Former Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber didn’t always respect voters’ opinions regarding the imposition of the death penalty, but at least he recognized that voters should ultimately have a say on the issue.
Although Kitzhaber, in a well-publicized announcement in November 2011, decided he would not allow the state to carry out executions as allowed under Oregon law and endorsed by voters, most recently in 1984, the governor also supported a bill that would have brought the matter to voters in November 2014.
The bill didn’t pass.
Kitzhaber’s successor, Kate Brown, has maintained the moratorium on executions, and voters continue to be left out.
Now a pair of bills in the Legislature would formalize this disenfranchisement.
Both House Bill 3268 and Senate Bill 1013 would change the definition of “aggravated murder” — the only crime that includes the potential for a death sentence in Oregon.
The bills would define aggravated murder to include only acts of terrorism that kill at least two people. If either bill becomes law, the inmates on death row would have their sentences commuted to life in prison without parole.
The question of whether to execute convicted murderers reflects societal values, and as such the answer should be left to voters, not to their elected representatives. That’s how we’ve done it for more than a century in Oregon, and it’s allowed the state’s law to reflect changes in voters’ attitudes, of which there have been several.
Oregon voters approved capital punishment in 1864, outlawed it in 1914, reinstated it in 1920, and repealed it in 1964. Voters reinstated the death penalty in 1978 and, after the state’s Supreme Court overturned that decision, voters again, in 1984, decided to make execution a legal option.
After 35 years, and with the moratorium in effect for eight years, it’s reasonable to give voters a chance to reconsider. Lawmakers should do so.
— Jayson Jacoby, Baker City Herald editor