The last time Oregon voters had a chance to decide whether the state could potentially execute convicted murderers, a majority — 55% — of those who cast ballots not only answered yes to that question, but they chose to reserve the matter for voters in the future by amending the state Constitution.
But the Democrats who control the Legislature, by way of supermajorities, have about as little respect for the sanctity of the Constitution, on this vital issue, as they do for voters.
Which is to say, essentially none.
Although only voters can change the Constitution, Democratic lawmakers have managed to largely overrule the voters on the matter of capital punishment.
The current governor, Kate Brown, and her predecessor, John Kitzhaber — both Democrats — certainly showed no inclination to recognize the will of the electorate. Kitzhaber in 2011 declared a moratorium on executions. This didn’t exactly halt a parade of death sentences, as Oregon hasn’t executed a murderer since 1997.
To his credit, Kitzhaber did support the idea of asking voters, after more than a quarter century, to revisit the question on the ballot. That hasn’t happened.
But the Democrats’ disdain for voters has only deepened since.
In the 2019 legislative session, they passed Senate Bill 1013. And Brown signed it into law.
The law significantly constricted the definition of “aggravated murder,” the only crime for which a person can be sentenced to the death penalty. But the real problem is that legislators who supported the bill and who insisted that it would not be retroactive and could not result in anyone on death row having a death sentence overturned were, simply, wrong.
Some prosecutors warned that this was the case in 2019. And officials in the Oregon Justice Department concluded that the bill could potentially be applied retroactively.
But neither Democratic legislators nor Brown was persuaded, and Senate Bill 1013 became law.
Now we know precisely how that law can neuter voters. Recently the Oregon Supreme Court nullified the death sentence for convicted murderer David Bartol, specifically due to the new law.
Marion County District Attorney Paige Clarkson said, in response, that the “practical result” of the new law is that it has “effectively eliminated the death penalty in Oregon and thus ignores the vote of the people who chose to make it the law since 1984.”
This is unacceptable.
It’s also the result of Democratic legislators who brazenly thwart the voters they are supposed to represent.
It may be that, 37 years after Oregon voters endorsed the imposition of the death penalty, they would decide to either do away with capital punishment or, as the Legislature did with Senate Bill 1013, further limit the situations in which it could be imposed.
But that decision should be made by voters, not lawmakers.
First, the matter of whether the government should have the legal authority to end a life is such a profound exercise of power that a robust public debate, and vote, is the only appropriate venue.
Second, capital punishment is part of the state Constitution, and amendments to that document are absolutely the sole province of voters.
— Jayson Jacoby, Baker City Herald editor