important enough to include, so I have to use other means to get information out there – like this blog.
  3. I know it’s been a LONG time since we had contested primaries in this state, so I don’t blame you for forgetting. But this is what a primary is for! Primaries are the place we are supposed to battle it out. Voters have a right to know what we really think and how we’re different. Primaries produce better and tougher candidates, candidates that are more prepared for the general. How “nice” do you think Doug Ducey and the Koch brothers are going to be?

Toughen up, friends. Things are just heating up.