Our state’s death penalty
The very first lesson you learn as an elected official is that you have to decide what the heck you want to accomplish. It’s too easy to get sucked into different categories and topics that consume your emotional and political energy but that might not be your passion. You can’t knock on 15,000 doors, raise $$$ and work like a dog away from your family for months or years and then win a job that you don’t enjoy. So–the question–what’s my passion?
I plan to work hard next year and into the future on a number of issues: Education reform, Workforce development & training, higher education infrastructure, transportation, clean energy and much more. I don’t generally include hot button social issues on the list. With one exception. I intend to actively strive to eliminate the death penalty in our state as I view it is a moral imperative to change our fundamental model of punishment.
The decision by Dr. Marc Stern to resign his post with the Department of Corrections rather than lead efforts to execute prisoners on death row is a ‘teachable moment’ in our state about the death penalty.
Amnesty International’s efforts to abolish the death penalty recognize that the arguments in favor of the tactic are losing moral ground as we strive to understand why people make the decisions they do: Deterrence? Punishment? Retribution? The arguments against the death penalty grow stronger: Life in prison without the possibility of parole adds meaning to the idea of ‘deterrence’ for many; a sense of justice for families? I cannot judge that nor can any other policy maker. But the idea of someone who committed such an unspeakable crime spending a lifetime in prison can certainly bring a sense of justice to victims. It is not easy to judge but it is easy to recognize that our society faces a choice and the moral issue does not disappear when the headlines fade.
As a husband and father of four children I cannot imagine the pain of the type of crime that would lead to the death penalty. I offer no judgement for those who have faced this pain. I only offer the deeply personal belief that we do not serve our society’s interest in leading a moral and just community by using the death penalty as a central tool of punishment for these awful crimes. The Hebrew Bible shows no reservation about the death penalty. My religious views of the issue come from a sense that today’s approach to the death penalty is inherently inequitable, and that life in prison represents a more viable alternative morally, socially, financially and practically. It also holds open the view from Jewish teaching that “better 10 guilty go free than one innocent be put to death.” The common view is that Washington has not executed guilty prisoners but in today’s age of DNA it’s not hard to imagine being put to death without that sort of certainty.
Last session I co-sponsored Rep. Brendan Williams’ bill bill to eliminate the death penalty in Washington. I will continue the effort to pass this legislation until we are successful.