WASHINGTON — Conservative death penalty opponents on Wednesday touted a “surge” of momentum for ending capital punishment on their side of the ideological spectrum.
Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty released a report showing that the number of Republican state lawmakers sponsoring death penalty repeal measures has jumped in recent years.
In the single digits from 2000 to 2012, the number hit a high of 40 last year.
The group highlighted its findings at the National Press Club with the help of lawmakers from Utah, Montana, Washington state and Nebraska.
Those lawmakers cast the death penalty as an inefficient government program and said opposition to it reflects long-standing core conservative principles that value life, fiscal responsibility and limited government.
“Supporting the abolition of the death penalty, as my colleagues have said, isn’t in spite of being a conservative at all,” former Nebraska State Sen. Colby Coash of Lincoln said at the press conference.
“It’s actually because we are conservative that we can stand here today and say this is a program that isn’t working for us.”
There’s reason to think campaigns against the death penalty will benefit from bipartisanship, but opponents of capital punishment still have a ways to go in winning over red states.
Lawmakers, after all, don’t always have the last word.
Coash and many of his fellow Republicans successfully repealed the state’s death penalty only to see Nebraska voters swiftly and overwhelmingly reverse that move at the ballot box.
A former Utah state senator spoke about rallying support for repeal in his state, where legislation passed the full Senate last year. But the House did not take it up before the end of the 45-day session.
A Washington state senator described it as a “pro-life” issue and said he believes his state is close to eliminating the death penalty with an ideologically diverse coalition.
The event also included a lawmaker from Montana, where a death penalty repeal measure fell just short in the state’s House in 2015.
In an interview, Coash acknowledged the challenges of arguing against the death penalty in conservative areas and said it’s difficult to present nuanced arguments in a 20-second commercial.
But he also said groups like the one releasing Wednesday’s report will help keep the conversation going and suggested that eventually the death penalty’s flaws will be impossible to ignore.
Nebraska, he noted, hasn’t executed anyone in 20 years.
“Our government doesn’t have the ability to execute somebody, they don’t have the means,” he said. “That problem didn’t go away with the vote we had.”