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In the crosshairs of conscience: John Kitzhaber's death penalty reckoning

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To cope with his dread, John Kitzhaber opened his leather-bound journal and began to write.
It was a little past 9 on the morning of Nov. 22, 2011. Gary Haugen had dropped his appeals. A Marion County judge had signed the murderer's death warrant, leaving Kitzhaber, a former emergency room doctor, to decide Haugen's fate. The 49-year-old would soon die by lethal injection if the governor didn't intervene.
Kitzhaber was exhausted, having been unable to sleep the night before, but he needed to call the families of Haugen's victims.
"I know my decision will delay the closure they need and deserve," he wrote.
The son of University of Oregon English professors, Kitzhaber began writing each day in his journal in the early 1970s. The practice helped him organize his thoughts and, on that particular morning, gather his courage.
Kitzhaber first dialed the widow of David Polin, an inmate Haugen beat and stabbed to death in 2003 while already serving a life sentence fo…

The ballot language for Nebraska death penalty referendum is correct, but confusing

A vote to “retain” would get rid of Nebraska’s death penalty.
A vote to “retain” would... get rid of Nebraska’s death penalty.
If voters aren’t careful, they easily could become confused and vote the opposite of their desires on the death penalty ballot issue that Nebraskans are being asked to consider this fall.

The Nov. 8 ballot will ask voters to choose “retain” or “repeal,” wording that is required by state law.

That sounds simple enough. But voters who haven’t studied up might find themselves rubbing their eyes in the booth when they reach the referendum.

A vote to “retain” would get rid of Nebraska’s death penalty.

A vote to “repeal” would retain it.

If that sounds backward to you, you’re not alone. Douglas County Election Commissioner Brian Kruse has been getting questions about the ballot language as he speaks to civic, business and neighborhood groups about the upcoming election. People tell Kruse the language is confusing. It happened again last week when the topic came up as he talked to the Douglas County Board.

Asked by County Commissioner Mike Boyle to explain the ballot item, Kruse started hesitatingly describing it, with Boyle and Commissioner Chris Rodgers weighing in to help.

“Retain keeps it without the death penalty, repeal reinstates,” Kruse told the board.

“It’s pretty confusing, but that happens,” Boyle said.

“It is,” Kruse agreed.

Kruse, who was there to brief the board on preparations for Election Day, told members the same two things he told the Millard Business Association last week. One: Election commissioners don’t write the ballots, they just print them. Two: “The good thing is, there’s plenty of time to be an informed voter.”

In an interview, Kruse said, “It will be very important that voters do educate themselves in terms of what their opinion is, and then which way to vote to express their opinion,” Kruse said.

Or at least read the ballot language carefully. Merely scanning through it and then filling in the oval next to the word that seems to represent a voters’ opinion on the death penalty could lead to voting against their own views.


The “retain” and “repeal” wording has no nefarious intent. Rather, it is rooted in what the referendum is actually about, in statutory requirements for how ballot measures are worded, and in how we normally talk about the death penalty.

The referendum is about Legislative Bill 268. The Nebraska Legislature passed the bill in 2015, and overrode Gov. Pete Ricketts’ veto of it. The bill does away with capital punishment in Nebraska, replacing it with life in prison without parole for first-degree murder.

Death penalty supporters launched a petition drive to repeal LB 268. They collected enough signatures to put the question on this year’s general election ballot as a referendum. That placed enforcement of the bill on hold.

Voters are being asked to decide whether to ratify the Legislature’s repeal of capital punishment.

Click here to read the full article

Source: Omaha World-Herald, September 18, 2016

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