Today's Baxter Bulletin publishes Steve Barnes' column, "Will Beebe remarks spark capitol punishment action?"
Gov. Beebe’s declaration, a few days ago, that he would sign a bill abolishing the death penalty in Arkansas in the (highly improbable) event such legislation reached his desk caused a bit of confusion. At a meeting of the Political Animals club last week, Mr. Beebe said he had been confronted four times with the “awesome” question of life or death for a condemned killer.
It turns out Mr. Beebe’s miscounted. According to his staff, not four inmates, but eight. And not four, or eight, death warrants to consider, but an even dozen; the legal machinery had restarted the process in the cases of four prisoners whose sentences initially had been stayed by a judge, then returned to the governor before additional appeals again made the question of final executive action moot. The back-and-forth of those four inmates, one of his aides suggested, had led the chief executive to unintentionally understate, in pure numbers, a burden of office.
With the governor’s disavowal of any intent to pursue abolition of the death penalty, and legislative interest in the subject of capital punishment all but restricted to preserving it, that would be the end of the discussion — except it won’t be. Simply by making public his distaste for state-sponsored killing, Mr. Beebe put a little new fire in the bellies of those who abhor it.
“Magnificent,” was the judgment of a long-time opponent of the death penalty who was present for the governor’s comment but who declined to be identified by name. “I knew he felt that way in his heart but never thought I’d hear him say it.”
Bob Sells, a retired Little Rock advertising executive and a prominent opponent of capital punishment, wondered if Mr. Beebe’s “evolved” disdain of the death sentence might prompt one or more hardy legislators to undertake repeal.
“Now that (the governor) has made a statement,” Sells told me, “I wonder if there’s anybody in the House or Senate with the guts to take it on.”