States with and without the death penalty
States with and without the death penalty (as of May 30th, 2019, graphic by the Death Penalty Information Center)

Progress is pos­si­ble, even in dark and dan­ger­ous times.

That’s the mes­sage the New Hamp­shire Leg­is­la­ture sent today when a bipar­ti­san Sen­ate major­i­ty vot­ed to per­ma­nent­ly abol­ish the death penal­ty in the Gran­ite State, over­rid­ing a veto by Repub­li­can Gov­er­nor John Sununu.

“The Sen­ate vote to final­ly abol­ish the death penal­ty in New Hamp­shire is a remark­able moment in our state’s his­to­ry,” said Demo­c­ra­t­ic State Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Ren­ny Cush­ing of Hamp­ton, the spon­sor of the repeal bill and a mur­der vic­tim. (Cush­ing’s father was mur­dered in 1988.)

Last week, the New Hamp­shire State House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives vot­ed to over­turn Sununu’s veto by the nar­row­est of mar­gins, 247–123. (In most states, it takes a two-thirds vote to over­ride a guber­na­to­r­i­al veto, as with a pres­i­den­tial veto.)

The Sen­ate vot­ed 21–8 to join the House in over­rid­ing the veto.

An unhap­py Sununu con­demned the vote, as did sev­er­al fig­ures in New Hamp­shire law enforce­ment. They’re all the wrong side of history.

New Hamp­shire leg­is­la­tors have advanced the val­ues that this coun­try was found­ed upon with their actions today. All Amer­i­cans should be proud.

There is no evi­dence that the death penal­ty deters crime. And a death sen­tence is not jus­tice. The tak­ing of life in response to the tak­ing of life sim­ply per­pet­u­ates an ugly cycle of vio­lence, and leaves open the pos­si­bil­i­ty that an inno­cent per­son could be sen­tenced to death and exe­cut­ed for a crime they did not commit.

New Hamp­shire has just one indi­vid­ual on death row. The state has not exe­cut­ed any­one in eighty years. Yet Sununu lob­bied to keep the death penal­ty in place any­way. With bipar­ti­san super­ma­jori­ties arrayed against his posi­tion, he became mere­ly a spec­ta­tor to the ulti­mate out­come instead of hav­ing the final say.

As a con­se­quence, New Hamp­shire has become the twen­ty-first state to abol­ish the death penal­ty. Accord­ing to the Death Penal­ty Infor­ma­tion Cen­ter, states with­out the death penal­ty now include, in addi­tion to the Gran­ite State, Alas­ka, Hawaii, New Mex­i­co, North Dako­ta, Min­neso­ta, Iowa, Illi­nois, Wis­con­sin, Michi­gan, West Vir­ginia, Mary­land, Delaware, New Jer­sey, New York, Ver­mont, Mass­a­chu­setts, Con­necti­cut, Rhode Island, Maine, and… Washington.

Ore­gon, Col­orado, Penn­syl­va­nia and Cal­i­for­nia have imposed mora­to­ri­ums on exe­cu­tions. The oth­er half of states still have the death penalty.

States with and without the death penalty
States with and with­out the death penal­ty (as of May 30th, 2019, graph­ic by the Death Penal­ty Infor­ma­tion Center)

The death penal­ty was struck down as uncon­sti­tu­tion­al in here last Octo­ber by the State Supreme Court, with all death sen­tences con­vert­ed to life impris­on­ment. Wash­ing­ton’s death penal­ty statute remains on the books, how­ev­er, because for­mer Speak­er Frank Chopp inex­plic­a­bly blocked the House from con­sid­er­ing a bipar­ti­san bill passed by the Sen­ate that would per­ma­nent­ly abol­ish it.

Last year, NPI found 69% of like­ly Wash­ing­ton vot­ers sur­veyed sup­port­ed life in prison alter­na­tives to the death penal­ty, includ­ing a major­i­ty of Democ­rats, a major­i­ty of Repub­li­cans, and a major­i­ty of independents.

Frank Chopp is no longer the Speak­er of Wash­ing­ton State House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives, hav­ing resigned ear­li­er this month. House Democ­rats will choose a new Speak­er-des­ig­nate on July 31st. NPI’s Gael Tar­leton is a can­di­date for the posi­tion; the oth­ers are Mon­i­ca Jura­do Stonier, June Robin­son, and Lau­rie Jink­ins. Both Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Tar­leton and Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Jink­ins par­tic­i­pat­ed in NPI’s July 12th, 2018 press con­fer­ence pre­sent­ing our death penal­ty poll findings.

NPI stands ready to work with the new Speak­er to ensure the Wash­ing­ton State House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives votes on repeal­ing the death penal­ty in 2020, cement­ing Wash­ing­ton’s place among the states that have tak­en a stand for human rights by get­ting rid of their death chambers.

About the author

Andrew Villeneuve is the founder and executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute, as well as the founder of NPI's sibling, the Northwest Progressive Foundation. He has worked to advance progressive causes for over two decades as a strategist, speaker, author, and organizer. Andrew is also a cybersecurity expert, a veteran facilitator, a delegate to the Washington State Democratic Central Committee, and a member of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps.

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