Thursday, January 13, 2011

Just sign the bill already, Governor

Gov. Pat Quinn is confronted with a chance in coming weeks to gain some national attention for himself, although I strongly suspect this was an opportunity he gladly would have passed on.
QUINN: A tougher choice than 66 percent

For the Illinois General Assembly in recent weeks worked a bill through the process that abolishes the concept of capital punishment for people convicted of certain violent crimes.

THERE HASN’T BEEN an execution in Illinois in nearly 12 years, and the few inmates currently on the state’s death rows aren’t in any danger of being put to death by lethal injection because of the moratorium on executions enacted by then-Gov. George Ryan and maintained by every single one of his predecessors.

That even includes Quinn, who during last year’s campaign cycle pledged to keep the moratorium in place, compared to his opponent, William Brady, who wanted to do away with it and go back to scheduling execution dates so that death could proceed for these inmates.

Of course, Quinn also said back then that he could support having a capital crimes statute in Illinois law, “when applied carefully and fairly.”

So what’s the deal, guv?

ARE YOU FOR, or against, capital punishment? It’s all in your hands now, since the Legislature did their work to pass a bill that abolishes the death penalty laws that Illinois enacted in 1977 (the laws that existed prior to then were struck down in 1972 by the Supreme Court of the United States, and Illinois actually didn’t have a death penalty in those five years in between, which is why Richard Speck rotted and died in prison and Henry Brisbon, the "I-57 Killer," continues to rot).

For the record, gubernatorial aides are telling reporter-types as little as possible, saying merely that Quinn will review the bill. The governor himself on Wednesday would only say he would, "follow my conscience" when he gets the bill.

My guess is that Quinn never would have imagined it possible that the General Assembly could get its act together and get enough votes to pass this measure – which by its very nature ticks off prosecutorial types and certain sick-minded law-and-order types who like the idea of being able to “play God” and take away life in certain circumstances.

If you didn’t realize it already, you would have figured it out by that last statement. I don’t favor the death penalty, in part because it is too flawed and we have too many documented cases of people who faced execution, only to have it learned that their criminal convictions were seriously flawed.

SO QUINN, IF he were to show some nerve and sign the bill into law, would be granting my desire on this particular issue.

But there is something about Quinn’s lack of nerve on this issue that bothers me. It is the sense I detect that Quinn himself seriously wishes this issue would go away without him having to make a decision – because he doesn’t want to offend those people who have been ranting and raging and will continue to do so unless Illinois remains like Indiana, instead of becoming like Wisconsin and places like California and New York (the states that have the other two major cities of our nation).

I’m wondering if Quinn really believes that he’s better off not stirring up the political hornet’s nest of the conservative ideologues who want a death penalty, rather than giving in to the desires of many of the people who actually voted for him back in November.

Because like I wrote earlier, it was Brady who was the candidate who included in his views on issues the belief that we need to resume executing people. Quinn, by his desire to keep the moratorium, was the candidate for voters who want to see an end to the death penalty in Illinois.

NOW QUINN THINKS he can appease the people on this issue who didn’t support him by giving them their desire? It doesn’t work that way. Those people won’t give Quinn one bit of credit for doing so. His backers, however, would take a veto of this bill as a blow to their collective kneecaps.

If anything, I think President Barack Obama can be used as an example of what happens if Quinn vetoes a death penalty repeal – or takes a day and forever to figure out what to do.

Not that Obama has taken on any significant death penalty issues during his time as president. For Obama, the issue is immigration reform.

He has tossed out the rhetoric in his books and occasional presidential statements indicating he comprehends why reform of the federal immigration statutes are needed. But his actions to move in that direction have been weak. We don’t have immigration reform. In fact, we have a new House of Representatives that likely is going to start pushing for punitive measures on immigration policy that will worsen the situation.

THE RESULT FOR Obama is a growing Latino voter bloc that isn’t sure whether the president is the enemy, or just an incompetent. If any other candidate were to come along in 2012 and show even the slightest bit of interest on the issue, it could hurt Obama.

And while sometimes political officials take negative actions to show that they’re not controlled by a certain group in hopes that it will gain them support elsewhere, that hasn’t been the case here.

I haven’t heard the conservative ideologues crack Obama one break because his staff stood in the way of immigration reform. All the rancid rhetoric about him being a “socialist” is heard as loud as ever in certain quarters.

Just like Quinn won’t catch a break by vetoing the death penalty. The kind of people who would get most worked up over the issue are the ones who will find plenty of other issues with which to object to Pat.

SO GOVERNOR, PLEASE, just sign the bill. Abolition is a long-overdue act, and it’s not like we have a functioning death penalty process anymore. This would just bring Illinois law into compliance with actual practice.

Nobody needs to have to make the trip to Tamms in the early minutes of the new day to watch someone get drugged to death (it is classified as a “homicide”) in the name of justice.


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