NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's uplifting 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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