"Endgame for death penalty in California," is the title of Franklin E. Zimring's OpEd published in the San Francisco Chronicle. He teaches at UC Berkeley, and is a recognized death penalty scholar.
Here's the beginning:
The election-night headlines didn't seem cheerful for those dedicated to ending capital punishment in California. Proposition 34, the audacious attempt to use ballot initiatives to abolish the death penalty, was defeated. The narrowness of the final vote (52-48 percent) was some consolation, but this was in part the result of the lack of an energetic campaign by the state's district attorneys.
And isn't it folk wisdom that close calls only count in horseshoes? Don't the anti-death-penalty partisans belong in the ballot initiative loser's bracket for 2012 along with the food labelers and union busters?
I don't think so. A closer reading of both the 2012 election in California and of the current circumstances of the death penalty suggests that the endgame for capital punishment in the Golden State is well under way. And, in the future, a history of the end of California's death penalty will give substantial credit to the quixotic crusade of Prop. 34.
The thin margin of Prop. 34's defeat contradicts the conventional wisdom about California politics in ways that should permanently alter political and judicial assumptions about public attitudes. For decades, it has been assumed that the death penalty was the third rail of California politics - demonstrated by the 71 percent support for the 1978 Briggs Amendment that created the current death penalty and majorities voting to remove three state Supreme Court judges in 1986.
Measured against that reputation, the narrowly divided electorate on Prop. 34 is quite a surprise. And this almost even division of voters sends a signal that the public will tolerate judicial scrutiny of the death penalty. Elected officials who have assumed that taking a stand against capital punishment was a high-risk venture now know that the political price tag for moral leadership is much lower in 2012 than it has been in a generation.
Earlier coverage from California begins at the link.