Editorial: Put the death penalty on the ballot


Published Jan 20, 2013 at 04:00AM / Updated Nov 19, 2013 at 12:31AM

Gov. John Kitzhaber wants to replace the death penalty with life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.

It would need a statewide vote. Legislators should give voters the opportunity to decide.

Oregon law has gone back and forth on the death penalty. Oregon voters outlawed the death penalty in the 1960s, reinstating it in 1978. The state Supreme Court overturned it in 1981. Voters amended the constitution in 1984 to make it the law again.

Oregon uses lethal injection. Only two people have been executed since 1984. There are 37 people on death row in Oregon, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

Kitzhaber put a moratorium on executions in 2011.

“I refuse to be a part of this compromised and inequitable system any longer; and I will not allow further executions while I am governor,” he said.

He had allowed two executions to go forward when he was governor before.

“I do not believe that those executions made us safer; certainly I don’t believe they made us more noble as a society,” he said. “And I simply cannot participate once again in something I believe to be morally wrong.”

So the obvious question is, if voters keep the death penalty, would Kitzhaber keep his moratorium?

It would seem likely.

We asked his spokesman, Tim Raphael. Raphael declined to speculate.

There may be no reason to have the vote as far as how Kitzhaber will treat the death penalty. Of course, Kitzhaber won’t be governor forever. He hasn’t decided if he is going to seek another term. And future governors may not share his views on the death penalty.

But the real question for the Legislature is if it should let voters decide again after 28 years what the law should be.

The Legislature should put the death penalty question on the ballot.