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Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Wednesday, May 27th, 2015

Nebraska lawmakers abolish executions, overriding Republican governor’s veto

Joyous news to report on today.

Lawmakers in the reliably conservative state of Nebraska today took a courageous stand for human rights and dignity by overriding Republican Governor Pete Ricketts’ veto of legislation that would permanently abolish executions.

With no votes to spare, the unicameral Nebraska Legislature voted to make the Cornhusker State the nineteenth state in America to get rid of the death penalty.

It is very fitting that Nebraska, whose state motto is equality before the law, has become the first conservative state in modern times to outlaw the state-sanctioned killing of prisoners. Today’s vote just goes to show that progressive victories can be won even in the seemingly reddest of places. It’s a lesson we should take to heart.

Thirty state senators voted to override the governor’s veto, while nineteen voted to sustain it. Two of the state senators who originally voted for the bill shamefully switched their votes, but that was not enough to sustain Ricketts’ veto.

The roll call:

For overriding the veto (30): Baker, Bolz, Campbell, Chambers, Coash, Cook, Crawford, Davis, Ebke, Garrett, Gloor, Haar, Hadley, Hansen, Harr, Hilkemann, Howard, Kolowski, Kolterman, Krist, Lindstrom, McCollister, Mello, Morfeld, Nordquist, Pansing Brooks, Schumacher, Seiler, Sullivan, Williams.

Against (19): Bloomfield, Brasch, Craighead, Friesen, Groene, Hughes, Johnson, Kintner, Kuehn, Larson, McCoy, Murante, Riepe, Scheer, Schilz, Schnoor, Smith, Stinner, Watermeier.

Major props for this victory go to Senator Ernie Chambers, who has worked tirelessly for decades to abolish executions in Nebraska. Chambers  had previously shepherded similar legislation through the Nebraska Legislature many years ago, but unfortunately it was vetoed and never became law.

Today, he has finally overcome the last hurdle.

We applaud his leadership and thank all of the lawmakers who voted with him to overturn Ricketts’ veto. Human rights and justice took a step forward in the heartland of the United States of America today because of their courage.

As Nebraskans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty Executive Director Stacy Anderson put it: “This overwhelming, bipartisan vote demonstrates again the change in thinking that has taken place on the death penalty over the last few years. Lawmakers and Nebraska residents recognize the realities of an error-prone system that risks executing innocent people and harms murder victim family members.”

Nebraska has the initiative and referendum, and misguided death penalty supporters are already talking about putting together a ballot measure campaign to overturn the just-enacted law, so abolitionists ought to begin preparing to defend today’s victory at the ballot. If an initiative or referendum is qualified, it would appear on the November 2016 general election ballot.

Sadly, none of the Lower Forty-Eight Left Coast states have yet acted to abolish the death penalty. It’s time for Washington, Oregon, and California to follow Nebraska’s lead, and put an end to the barbaric practice of killing prisoners.

If Nebraska can do it, we can do it.

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