Changing Times

Could legislative mindsets really be changing? Raymond Lesniak, a New Jersey state legislator, regretted his 1982 vote to reinstate the death penalty.

He did so, he says, not because he thought it was right, but because he was afraid that if he did not support capital punishment, the voters would punish him. Over time, Mr. Lesniak, a Union County Democrat who rose to the State Senate in 1983, became haunted by his decision, by the immorality of putting people to death, and by the possibility that an innocent person would be executed under the law that he supported.

New Jersey abolished the death penalty last year, a legislative accomplishment that Lesniak championed. What about his fear of being punished by voters who might think him "soft on crime"?

Mr. Lesniak’s constituents were not nearly as angry with him as he had feared. He concluded that elected officials are much freer than they believe to vote their conscience.

Sometimes leaders need to lead. It's easy to take opinion polls and to play it safe, but on an issue of life and death, it isn't a bad thing for a politician to vote his conscience ... assuming he has one.

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    Great news. (5.00 / 1) (#2)
    by catfish on Tue Jun 10, 2008 at 01:05:25 PM EST
    I think people are softening on the death penalty. Keep up the good work, TalkLeft!

    I think in the 80's... (5.00 / 1) (#4)
    by Jerrymcl89 on Tue Jun 10, 2008 at 01:24:36 PM EST
    ... the voters really did punish politicians who opposed the death penalty. George Pataki defeated Cuomo in NY largely on that single issue (despite the fact that New York executed no one in Pataki's three terms as governor). I think the DNA testing since then has shown people that the process is a lot more fallible than they thought, to the point where even those who'd still prefer to see the guilty executed can see the point of those who oppose it.

    please go here (5.00 / 1) (#13)
    by Capt Howdy on Tue Jun 10, 2008 at 04:06:58 PM EST
    The Death Penalty Worldwide

    to see the company we keep.  it is rather depressing to think Angola, Rowanda and Albania are more progressive than we are.

    I am constantly amazed (4.50 / 2) (#1)
    by Capt Howdy on Tue Jun 10, 2008 at 01:02:48 PM EST
    by how many people, even on a site like this where the general info and IQ level is way higher than normal IMO, defend the death penalty.

    Me too (4.50 / 2) (#3)
    by ruffian on Tue Jun 10, 2008 at 01:06:11 PM EST
    I haven't noticed support for it here (I have not looked one way or the other) but in general I can't understand how civilized people can stand for it going on in their name.

    Ah, yes. Those who don't share your beliefs (3.00 / 1) (#8)
    by sarcastic unnamed one on Tue Jun 10, 2008 at 03:01:22 PM EST
    are what? Subhuman?

    Sounds familiar.


    I dont feel the need to respond to this (none / 0) (#10)
    by Capt Howdy on Tue Jun 10, 2008 at 03:25:38 PM EST
    since my comment is about six lines up and anyone who can read can see it doesnt say anything like that.

    Yes, the intolerance is clear. (none / 0) (#11)
    by sarcastic unnamed one on Tue Jun 10, 2008 at 03:34:12 PM EST
    ok you got me (none / 0) (#12)
    by Capt Howdy on Tue Jun 10, 2008 at 03:45:49 PM EST
    I admit to a slight intolerance for people who wish to kill other people.
    for whatever reason.

    But, apparently, lots of tolerance (none / 0) (#14)
    by sarcastic unnamed one on Tue Jun 10, 2008 at 04:35:32 PM EST
    for people who have killed other people.

    Jail (none / 0) (#15)
    by CST on Tue Jun 10, 2008 at 04:48:31 PM EST
    That's how much tolerance I have for people who've killed people.  

    I don't see much difference though between someone pulling a trigger and passing down a death sentance.  If you go to jail for killing someone who killed your sister, how is that different from applying the death penalty?  Vengeance should never be an excuse for murder, and that is all the death penalty is, murder.


    Ah, now I get it. (none / 0) (#16)
    by sarcastic unnamed one on Tue Jun 10, 2008 at 04:56:52 PM EST
    Your opinion is absolute. How progressive.

    Absolute? (none / 0) (#17)
    by squeaky on Tue Jun 10, 2008 at 06:26:34 PM EST
    Or in line with most, if not all of the civilized world. Most see execution as barbaric.

    Well, that it then. (none / 0) (#18)
    by sarcastic unnamed one on Tue Jun 10, 2008 at 07:51:28 PM EST
    Any contrary position is, by definition, wrong. Security in numbers. How progressive.

    Not Security (none / 0) (#19)
    by squeaky on Thu Jun 12, 2008 at 12:32:06 AM EST
    More like shared values.

    Among countries around the world, almost all European and many Pacific Area states (including Australia, New Zealand and Timor Leste), and Canada have abolished capital punishment. In Latin America, most states have completely abolished the use of capital punishment, while some countries, such as Brazil, allow for capital punishment only in exceptional situations, such as treason committed during wartime.


    You on the other hand share the values of the governments of China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and Iraq among others.


    While you, on the other hand, (none / 0) (#20)
    by sarcastic unnamed one on Thu Jun 12, 2008 at 01:06:17 PM EST
    share the values of the goverments of Angola, Albania and Haiti among others.

    WV did not reinstate the death penalty - (none / 0) (#5)
    by liminal on Tue Jun 10, 2008 at 01:27:19 PM EST
    - when most other states moved to do so, in the late 1970s and early 1980s.  I think it was the southernmost state without the death penalty for many years, essentially until the recent spate of stays and moratoriums on the death penalty.  While the Democratic party dominates state politics, we have a conservative Democratic party.  Still, the death penalty has not been an issue within my personal living memory of state politics.

    I don't know the whole history - but I think it had something to do with leaders leading. I believe that a former speaker of the state house of delegates used the part-time legislative calender and other procedural maneuvering to ensure that the bills never came up, though my understanding of that is based on a passing comment made by my mom about the delegate in question - who was also our neighbor - and I don't know whether she's right.  Still, I don't recall anyone ever using the death penalty as a bludgeon in statewide politics - and we are a place where the most liberal people wear their NRA endorsements with deep and abiding pride.  Interesting.  Now, the helmet law - that will evoke deep passions.

    So, it's really good news to hear that the rest of the country is catching up with us rednecks.  Cheers!

    aye, but there be the rub: (none / 0) (#9)
    by cpinva on Tue Jun 10, 2008 at 03:12:35 PM EST
    it isn't a bad thing for a politician to vote his conscience ... assuming he has one.

    emphasis mine.

    i'm sure most start out with the best of intentions, but soon reach the point where politics outweighs conscience; the desire to be re-elected.

    very, very few are able to resist the siren call, once in office. fewer still have constituents willing to support them in their conscience.