We’ve learned a lot about the death penalty in the last 35 years. Many people, however, still don’t know just how broken the policy is.
This January, 17 freshmen lawmakers embarked on their first legislative session in Nebraska. Some of them had only thought about the death penalty from a philosophical or emotional standpoint, never studying the issue as a practical, policy matter.
Their five months in office gave them broad exposure to the issue through hearings, meetings, readings, and extensive floor debate. Many of them carefully weighed the facts, taking the time to study the issue and consider their votes. On the final vote to override the Governor’s veto, 10 of those freshmen Senators joined 20 of their seasoned colleagues to repeal the death penalty. Several of them shared powerful stories of how they reached their decisions.
The Omaha World Herald highlighted one Senator’s journey “from death penalty backer to execution opponent” in this wonderful piece. Senator Brett Lindstrom is a life-long Republican who grew up in Nebraska and is best known for being the former quarterback of the famed University of Nebraska Huskers football team. Lindstrom researched the issue and, “what he found muddied his black-and-white view, turning it every last shade of gray.” After all he learned, he knew he had to support repeal.
Another Senator, Colby Coash of Lincoln, is in his last 2-year legislative session. He was a co-sponsor of repeal and championed the bill with Senator Ernie Chambers. But unlike Chambers, Coash hasn’t always supported repeal.
“Many years ago, just before an execution in Nebraska and before he got involved in politics, he went to the prison to see what was happening outside before the criminal was put to death inside. While there were some anti-death penalty protesters, most of the scene resembled a big tailgate party. Coash, then in favor of the death penalty, partied right along with his fellow Cornhuskers.”
According to a piece in the conservative-leaning publication The American Spectator, Coash returned home from the prison and reflected on his experience, witnessing what seemed like a celebration of the taking of a life. Something just didn’t sit right, and now Coash is an outspoken opponent of the death penalty, maintaining that the policy does not match up with his conservative values of responsible, limited government.
And the Lincoln Journal Star wrote about freshman Senator Robert Hilkemann’s “death penalty journey.” He said that he was lobbied hard to change his vote, but coming to support repeal was a spiritual journey for him.
Photo credits: “Sen. Brett Lindstrom listens to debate before the Legislature’s vote Wednesday to override Gov. Pete Ricketts’ veto of a bill repealing Nebraska’s death penalty. ” – Kent Silvers/The World-Herald; “Sen. Colby Coash said the Omaha and Lincoln police departments had gone too far on compliance checks. (Photo courtesy Nebraska Legislature)” – KVNO News; “Sen. Robert Hilkemann of Omaha” – Shelly Kulhanek/Lincoln Journal Star