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January 14, 2006

A new politics with (only) the death penalty

The New York Times today has this intriguing article discussing how outgoing Virginia Governor Mark Warner has "established new middle ground in the polarized world of death penalty politics" and how some have perceived his work in this area:

[I]n four years as governor, Mr. Warner has incrementally and with little fanfare established groundbreaking policies on the use of DNA testing to confirm, or challenge, criminal convictions, many of them in death penalty cases.  Last week, he became the first governor to order a DNA test involving a man who had already been executed....

Unlike former Gov. George Ryan of Illinois, who ordered a moratorium on executions in 2003, Mr. Warner has not called for halting executions, and he still supports capital punishment. His goal, he has said, has not been to undermine the system but to make sure it works....

But because Mr. Warner, a Democrat barred by law from a consecutive term, is considering a run for president in 2008, his actions are being scrutinized for political motives.  Critics say those are clear....

Michael Paranzino, president of Throw Away the Key, a nonprofit group that supports the death penalty ... and other critics of Mr. Warner say the governor, who has tried to cast himself as a centrist on fiscal issues, gun control and other policies, has moved left on criminal justice to win support from liberal Democratic primary voters.

The politics of the death penalty always intrigues me, and it is especially fascinating to hear criticism of a purported "move left" on the death penalty for political reasons.  In this post, TalkLeft spotlights why simply ensuring that only the guilty are convicted is hardly a move left on crime issues.  (Fittingly, the prior post at TalkLeft reports yet another DNA exoneration for someone serving a life sentence for a crime he did not commit.)

Moreover, isn't democracy working well if politicians views and actions are influenced by the views and interests of the electorate?  Gosh knows that no shortage of politicians have "moved right" on criminal justice issues to win support from voters. I suspect that Michael Paranzino and other critics of Governor Warner have not expressed vocal opposition to these political moves.

Finally, as this strong post by Spenser Overton highlights, if Gov. Warner really was moving left on criminal justice issues, he would do something about his state's troubling record on felon disenfranchisement by restoring voting rights to the nearly 250,000 Virginians who have completed their sentences but are still not allowed to be full members of our polity.

January 14, 2006 at 08:00 AM | Permalink


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Why don't we kill these guys when they are sentenced?
I mean, it seems pretty cruel to have them wait for death for years...doesn't it?

Posted by: john vandenberg | Jan 14, 2006 2:30:38 PM

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