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Pay no attention to the people behind the curtain

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Death Penalty Referendum, the folkbum recommendation: Vote NO November 7

Should the death penalty be enacted in the State of Wisconsin for cases involving a person who is convicted of first degree intentional homicide, if the conviction is supported by DNA evidence?

There are many different reasons to vote against this non-binding, advisory death penalty referendum, not the least among them (for me, at least) a resistance to state-sanctioned killing. If there is killing to be done, it will not be in my name. I may be a godless, soulless, artless liberal, but I believe that every human life--from murderer to Iraqi civilian to Michael J. Fox--has value, and I have no right to say when that value becomes zero.

But beyond that, the people behind this referendum are using it, using voters across the state, for their own ends--exploiting them, as some might say. Those ends have little to do with the wording of the referendum question. For one, the referendum is timed to create the largest impact on turnout: Originally scheduled by the State Senate to drive up conservative turnout in the September primary, by the time the Assembly got a hold of the measure, Scott Walker had dropped out, leaving no top-ticket Republican race in the primary. So the Assembly changed the date to November, figuring higher conservative turnout then couldn't hurt.

The people behind this were also hoping the timing would correspond neatly to the trial of Steven Avery, a trial that has been delayed by developments since the legislature's setting of the measure. As originally conceieved by supporters, the ballot question would have asked about multiple murders (as reflected in some of the initial official analysis), but after Avery allegedly murdered his single victim--and his case became very high profile--that changed, too. The supporters, again, used what they had for the greatest political gain.

And it's clear this week that regardless of the actual wording of the referendum, supporters in the legislature will do whatever they want, anyway. Renee Crawford points us to an article in Sunday's Wisconsin State Journal where the lead sponsor of the referendum makes it clear (my emphasis):
Sen. Alan Lasee, R-De Pere, the referendum's lead sponsor, cautioned against reading too much into the resolution's wording.

Lasee said the ballot question with its DNA clause is meant to poll voters on a general concept--how would they feel about the death penalty if safeguards could be built in to avoid convicting innocent people? It has never been his intent to limit the death penalty to convictions involving DNA evidence, he said.

He included the DNA clause to defang opponents. "It was my hope that this would dispel some of the fence-sitters from saying that the sky is falling and that someone is going to be wrongly convicted," he said.

Asked how seriously voters should take the resolution's language, Lasee said, "Voters can read into or out of it whatever they want. The bottom line is, 'Should the death penalty be reinstated, with or without DNA testing?'"
(Aside to John McAdams: You sound a little bloodthirsty in that article, too.)

I don't think I'm being too cynical here; it's pretty clear that the sponsors of this referendum don't actually care that much about justice, about the value of human life, or, for that matter, the intelligence of the voters themselves. Regardless of whether or not you are willing to sanction state-sponsored killing, you should be insulted by this. This state was pretty forward-looking to have abolished the death penalty back in 1853--150 years before the recent round of moratoriums. But that doesn't mean a thing to the reactionaries running the legislature. So tell them how much they are wrong, and vote no on November 7.

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