Yesterday, Governor John Kitzhaber imposed a moratorium on executions in Oregon.
He did not, as much as I might like to see it, end the death penalty.
Faced with deciding whether to allow the execution of Gary Haugen on December 6th, he did the right thing. He was honest with the public about his doubts about Oregon's death penalty and he acted on his convictions.
The governor admitted he had tried it the other way. He had allowed the executions of two other men in 1996 and 1997. But those decisions haunted him and I submit, further tainted the outcome because he acted against his better judgment.
The Governor stated: "I do not believe those executions made us safer. Certainly I don't believe they made us nobler as a society... and I simply cannot participate once again in something I believe to be morally wrong."
Oregonians demonstrate by their behavior that, at best, they are ambivalent about capital punishment.
Voters have outlawed the practice twice and then legalized it twice -- the last time nearly 30 years ago in 1984 before the Internet and when cell phones were the size of a small dog.
Oregon is among the states with smaller death rows with 34 people sentenced to death. Since 1984 only the two men on Kitzhaber's watch have been executed -- and they sought their own executions. Gary Haugen waived review of his case as well. Prison officials spent $42,000 preparing for his execution, including $18,000 to pay for the lethal drugs to kill him.
Apart from the many moral and ethical concerns that the death penalty raises in Oregon and elsewhere it is fair to ask: is it worth it?
Governor Kitzhaber said it best:
It is time for this state to consider a different approach... I refuse to be a part of a compromised and inequitable system any longer; and I will not allow further executions to take place while I am governor... I could have commuted Mr. Haugen's sentence, and indeed the sentences of all those on death row, to life in prison without the possibility of parole... I did not do that because the policy of this state on capital punishment is not mine alone to decide. It is a matter for all Oregonians to decide. And it is my hope -- indeed my intention -- that my action today will bring about a long overdue re-evaluation of our current policy and our system of capital punishment.
In the best tradition of leadership, Governor Kitzhaber has articulated a vision of a criminal justice system that is fair, reliable and accountable. More importantly, in the tradition of great leaders he has empowered the people of Oregon to engage in a principled and reasoned dialogue about how best to reach that collective vision.
Tip of the hat.