Study: Republicans are abandoning the death penalty in record numbers | Friday Morning Coffee

May 3, 2019 7:09 am

Good Friday Morning, Fellow Seekers.

So if you thought it was weird that one of the most progressive Democrats in the state House was teaming up with one of its most conservative members on a bill calling for the abolition of Pennsylvania’s broken death penalty statute, think again.

The Odd Couple pairing of Reps. Chris Rabb, D-Philadelphia, and Frank Ryan, R-Lebanon, is becoming more commonplace as Republican lawmakers across the country not only reevaluate their support for capital punishment, but also step up to sponsor bills calling for its elimination.

Indeed, criminal justice reform is one area where civil justice-minded progressives and fiscal conservatives have managed to find common ground, both in Pennsylvania and nationwide. Through sentencing reform and other measures, the Keystone State is viewed as a national leader.

So far, the death penalty hasn’t been a part of that conversation, but a recent report is indication of a shift in the tone of the debate.

According to a group calling itself Conservatives Concerned about the Death Penalty, Republican lawmakers in 10 more states — Georgia, Louisiana, Kansas, Wyoming, Kentucky, Montana, Missouri, Colorado, New Hampshire and Washington State — are sponsoring death penalty repeal bills.

And according to  a 2017 study by the conservative anti-death penalty group, Republican sponsors of death penalty abolition proposals doubled between 2013 and 2016, going from 20 sponsors to 40 sponsors.

And because some legislatures only meet for two-year sessions, or only in odd years, the study also took that into account. It concluded that “in the 2001/2002 legislative sessions, six Republicans in five states sponsored bills to end the death penalty. By the 2015/2016 biennium, more than 11 times as many Republicans were sponsoring death penalty repeal bills – 69 Republicans in 11 states.”

In addition, “the percentage of legislative sponsors that are Republican increased alongside the number of sponsors. By 2017, the percentage of sponsors who were Republican was more than six times the same figure in 2007, with over 31 percent of all death penalty repeal sponsors being Republican,” the study noted.

And before our conservative readers go all, “Well these are only RINOs in blue or purple states,” consider this: According to the study, “the data show that Republicans in red states are taking on even more leadership than those in blue states.”

“Among the states where Republicans sponsored death penalty repeal bills, more than 40 percent of them (10 states) were red states,” the report reads. “Of the total number of Republican sponsorships of death penalty repeal bills, more than 67 percent were in red states (143 red state sponsorships out of 211 total Republican sponsorships).”

So why is this happening?

The report, coupled with our conversation with Ryan, a tax-and-spending hawk who’s avowedly opposed to abortion rights, provides some indication: When it’s not about the bottom line, it’s about the morality of the death penalty.

One lawmaker, Sen. Paul Wieland, sponsored an abolition bill in Missouri. It cleared committee, and was debated on the Senate floor, but didn’t become law. Nonetheless, Wieland considered it a win.

Wieland told the study’s authors that that he doesn’t “think it’s a fiscally smart thing that we do as far as dealing with the death penalty. I think we spend a lot more money with the appeals and going through the process of putting people to death than if we just give them life in prison.”

As we noted earlier this week, Pennsylvania has carried out just three executions in the nearly half-century since the U.S. Supreme Court again declared the death penalty constitutional, at a combined cost to the taxpayers of $816 million. In a memo seeking sponsors for his repeal billRabb pointed to an Urban Institute Study of Maryland’s death penalty that concluded that a capital case costs $2 million more than a non-capital case.

In addition, Wieland told an in-state newspaper that that the issue was a religious one for him, as well.

“One of my motivations [in running run for office] was defending human life,” Wieland told The Missouri Times after his bill made it out of committee, the report indicated. “As a pro-life person, I needed to be congruent with my conscience.”

Speaking to The Capital-StarRyan echoed that moral argument, saying “I’m pro-life, which means conception to natural death,” he said. “Capital punishment isn’t natural death to me.”

Rabb and Ryan are seeking co-sponsors for their bill and hope to introduce it soon. A similar measure, sponsored by Democratic Sens. Katie Muth, of Berks County, and Sharif Street, of Philadelphia, is making the rounds on the other side of the Capitol. They’re seeking Republican co-sponsors.

If this recent study is any indication, they might just find one or two of them.

Our Stuff:
Stephen Caruso
 has a look behind the scenes on the drama on the House floor over a package of regulatory reform bills the chamber debated and passed this week. He also has a look at the this month’s special election for the 11th House District in Berks County,

Washington Bureau Chief Robin Bravender has all you need to know about a U.S. House vote bucking the Trump White House’s stance on the Paris Climate Accords. U.S. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, R-1st Districtwas one of three Republicans to cross party lines to vote with Democrats on the bill.

Bravender also has a thorough analysis of Pennsylvania Democrats’ thinking as impeachment talk heats up on Capitol Hill.

On our Commentary Page, a bioethicist offers 3 moral arguments for getting your children vaccinated.
And Shira Goodman, of CeaseFirePa., wants you to call your local lawmaker and tell them to oppose a House bill that would gut local gun-control ordinances.

Outside spending in the Philly mayoral race has topped $1 million, but it hasn’t changed many minds, The Inquirer reports.
The cash-strapped Harrisburg public schools haven’t had a chief financial officer since 2015PennLive reports.
There are four more cases of measles in Allegheny County, the Post-Gazette reports. Get. Your. Kids. Vaccinated. This isn’t hard.
UPMC officials have magnanimously decided that Highmark customers won’t lose access to Children’s HospitalThe Tribune-Review reports.
Dorney Park has settled its discrimination lawsuit with a Philadelphia man, The Morning Call reports.

Here’s your #Pennsylvania Instagram of the Day:

WHYY-FM asks residents of the city’s Mayfair neighborhood how they feel about Philly Mayor Jim Kenney.
The candidates for the 12th Congressional District debated — it did not go wellThe PA Post reports.
Caveat emptor, Philly AirBnB customers, the company doesn’t check for code violations – and doesn’t plan to, BillyPenn reports.
Family welfare caps are losing favor among state reports.
The Pa. Republican Party is targeting Auditor General Eugene DePasquale after the Democrat floated a PA-10 trial balloon, PoliticsPA reports.
Politico went and watched episodes of Bernie Sanders’ old TV show. The results are about as hilarious as you’d expect.
Pa. U.S. Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon, D-5th District, who tripped and broke her ankle taping a Twitter video on the Capitol steps, still managed to rebuke AG Bill Barr during a House Judiciary Committee meeting, Roll Call reports.

Gov. Tom Wolf
 heads to Philly for the 3,547th event on his ‘RestorePA‘ tour. You’ll find him on Germantown Ave. around 2 p.m. today.

What Goes On (Nakedly Political Edition).
Rep. Rosemary Brown
 holds a 6:30 p.m. ‘Denim & Diamonds‘ fund-raiser in Mount Pocono, Pa. Admission is $150 or $250.

You Say It’s Your Birthday Dept.
Best wishes go out this morning to longtime Friend O’the Blog, and The Hill Opinion Editor Donald Gilliland, who celebrates a serious milestone birthday. Congratulations and enjoy the day, sir.

Heavy Rotation.
This one goes out to our good friend, DonaldThis was the No. 1 song in these United States on the day of your birth.

Thursday’s Gratuitous Hockey Link.
beat Columbus by a decided 4-1 on Thursday night. The Blue Jackets still lead the second round playoff series 2-1, though.

And now you’re up to date.

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

John L. Micek

A three-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's former Editor-in-Chief.