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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…

Texas: Democratic gubernatorial candidate calls for ending death penalty

Andrew White
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew White on Thursday called for the abolishment of the death penalty.

“It’s not a deterrent. It’s a broken system because there are people who are innocent on death row, and we’re finding out about more and more every day,” the 45-year-old Houston entrepreneur told The Texas Tribune.

White, a self-described “common-sense Democrat," said he plans to use data to make decisions, even if the approach takes him outside party lines. In this case, he said, data has shown the death penalty does not create a lower murder rate. 

The candidate’s stance aligns with that of his late father, former Texas Gov. Mark White, who initially championed capital punishment before reversing his position, partly due to the number of people released from death row following evidence of their innocence.

Under state law, the governor can grant a one-time, 30-day reprieve to people convicted of capital crimes and also appoints members to the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles, which can recommend clemency. 

White said he plans to appoint those who would favor commuting sentences in an attempt to shift the highest penalty from capital punishment to life without parole. 

Earlier Thursday at a Texas Tribune event, White pledged to veto any bills limiting a woman's access to an abortion, despite describing himself as being "deeply, personally pro-life." Since announcing his candidacy last month, White has expressed his respect for the landmark Roe v. Wade decision and denounced previous legislation restricting reproductive rights passed under Texas Gov. Greg Abbott.

"I trust women to make their own health care decisions,” White said Thursday. “Period. End of story."

Ed Espinoza, the executive director of the liberal group Progress Texas, said White’s promise to veto future anti-abortion bills as governor was crucial to hear for the reproductive rights community.

“Obviously, we want all of our candidates to have a strong position of defending abortion rights in Texas,” he said. Regarding White’s candidacy in particular, Espinoza said: “I think it remains to be seen if there are still concerns.”

At the event, White acknowledged he could do a better job explaining his position to the electorate. Wendy Davis, the 2014 Democratic gubernatorial nominee, and other progressives in the party have labeled him “anti-choice” in the past. White said he has taken steps to shake off the label, such as contacting Davis to talk more about his views. 

Going forward, Espinoza said, other voters and groups may want to have similar conversations with White. But the way the candidate handled Thursday’s questioning was “a good sign,” he added. 

White is one of nine candidates vying for the Democratic nomination for governor, with Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez being the most well known. Here's what White said at the Thursday event on other issues: 

  • Education — White said the state’s public education system needs billions more dollars in funding. To pay for the increase, he proposed redirecting hundreds of millions of dollars state lawmakers currently put toward border security, which he argued should fall solely under the federal government’s jurisdiction. White said he would also close state corporate tax loopholes to fund education.
  • Health care — White said the state needs to expand Medicaid, the federal-state insurance program for the poor and disabled. He also proposed finding alternative pathways for people without insurance to receive health care besides the emergency room, a plan the candidate argued is essential to improving the system’s cost structure.
  • Minority outreach — At the event, Jen Ramos, the communications director for Texas Young Democrats, told White he has not done enough to champion minority communities and is unable to effectively reach young voters. White rejected the premise of the criticism, saying “their issues are important to me.” White added that the first thing he would do if elected is remove a plaque in the Capitol claiming the civil war was not about slavery.


Source: Texas Tribune, Rishika Dugyala, January 11, 2018


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"One is absolutely sickened, not by the crimes that the wicked have committed,
but by the punishments that the good have inflicted." -- Oscar Wilde

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