A Box of Soap

Governor John Kitzhaber has said he won’t sign the execution order for Gary Haugen.  That ignited a firestorm of discussion, and it is welcome.

Some say it is an autocratic move ignoring the will of the people.  The most recent vote on the death penalty was in 1984.  A little over 60 percent of registered voters turned out. Of that group, about 56 percent voted for Ronald Reagan over the 44 percent favoring Walter Mondale.  The death penalty measure passed by a nearly identical ratio.  It is not preposterous to think that Oregon’s death penalty measure was passed by conservative voters who also favored Ronald Reagan.  You cannot argue that the measure didn’t pass, but you could be forgiven for believing that it may not have passed in a year where Democrats had the stronger voter turnout.

I would argue on a smaller scale.  Putting a prisoner to death ignores the will of this person.  Whatever the justification is for killing a criminal, I can’t support it.

If we are to believe that murder is the most vile sin against an individual or a society, how does it make sense to repeat that sin, then rename it justice?  Killing is bad unless good people do it, which makes it good.

Many people try to bring it closer to home – how would I feel if my wife or daughter were the victim?  The most honest answer is, I don’t know.  Sitting here, I can’t think how putting to death a man who has slain one of my family would make me feel fulfilled.  Talking with my friend Paul today, he reduced that scenario to its most honest depiction – revenge.

And in that gruesome scenario, I would have to wonder if either my wife or daughter would have wanted that.  I gain nothing that I can think of from revenge, and I think they feel the same.

If we reexamine the death penalty it is not right to let Gary Haugen steer the conversation.  He does raise the question of how we might prevent a convicted murderer from subsequently murdering an inmate or prison employee.  Maybe convicted murderers should be strictly isolated, as long as they are incarcerated.  Their prison experience should be unpleasant.

There is a lot of huffing and blowing about Gov. Kitzhaber’s refusal to sign a death warrant.  All of that coming from people who don’t have to sign one.  Kitzhaber is the only one who has, twice, signed that order in the last 50 years.  That makes him the only Oregonian who knows that burden.  I wonder if requiring a more personal and active role for those clamoring for revenge would change the picture.

In 1984’s modest turnout it only needed about one third of Oregon’s registered voters to reinstate the death penalty.  That doesn’t even consider the many Oregonians not registered to vote.  When we talk about the will of the people, let’s see if we can get more people to make their will known.

Don Vowell lives in Keizer.