NPI's Cascadia Advocate

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

Monday, January 16th, 2017

Attorney General Bob Ferguson unveils bipartisan legislation to abolish executions

Flanked by for­mer Attor­ney Gen­er­al Rob McKen­na and Gov­er­nor Jay Inslee, cur­rent Attor­ney Gen­er­al Bob Fer­gu­son today announced a major new effort to abol­ish the bar­bar­ic prac­tice of state-spon­sored exe­cu­tions in Wash­ing­ton, sup­port­ed by a bipar­ti­san group of leg­is­la­tors from each house.

Declar­ing that it is the respon­si­bil­i­ty of lead­ers to lead, Fer­gu­son said the time has come for the Leg­is­la­ture to take a vote on end­ing the cost­ly, inef­fec­tive death penal­ty. Fer­gu­son not­ed he was orig­i­nal­ly elect­ed in 2012 despite sig­nif­i­cant neg­a­tive adver­tis­ing assail­ing him for his oppo­si­tion to cap­i­tal punishment.

“There is no role for cap­i­tal pun­ish­ment in a fair, equi­table and humane jus­tice sys­tem,” Fer­gu­son said in a state­ment call­ing for action.

Attorney General Bob Ferguson

Attor­ney Gen­er­al Bob Fer­gu­son speaks at a press con­fer­ence announc­ing he’s propos­ing leg­is­la­tion to abol­ish exe­cu­tions (Pho­to: Andrew Villeneuve/NPI)

“The Leg­is­la­ture has evad­ed a vote on the death penal­ty for years. The pub­lic deserves to know where their rep­re­sen­ta­tives stand.”

“The cur­rent sys­tem is not work­ing,” agreed McKen­na, Fer­gu­son’s Repub­li­can pre­de­ces­sor. “There is too much delay, cost and uncer­tain­ty around the death penal­ty, which is why I stand today with Attor­ney Gen­er­al Fer­gu­son and this bipar­ti­san group of leg­is­la­tors in sup­port of this change.”

Fer­gu­son pri­mar­i­ly cit­ed the toll vic­tims fam­i­lies take from hav­ing to relive their expe­ri­ence in the nev­er end­ing cycle of appeals that they go through as well as the finan­cial cost attrib­uted to main­tain­ing such a system.

When pressed on how or whether the leg­is­la­tion would affect the cur­rent inmates on death row, its pro­po­nents not­ed the bill does not con­tain lan­guage that would make it apply retroac­tive­ly, but they pledged to talk with the fam­i­lies of vic­tims of con­demned inmates in order to deter­mine how to move forward.

The bill is expect­ed to be intro­duced in the Sen­ate by Mark Milo­cosa (R‑30th Dis­trict: Fed­er­al Way, Algo­na, Pacif­ic) and in the House by Tina Orwell (D‑33rd Dis­trict) respec­tive­ly with cospon­sors from both sides of the aisle.

“Over the last four decades, 156 peo­ple have been exon­er­at­ed from death row across the nation. How many more con­tin­ue wait­ing for new evi­dence to prove their inno­cence, and will they get it before their lives are tak­en?” said Orwall.

“If we tru­ly want to serve jus­tice, the state should avoid irre­versible pun­ish­ment to indi­vid­u­als who were wrong­ly con­vict­ed and would have oth­er­wise been executed.”

Oth­er leg­is­la­tors tak­ing part in today’s announce­ment spear­head­ed by Fer­gu­son to push for abo­li­tion include Democ­rats Reuven Car­lyle, Jamie Ped­er­sen, and Jean­nie Darnielle, and Repub­li­cans Ter­ry Nealey and Mau­reen Walsh.

“As a for­mer pros­e­cut­ing attor­ney for Colum­bia Coun­ty, my heart remains with the fam­i­lies of the vic­tims who suf­fered hor­rif­ic acts that would jus­ti­fy the death penal­ty,” said Nealey. “Their feel­ings should nev­er be minimalized.”

“That is why it has tak­en so long for my thoughts to evolve against the death penal­ty in Wash­ing­ton State. How­ev­er, the steps, the immense and extend­ed time, and the incred­i­ble expense and resources it takes to impose and uphold this most severe form of pun­ish­ment have made the death penal­ty near­ly impos­si­ble to car­ry out. In recent years, even in the most heinous crimes, jurors have failed to impose the death penal­ty. In the mean­time, fam­i­lies suf­fer for years with the angst of hav­ing to go through tri­als, court pro­ceed­ings, appeals and more, not know­ing if the death penal­ty will ever take place.”

We at NPI applaud this new effort to abol­ish exe­cu­tions in Wash­ing­ton State, and will com­mit to emphat­i­cal­ly sup­port­ing it now and in the days ahead. Wash­ing­ton must be a bea­con of light in dark and uncer­tain times. It’s up to us to show the rest of the coun­try that there is a dif­fer­ent path forward.

States like Mary­land and New Mex­i­co and Nebras­ka have shown it’s pos­si­ble to abol­ish exe­cu­tions. Now it’s time for us in the Pacif­ic North­west to act. We have a moral oblig­a­tion to end sys­temic racism and inequity in our crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem. Putting peo­ple to death as a soci­ety is bar­bar­ic and must end.

Gov­er­nor Jay Inslee showed great courage sev­er­al years ago when he placed a mora­to­ri­um on exe­cu­tions. While that was a wor­thy first step, fur­ther action is need­ed. That’s why we are delight­ed that Attor­ney Gen­er­al Fer­gu­son is join­ing our Gov­er­nor in lead­ing a bipar­ti­san push for abolition.

Mike Pad­den and oth­ers in the Sen­ate Repub­li­can cau­cus are unlike­ly to be sup­port­ive of this leg­is­la­tion and may not let it come to the floor for a vote this year. But even if they don’t, now is cer­tain­ly the time to lay the ground­work for a suc­cess­ful abo­li­tion bill in the future. What’s been miss­ing in the past is strong lead­er­ship from the exec­u­tive depart­ment. And now, at last, we have that.

Gov­er­nor Inslee and Attor­ney Gen­er­al Fer­gu­son are the Dynam­ic Duo of Wash­ing­ton State pol­i­tics. When they join forces to work for pro­gres­sive ideas that would improve qual­i­ty of life in our state, they make a great team. We’re thrilled to have been present today for the unveil­ing of this impor­tant cam­paign to advance civ­il rights and make crim­i­nal jus­tice more equi­table in our region.

What bet­ter way to hon­or Dr. Mar­tin Luther King Jr.‘s lega­cy? Hap­py MLK Day!

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One Comment

  1. When the death penal­ty was tak­en off the table in the OJ Simp­son case, I began to ques­tion the moral­i­ty of Capi­tol pun­ish­ment. Appar­ent­ly, in our jus­tice sys­tem, the life of a celebri­ty has more val­ue. While I’m com­plete­ly in the abol­ish­ment camp, I do think there is not a fair and equi­table system.

    # by Mike Barer :: January 17th, 2017 at 12:11 PM
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