Friday, October 5, 2012

Governor Once Moonbeam and the Third Rail

Social Security, they say, is the third wheel of politics.  Or maybe it's medicare.  Or defense.
Once it was probably school busing.  Before that, integration.
And remember slavery?
There's always a line politicians won't cross.
Romney said that his comments about the 47% were "not elegantly stated."  Now he says they were "completely wrong," which is something altogether different.  But, hey.  It's a game.
Obama spent how many years "evolving" on gay marriage before Joe Biden forced the question on him and he admitted that he believes there's a constitutional right to it but that states should be free to decide whether to enforce that right or prohibit it.
Which brings me to California, Proposition 34, the death penalty, and Jerry Brown.
Prop 34 is, of course, the ballot referendum on the death penalty in California.  If a simple majority of voters endorse it on November 6, California, with the nation's largest death row, will join the abolitionist states.  It will replace the sentence of death in prison inflicted by prison guards under color of law with a sentence of death in prison by natural causes or however else it might occur.  That's a horrible sentence, a worse one to some people.  But it isn't a sentence of murder, and that's no small thing.
In February 1960, Caryl Chessman was nearing the end of his almost 12 years on death row as the Red Light Bandit, convicted of of a series of robberies, kidnappings, and rapes.  Chessman said he was the wrong guy, and he fought for years over his sentence.  In fact, his was the longest fight over a death sentence in US history to that point.  And now it was almost over.
Governor Pat Brown
Caryl Chessman
As Chessman and his lawyers played out the string, a 21 year old kid, called his dad.  
Pop, won't you do something about this?  Call it off, will you?  Please.  You know it's the right thing to do.
The kid was Jerry Brown.  The father was Pat Brown, then-Governor of California.  Maybe it was Jerry's call, maybe not.  (He claimed it was at the request of the State Department because of a trip Eisenhower was taking to South America where feelings against executing Chessman were strong.)  Whatever convinced him, Governor Brown issued a 60-day reprieve.  He didn't commute the sentence, though, and in April Chessman was killed.  (A federal court order granting a one-hour stay so the judge could hear last minute evidence that Chessman was innocent arrived moments too late.)
Young Brown kept at it.  In 1968, he was among those holding a vigil outside the gates of San Quentin when Aaron Mitchell was executed.  He was Governor when the California legislature passed a bill reinstating the death penalty.  He vetoed it.
David Siders in the Sacramento Bee.
He called it "a matter of conscience," a sentiment he expanded upon when he was asked while running for president in 1992 if his opposition to the death penalty was absolute.
"Yes," Brown said. "When someone is contained in a cage, then to bureaucratically, coldbloodedly snuff out their life, whether by poison or by electrocution or by gas, it seems, it doesn't seem right to me."
So you think it would be an easy call.
Yet ask him about the death penalty now, and he won't say.  Two years ago he was asked generally why he wouldn't try to stop executions any more. Siders again.
"I don't know," Brown said on an airplane between campaign rallies in the Central Valley. "You want to reinvent the world. But we have the world. And this is a matter that's been before the voters … been before the Legislature. At this point in time, it's relatively settled." 
Governor Who?
And now?  Proposition 34 would end the death penalty.  Governor Brown the Younger can't enact it.  But he can support it.  He can certainly vote for it.  After all, he'll be casting a ballot on Novermber 6 (if he hasn't already done so absentee or early or whatever is possible in California).
And maybe he'll vote for Prop 34.  Or maybe not.  He won't say.
He's not talking about the secret ballot or anything. 
He said [he] is focused solely on his own initiative to raise the state sales tax and income taxes on California's highest earners.
Which, you know, means that he refuses to answer the question.  To give Prop 34 any moral support.  To use the at least somewhat bully pulpit of the Governorship.
It's not too late.
The election is 30 days from tomorrow.  Five seconds to answer a reporter's question.
About whether lifelong principles count.
Or is he afraid the death penalty is the third rail.
The voters could prove him wrong on that one. 

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  1. I'm glad to see him being called out on this. Thanks for posting.

    I suspect his earlier political exile and long re-assent has left him quite fearful of being sidelined again. But, really, what an opportunity this was for him to make a difference in a matter probably more significant than anything else he'll ever do politically. That's just sad.

  2. The 729 on death row murdered at least 1,279 people, with 230 children. 43 were police officers. 211 were raped, 319 were robbed, 66 were killed in execution style, and 47 were tortured. 11 murdered other inmates.

    The arguments in support of Pro. 34, the ballot measure to abolish the death penalty, are exaggerated at best and, in most cases, misleading and false.

    No “savings.” Alleged savings ignore increased life-time medical costs for aging inmates and require decreased security levels and housing 2-3 inmates per cell rather than one. Rather than spending 23 hours/day in their cell, inmates will be required to work. These changes will lead to increased violence for other inmates and guards and prove unworkable for these killers. Also, without the death penalty, the lack of incentive to plead the case to avoid the death penalty will lead to more trial and related costs and appeals.

    No “accountability.” Max earnings for any inmate would amount to $383/year (assuming 100% of earnings went to victims), divided by number of qualifying victims. Hardly accounts for murdering a loved one.

    No “full enforcement” as 729 inmates do not receive penalty given them by jurors. Also, for the 34,000 inmates serving life sentences, there will be NO increased penalty for killing a guard or another inmate. They’re already serving a life sentence.

    Efforts are also being made to get rid of life sentences. (Human Rights Watch, Old Behind Bars, 2012.) This would lead to possible paroles for not only the 729 on death row, but the 34,000 others serving life sentences. On 9/30/12, Brown passed the first step, signing a bill to allow 309 inmates with life sentences for murder to be paroled after serving as little as 15 years. Life without parole is meaningless. Remember Charles Manson and Sirhan Sirhan. Convicted killers get out and kill again, such as Darryl Thomas Kemp, Kenneth Allen McDuff, and Bennie Demps.

    Arguments of innocence bogus. Can’t identify one innocent person executed in CA. Can’t identify one person on CA’s death row who has exhausted his appeals and has a plausible claim of innocence. See

    1. Notice that I am generously refusing to delete your comment. (Didn't you do another virtually identical one on another of my posts? I won't give you a free third shot.)

      Notice, also, that the post was about Jerry Brown, not the merits of Proposition 34. And certainly not the merits of LWOP. (Though your suggestion that somehow doing away with LWOP will loose Charles Manson and Sirhan Sirhan on the streets is nonsense. Both are serving life sentences and have been repeatedly denied parole. And, in any case, the argument has nothing to do with Proposition 34.

      At bottom, and regardless of the arguments, the death penalty is an issue of whether we believe that we have a right to decide who should live and die - and the right to enforce those beliefs. Your claim, behind the predictions and threats of armageddon should Prop 34 pass, is that it's a good thing for the government to be in the business of killing people. With all respect, you're wrong.