|Governor Pete Ricketts|
A rift among Republicans in Nebraska over whether the state should continue to allow the death penalty is expected to draw keen interest from national advocacy groups and funders over the next 14 months.
The overwhelmingly Republican state made history when its legislature voted in May to repeal a law that allows executions, becoming the first conservative state to outlaw capital punishment since 1973.
Governor Pete Ricketts, an heir to the Ameritrade fortune who had been in office for only five months at the time, vetoed the bill, but the legislature overrode it with a 30-19 vote. It was one of four vetoes that were overridden by the state's single-house legislature during his first term in office. Ricketts responded by digging in his heels.
Over the summer, the governor and his father, J. Joseph Ricketts, were the primary funders of a petition drive to gather signatures from Nebraska residents demanding that the repeal of the death penalty be suspended and put to a state referendum in November 2016, where the state's large Republican voter base could vote to reinstate it.
Last week, Nebraska Secretary of State John Gale's office said that the campaign submitted over 160,000 signatures to his office, some 120,000 of which have already been verified. Though this is more than the required 10 percent of registered voters that is a bar for success, Gale said he would not officially certify the petition drive until 125,271 signatures are verified. The drive also needs to eclipse a 10 percent threshold in a minimum of 38 of the state's 93 counties, which could happen this week.
If all goes according to plan, Nebraska voters will have a final say on the matter in November 2016. Ricketts said that he looks forward to the public weighing in on the issue directly.
In response to the petition drive, anti-death penalty Republicans in the state have launched a counter-offensive, hiring political strategists and campaign managers with deep ties to the conservative community to run a campaign to convince voters to stick with the repeal.
One of those operatives, Dan Parsons of the group Nebraskans for Public Safety, said that his team will use all the tactics of a traditional media campaign — television and radio advertising, phone calls, door-knocking, and public polling — to encourage Nebraskans to think about whether they really ought to continue supporting the death penalty.
"I think generally speaking if you were to ask the average voter in Nebraska if they were for the death penalty, they would affirm yes," he said. "That's where most people think they should be."
His campaign will try to convince voters that the system has failed, is out of date, and is not effective. Parsons explained that many Republican state senators supported the repeal for a mix of moral, religious, and fiscally conservative reasons. The penal system is costly and hasn't actually executed anyone in close to a decade because of the shortage of available lethal injection drugs. Parsons said that his group will focus on convincing pro-life groups, fiscal conservatives, and faith communities, particularly the state's large population of Catholics.
Source: news.vice.com, Colleen Curry, October 13, 2015
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