Bring up capital punishment at a dinner party, and you’ll quickly learn what a divisive issue it is. While I can understand some of the arguments in favor of keeping the death penalty, there’s a difference between wanting to keep capital punishment on the books and a strong desire to kill criminals even when it’s not rational. Here are a handful of active U.S. governors whose support of the death penalty looks more like blood thirst than a desire for actual justice:
1. Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts
When Nebraska state lawmakers voted to end the death penalty in the state, Gov. Ricketts vetoed the legislation, saying it sent the message that Nebraska was “soft on crime.” Legislators disagreed, though, since they soon re-approved the law by a veto-proof majority.
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A decent governor might accept when he’s been beaten, but Ricketts has instead decided to throw a hissy fit. To get back at his political foes (incidentally, many of which belong to his own party,) he has vowed to ensure that all ten inmates currently on death row get put to death anyway.
Never mind that no one’s been executed in the state in nearly 20 years. Never mind that Nebraska can’t even execute anyone currently given a lack of approved, “safe” lethal injection compounds. Ricketts says he will exploit loopholes to make sure that they are put to death one way or another. It’s doubtful that this will prove to be a winning fight, but it sure is a spiteful one!
2. Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin
When the Oklahoma Supreme Court pressed pause on executions in the state so that the justices could review the lethal injection process, Gov. Fallin made it clear that she not only wanted the next execution to happen, she wanted it to happen as quickly as possible. She and her Republican colleagues even threatened to impeach the justices if they were to interfere with her plan. Though her authority to override the court was dubious at best, Fallin moved forward on plans to kill robber and murderer Clayton Lockett, approving an as-yet untested drug cocktail to use.
As you may have heard, this execution she fought so hard to carry out went horribly awry. It took Lockett over 40 minutes to die as he cried out in pain and eventually died of a heart attack. The drug cocktail did not work as intended and certainly wound up exceeding the Constitutional protection from “cruel and unusual punishment.”
Sadly, Fallin’s rush to kill a man turned an awful murderer into a martyr, as Mother Jones points out. If she had let the justice system work out its kinks and find a safer way to execute the prisoner, she would have avoided this circus sideshow. Instead of apologizing for her role in this embarrassment, Fallin released a statement saying that “justice was served.”
3. Utah Governor Gary Herbert
How important are executions to Gov. Herbert? Well, if one way of killing someone isn’t available, he wants to make darn sure that the government has a backup plan so executions can carry on as planned.
This year, Herbert signed a law that allows Utah to use a firing squad on death row inmates if lethal injection drugs are unavailable. Since lethal injection compounds are the source of many lawsuits and delays throughout the country, Herbert wants some ammunition at the ready. Sure, even he admits that a firing squad is “a little bit gruesome,” but he feels it his “obligation” to carry through without delay. As it stands, Utah is the only state to allow firing squads.
4. Texas Governor Rick Perry
Executions are not a contest, but supposing they were, Gov. Perry would be the clear winner. Since taking office in 2000, Perry has overseen roughly 300 executions, more than any other governor in United States history. Though Perry’s not responsible for sentencing the inmates, his motto, “If you don’t support the death penalty… don’t come to Texas,” certainly shows where he stands.
When evidence emerged that death row inmate Cameron Todd Willingham had been convicted on what was most likely faulty testimony and incorrect science, the governor was asked to stay the execution to ensure Texas wouldn’t put an innocent man to death. Perry not only declined to grant clemency, he also used his clout to end the investigation that could have spared them. Since his death in 2004, it looks increasingly likely that Willingham was not guilty of the crimes he was killed for, yet Perry is willing to make no concessions on his decision on the matter.
Perry similarly has no sympathy for people with mental handicaps. He vetoed legislation passed by state lawmakers that would exempt mentally ill people from being executed. Last year, he doubled down on this stance when he declined to pardon Scott Panetti, a severely mentally ill man from execution. The decision was so cruel that Perry lost favor with many members of his own party, but ultimately he was spared the political repercussions when the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals intervened and stayed the execution to reassess Panetti’s mental competency.