NPI's Cascadia Advocate

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.

Thursday, May 30th, 2019

Death penalty legislatively abolished in New Hampshire by bipartisan supermajorities

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.

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