Governor Brad Little at 2019 Inaugural Ball
Gov. Brad Little greats the public as he makes his way through the Capitol building at the start of his inaugural ball, Jan. 5, 2019, Boise, Idaho. This was the state’s 48th inaugural ball and Gov. Brad Little will serve as the 33rd governor. Idaho statue charges the Idaho Military Division to coordinate, plan and execute the inauguration of Idaho’s governor and other elected state officials.

On Ida­ho Repub­li­can Gov­er­nor Brad Lit­tle’s cam­paign web­site, there’s a “Stand For Life” page with the fol­low­ing text: “Every sin­gle per­son – born and unborn – should have the oppor­tu­ni­ty to live the Amer­i­can Dream. Ida­ho unapolo­get­i­cal­ly stands for life. Brad needs to know: Do you stand for life?”

I thought of that rhetoric today when I read this news:

Repub­li­can Gov­er­nor Brad Lit­tle signed a bill allow­ing exe­cu­tion by fir­ing squad, mak­ing Ida­ho the lat­est state to turn to old­er meth­ods of cap­i­tal pun­ish­ment amid a nation­wide short­age of lethal-injec­tion drugs. The Leg­is­la­ture passed the mea­sure March 20 with a veto-proof major­i­ty. Under it, fir­ing squads will be used only if the state can­not obtain the drugs need­ed for lethal injections.

Because what bet­ter way to “stand for life” than to put your name on leg­is­la­tion that autho­rizes anoth­er means of putting peo­ple to death in your state, right?

Now, Gov­er­nor Lit­tle isn’t the only Repub­li­can com­plic­it in the adop­tion of this atro­cious and bar­bar­ic leg­is­la­tion. As the excerpt above states, it was sent to him with a “veto-proof major­i­ty.” The Ida­ho Leg­is­la­ture is utter­ly dom­i­nat­ed by Repub­li­cans, and a lot of Repub­li­cans inex­plic­a­bly like to pair their “defense of the unborn” with gus­to for killing peo­ple con­vict­ed of awful crimes.

But Lit­tle could have said no. He could have said: “I cam­paigned for gov­er­nor on the plat­form that ‘every sin­gle per­son’ ought to ‘have the oppor­tu­ni­ty to live the Amer­i­can Dream.’ I believe Ida­ho stands for life and this bill is about death, so I’m going to veto it. You’ll have to pass it into law your­selves, I won’t help you.”

Sad­ly, he did­n’t. Instead, he said:

While I am sign­ing this bill, it is impor­tant to point out that ful­fill­ing jus­tice can and must be done by min­i­miz­ing stress on cor­rec­tions per­son­nel… For the peo­ple on death row, a jury con­vict­ed them of their crimes, and they were law­ful­ly sen­tenced to death. It is the respon­si­bil­i­ty of the state of Ida­ho to fol­low the law and ensure that law­ful crim­i­nal sen­tences are car­ried out.

Laws, how­ev­er, can be changed. Clemen­cy can be grant­ed. In Wash­ing­ton State, the death penal­ty as applied has been struck down as uncon­sti­tu­tion­al, and there’s a bill mov­ing through the Leg­is­la­ture now to remove the RCW that allows pros­e­cu­tors to seek death sen­tences and allows judges to let juries impose them.

NPI’s research has pre­vi­ous­ly found that enor­mous majori­ties of Wash­ing­ton vot­ers sup­port life in prison alter­na­tives to the death penalty. 

Wash­ing­ton is done with exe­cut­ing people.

Ida­ho Repub­li­cans, mean­while, are obsessed with try­ing to fig­ure out how to ensure that peo­ple who have been con­demned to death are killed.

They’ve just changed state law to say, if lethal drug cock­tails aren’t avail­able, let’s bring out a bunch of guys with guns and kill peo­ple that way!

Ida­ho Repub­li­cans are most def­i­nite­ly not try­ing to change their state’s laws to abol­ish exe­cu­tions. They could be, but they are choos­ing not to be. It’s a choice.

If you’re for exe­cut­ing peo­ple, then you aren’t, and can­not be, “pro-life.” End of sto­ry. It’s not pos­si­ble to “stand for life” when you’re for end­ing peo­ple’s lives.

There are some Repub­li­cans who oppose the death penal­ty on reli­gious or moral grounds, in addi­tion to oppos­ing repro­duc­tive health­care and death with dig­ni­ty. But in so many places — Ida­ho includ­ed — they appear to be in the minority.

Lit­tle and Ida­ho Repub­li­cans seem to be tak­ing their cues from Don­ald Trump, the patho­log­i­cal liar and insur­rec­tion­ist inciter who still heads their party.

Before Don­ald Trump left office, he and Bill Barr and their min­ions at the Depart­ment of Jus­tice sadis­ti­cal­ly tried to get as many peo­ple killed as pos­si­ble, a killing spree detailed by Rolling Stone and oth­er media outlets.

Rolling Stone’s Jan­u­ary 27th piece begins by telling the sto­ry of Bran­don Bernard, who was con­vict­ed for the 1999 rob­bery, kid­nap­ping, and mur­der of Todd and Sta­cy Bagley. Bernard was one of more than a dozen peo­ple on death row that Trump and Barr made sure were exe­cut­ed despite efforts to save their lives.

By 9:27 PM [on Decem­ber 20th, 2020] Bernard was dead. In that moment, he became the ninth of thir­teen peo­ple exe­cut­ed in the final six months of the Trump admin­is­tra­tion — more fed­er­al exe­cu­tions than in the pre­vi­ous ten admin­is­tra­tions combined.

Of the thir­teen, six were put to death after Trump lost the elec­tion, his Jus­tice Depart­ment accel­er­at­ing the sched­ule to ensure they would die before the incom­ing admin­is­tra­tion could intercede.

Before Trump, there had been only three fed­er­al exe­cu­tions since 1963; in Jan­u­ary 2021, Trump over­saw three exe­cu­tions dur­ing a sin­gle four-day stretch. Two years before that stretch, Trump had signed per­haps the lone broad­ly pop­u­lar major ini­tia­tive of his pres­i­den­cy: a bipar­ti­san crim­i­nal-jus­tice reform bill.

By 2020, how­ev­er, his polit­i­cal cal­cu­lus had changed. As he geared up for anoth­er elec­tion, Trump White House sources say, the pres­i­dent was telling advis­ers that car­ry­ing out cap­i­tal pun­ish­ment would insu­late him from crit­i­cism that he was soft on crime. And in his attor­ney gen­er­al, Bill Barr, a long­time death-penal­ty advo­cate, he had the per­fect accomplice.

The exe­cu­tions, car­ried out in the name of law and order, took place at a time of peak law­less­ness with­in the White House. While his admin­is­tra­tion killed pris­on­ers at an unprece­dent­ed clip, Trump spent his final months attempt­ing to over­turn the 2020 elec­tion, cul­mi­nat­ing in the Jan­u­ary 6 ran­sack­ing of the U.S. Capi­tol. And though Trump did show some mer­cy on his way out the door, it was large­ly reserved for polit­i­cal cronies such as Paul Man­afort and Roger Stone.

NPI will keep work­ing for a future in which death row is abol­ished — and not just in Wash­ing­ton, but in Ore­gon, Ida­ho, and through­out the Unit­ed States.

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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