The Houston Chronicle reports that new questions have arisen in the Texas gubernatorial election over the continued use of the death penalty in the State. Attorney General Greg Abbott, the Republican candidate, has slammed State Senator Wendy Davis (D-Tarrant County), the Democratic candidate, for allegedly too liberal views on capital punishment.
Specifically, Abbott points to a move Davis made in 2000, while a member of the Fort Worth City Council, to support a non-binding resolution urging a moratorium on the death penalty. When reached for comment, Davis reiterated her support for the positions that she espoused at the time, but noted that her concerns have all been mollified. Among them were concerns over innocence with the introduction of DNA testing, as well as opposition to executing those who committed their crimes as juveniles and the developmentally disabled. Since that time, to Davis’ credit, much as changed. The Supreme Court ruled on a series of landmark decisions —Atkins v. Virginia in 2002 and Roper v. Simmons in 2005– that prohibited the execution of those two respective categories of offenders. Furthermore, even Texas has made strides in recent sessions to mitigate the damage done by wrongful imprisonment. The Michael Morton Act, passed last year by the Legislature, is the obvious recent example.
Back to Abbott, he has harshly derided Davis for allegedly being somewhat “soft-on-crime” and an overall opponent of the death penalty. Davis, for her part, has fired back by claiming that she is –and always has been– a steadfast supporter of capital punishment, and would gleefully preside over it if elected Governor. In fact, she even touted her record voting for an expansion of the penalty –making it applicable to those who murder young children.
Another one of Abbott’s talking points is that the Texas Democratic Party, in its official platform, calls for the abolition of the death penalty. This much is true, but Abbott of all people should know the dangers of making such a claim. The Texas Republican Party’s platform is seriously riddled with heinous provisions, such as the endorsement of gay repair therapy, or urging the “rescinding of no-fault divorce.” In fact, last year at the Tribune festival, I pointedly asked Abbott if he supported repealing the entirety of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, as his party’s platform supported. He said no. There’s nothing wrong with Abbott disagreeing with the crazy points in his platform, but that means there is also nothing wrong with Davis disagreeing with her party’s platform too.
I think the greater point here is over a severe political issue, and Davis’ reluctance to stand against a truly awful travesty. There is something to be said about not running too far to the left in a State as conservative as Texas, but not with this issue. Most people do not really care about the issue enough for it to be a wedge. If one is truly a zealous death penalty proponent, there are likely other confounding variables that would keep the individual far, far away from the Democratic Party (racism, for one).
The death penalty is immoral in every circumstance. Killing someone who is not presenting a danger to you (physical or existential) is wrong…that’s it. Hopefully, Davis can recognize that. Unlike every other domestic political issue, this involves life and death.