As the Grand Junction Sentinel's Charles Ashby reports:
A week ago, the votes to repeal the state’s death penalty were in place in the House Judiciary Committee.
But when Gov. John Hickenlooper mentioned a possible veto of the idea a few days later, enough legislators decided, well, maybe the votes weren’t there to repeal the death penalty.
As a result, a bill doing just that died on a 6-4 vote Tuesday, with two Democrats joining Republicans on the panel opposing it.
“I believe we should repeal the death penalty, but the governor’s comments made me realize maybe we have to step back,” said Rep. Lois Court, D-Denver, one of the two Democrats who voted against HB1264. “We’ve done a lot this session, and I’m quite confident the majority of the people are with us on the things we’ve done. On this? I’m not sure.”
AP reports, Democratic sponsors of have no uncertainty about how this went down:
“I think the governor’s statement was everything,” said Boulder Democratic Rep. Claire Levy, who sponsored the bill. “I had my votes until the governor suggested that he might not sign it.”
Lawmakers heard nine hours of testimony on the bill last week, and then delayed the vote on the proposal as the uncertainty mounted. A day after the hearings, Hickenlooper’s office said in a statement that “the governor has conflicting feelings about the death penalty. Those feelings are still unresolved.”
After Tuesday’s vote, Hickenlooper’s office said, “This is an important and difficult issue and the governor respects the decision by legislators.”
Sources close to the process tell us that Gov. John Hickenlooper's pressure to see the bill killed in committee fell primarily on Rep. Lois Court. The other Democratic "no" vote, freshman Rep. Brittany Pettersen, was considered a "yes" vote until yesterday afternoon after being pulled from the floor for a meeting with Rep. Court just before the Judiciary Committee's hearing. But there's little question on all sides that the "first floor"–in Capitol speak, the Governor's office–was directly behind these maneuverings to ensure the early death of House Bill 1264.
After the bill died, as you can read above, Gov. Hickenlooper put out a statement that he "respects the decision by legislators." Given the direct role of Hickenlooper's office in engineering that decision, though, death penalty opponents found that kind of insulting. We can't confirm it, but we're told that Hickenlooper had initially been supportive of the bill–and as has been reported, even a Republican or two were ready to support it on religious grounds, like Rep. Kevin Priola. Newspapers, civic groups, clergy, and many other interests were lined up in support. Despite Hickenlooper's comments to legislators revealing uncertainty about the bill, supporters insist they had the votes to put repeal of Colorado's death penalty on his desk until yesterday afternoon.
We assume the governor's cold feet related to the recently-concluded struggle to pass gun safety legislation, which required a large investment of political capital from Gov. Hickenlooper personally in addition to Democratic legislators. Looking at the overall progress of the session last weekend, we foresaw the possibility of this outcome. But supporters of HB-1264, and that's most of the Democratic caucus, would have preferred Hickenlooper allowed the legislative process he claims to support to have run its course instead of subverting it.
After all, that's why he has his veto pen.