"Time's Up: Colorado's Governor Needs to Pick a Death Penalty Position," is Andrew Cohen's latest post at the Atlantic.
In late March, the Democrats who control the Colorado House of Representatives thought they were on the verge of repealing the state's death penalty law, used sparingly but not without controversy since the Supreme Court reinstated it in 1976. "I have the votes in the House to pass the bill and it's not just partisan, it's bipartisan," said the repeal bill's co-sponsor, Representative Claire Levy (D-Boulder). But in a private meeting that week with lawmakers, Governor John Hickenlooper, his local chops high, his national stature growing, voiced doubt about the bill.
"He did not say, 'I will definitively, undoubtedly with no question veto this,'" Rep. Dan Pabon (D-Denver) told the Denver Post. "But he did say that is something he is bouncing around. He used the 'v' word." The "v-word" from the governor was enough to block the measure. "I think had the governor not signaled so strongly that he wouldn't sign the bill, I think we would have had those votes," Rep. Levy said. "We would have repealed the death penalty in Colorado, and I think we could all stand up proud and strong and know that we did the right thing."
Without even a public threat of a veto, Gov. Hickenlooper had imposed his will on the issue. And everyone in Colorado seems to have a theory about why. He didn't want the repeal effort to cloud the legislature's frenetic work on gun safety. He believes in capital punishment more than he has let on. He was saving his fellow Democrats from scorn in the next election. He genuinely thinks the issue should be resolved by a popular vote, which would almost certainly ensure that capital punishment stays a part of the state's sentencing scheme.
Whatever the case, the time for private vetoes and backroom maneuvering is over. The time has come for Gov. Hickenlooper to make a very public choice between life and death -- and, in so doing, to shape the contours of a debate that has sounded furiously all over Colorado for the past few months. In the next few weeks, perhaps even in the next few days, the governor will have to decide whether Nathan Dunlap, one of the state's most notorious murderers, lives or dies. And this time there will be no legislature to hide behind.
Earlier coverage of Nathan Dunlap's case begins with the previous post.