February 9, 2007
Capital Punishment Big Issue in Governor's Race
(RALEIGH) - Not since 1992 have candidates for governor in North Carolina
thought the death penalty was an issue worth talking about, and even then no
one was debating the merits.
The candidates looking to replace Gov. Mike Easley aren't likely to get a
pass on the issue in 2008.
"The more that this continues to be in the news, the more that candidates
for the governorship are going to have to take stands and be asked about
it," said John Dinan, a political science professor at Wake Forest
The legal debate over the fairness of lethal injection and the role doctors
should play when the state puts an inmate to death has effectively halted
capital punishment in North Carolina, and the expected attempts to resolve
the issue could extend into the primary season.
Already, a judge's decision that forced the Council of State into the debate
has led two Democratic hopefuls -- Lt. Gov. Beverly Perdue and State
Treasurer Richard Moore -- to stake out their positions on capital
Bob Orr, a Republican candidate for governor, is an ex-Supreme Court justice
who wrote plenty of opinions on death-row appeals, which could become fodder
for his primary opponents. And progressive Democrats could make support for
a moratorium an issue in the party's primary.
The discussion has the potential to be much livelier than in 1992, when
Republican Jim Gardner pointed out that Democrat Jim Hunt, during his
previous tenure as governor, had paroled violent criminals who later wound
up on death row.
But Hunt's tough-on-crime credentials were as strong as any GOP candidate,
particularly since he allowed executions to go forward in 1984 after a
23-year hiatus. He beat Gardner, and won again in 1996. Republicans had
little room to criticize his successor, since Easley's 20-year resume as a
prosecutor and attorney general included both capital cases and opposition
of death-row appeals.
"It's just not an issue that's been brought up," said Thad Beyle, a
political science professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel
That changed when Wake County Superior Court Judge Donald Stephens dumped
the issue in the lap of the Council of State, citing a 1909 law he said
requires the council to approve any change in the method for carrying out
The state had removed a doctor from the process in an attempt to satisfy the
demands of the state medical board, which in January threatened to sanction
any physician who participates in an execution.
"I think it will be quite some time before they ever get this resolved,"
Easley said at the council meeting, where a new protocol -- one that
includes a role for a physician -- was approved by a vote of 7-3.
It wasn't long before Moore and Perdue, who both voted with the majority,
were engaged in a back and forth over each other's position. Neither has
actually declared their candidacy for governor, although both are raising
money and are widely expected to seek the job.
After the vote, a Moore adviser pointed out that while a state senator,
Perdue said she opposed doing away with the gas chamber because it would
lessen capital punishment's deterrent value. "I think we should make it
painful and torturous," Perdue said in 1995.
Perdue was more measured in her statements last week, saying she believed
there should be a death penalty moratorium until "constitutional issues"
about lethal injection and medical supervision were decided.
Moore responded by saying he didn't understand Perdue's position.
"It seems to me that a call for a moratorium is nothing more than a way to
do away with the death penalty," Moore said.
Perdue spokesman Tim Crowley said the lieutenant governor's views were
"She has been and continued to be a supporter of capital punishment,"
Polls generally have shown a majority of North Carolinians support capital
punishment, so any gubernatorial candidate who supports a moratorium runs
the risk of being labeled soft on crime.
As the 2008 elections approach, Dinan said it will be interesting to see
whether a majority of voters will support any candidate who is willing to
back a moratorium.
"When it gets mixed in with medical questions, perhaps there's a window for
candidates to make a case for the moratorium," he said.
Source : Associated Press