The recent repeal of the death penalty in deeply conservative Nebraska surprised the nation, and now repeal advocates are saying this is just the beginning.
Nebraska’s legislature voted Wednesday to override Republican Gov. Pete Ricketts’ veto of a bill that would abolish the death penalty, making the home of Big Red the first red state to abolish the death penalty since North Dakota in 1973. This has given hope to repeal advocates in other conservative states that still enforce capital punishment.
Gallup polls show that in 1994, 85 percent of Republicans favored the death penalty. That number dropped to 76 percent in 2014. This coincides with the lessening up of a wave of a tough on crime mentality that swept America in the 90′s because of high crime rates.
Nebraska, in which 36 of 49 state legislature seats are Republican, voted for Mitt Romney by a wide margin in the 2012 presidential race which is why so many were surprised by the repeal effort being not only strong enough to pass but also to override a veto.
Heather Beaudoin is the National Coordinator for Conservatives Concerned About The Death Penalty. She says CCATDP, which was formally launched at CPAC in 2013, is the only national conservative group dedicated to this issue, and that their strategy is to win over fiscal conservatives and evangelicals.
“I think that the main reason that evangelicals are paying attention is because we believe in redemption,” Beaudoin told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “God has the ability to transform their lives and use them for good.”
Marc Hyden, National Advocacy Coordinator for CCATDP, travels the country trying to convince Republicans that true conservatism is about being pro-life, fiscally responsible, and having limited government, things the death penalty completely contradicts. Recent surveys have found that it is actually cheaper to imprison people for life than to execute them.
“I’m just trying to raise up new voices that are against the death penalty and let others know that traditional conservatism is completely inconsistent with the death penalty,” Hyden told TheDCNF. “If you boil it down to its lowest common denominator and ask any conservative if they support a program that doesn’t achieve its goals, may kill innocent people, and costs millions more dollars than the alternatives, nine out of 10 will say we need to repeal a program that dangerous and that broken.”
Currently, bills in Arkansas, Tennessee and Texas are being considered. Montana’s repeal bill nearly passed but failed on a tied 50-50 vote.
“We’re finding that a lot of people have been against the death penalty for years, they just didn’t have a forum where they could express their concerns,” Hyden told TheDCNF.
Another common tactic Hyden and Beaudoin use is to point out the arbitrary implementation of the death penalty. County prosecutors have great discretion on whether they seek capital punishment which leads to certain prosecutors pushing for death while others accept life in prison for more terrible crimes.
“Some victim’s family members are given the death penalty for their loved ones and the others are not so that says the murder of your family member was not heinous enough,” Beaudoin told TheDCNF.