First-Floor Fingerpointing Follows Death Penalty Repeal’s Death

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.


12 Community Comments, Facebook Comments

  1. GalapagoLarry says:

    Does this finally put to bed the old "wisdom" that Colorado has a weak governership? Traditionally it's been said that the Denver mayor held the strongest position in the state. I can't imagine that similar sabotage by Hancock would have sent Democrats to cringing in their districts.

    It's unfortunate that Hickenlooper didn't have the courage–and respect–to let the legislative process proceed. Is this how he shows "leadership"? Were he to have waited for his chance to veto this piece of Democratic legislation, he would have had to blow his cover as a closet Republican, risking embarrassment and a whole slew of legislative battles in the future. Frankly, I'm dismayed. Again.

    • BlueCat says:

      Especially since he never said he so much opposed ending the death penalty as he wasn't sure we were quite there yet. Well the Dem majority state legislature that the voters of Colorado elected were there so that argument seems pretty lame.

      Republican Governors in states with Republican majority legislatures don't seem to have any problem passing whatever legislation their legislatures come up with, no matter how out there, even if it's highly likely to be reversed by the courts as unconstitutional.

      We don't need to mimic that kind of bullying extremism and the death penalty is something on which reasonable people disagree but Colorado Dems shouldn't have to fight their own Dem (sort of) Governor on something like this which is certainly not an extremist or fringe position. Certainly not for the weak reason Hick offers.

      • GalapagoLarry says:

        "Republican Governors in states with Republican majority legislatures…" advance their agendas. Dems don't seem to get this. In legislative politics, you strike while the iron's hot. That's what they're elected to do. Let the future battles take care of themselves. Hick is an unnecessary obstruction to many progressive goals, plain and simple.

        (However, judicially I'm sort of with Ruth Ginsberg on this, at least in her latest thinking.The courts shouldn't be too far out in front of issues. I don't know if that's the problem with Roe v. Wade, but I hate it that all these years after, we're refighting a war that should have been already selttled.)

        • BlueCat says:

          Well, Unlike Roe v Wade,  the death penalty isn't being presented here as federal level constitutional issue. Some states already ban it so it isn't an extreme or too far ahead of its time position nor is it the same situation as dragging all the states into something like having to accept abortion. 

          We elected a Dem legislature and Dem legislators say they have the votes to pass it and want to pass it.  They shouldn't be thwarted by their own Dem Gov. 

          If majorities of voters really hate what the legislature passes we have  the means available to change it.

  2. Gilpin Guy says:

    Good for Claire to sponsor this legislation.

    If you add the driving while intoxicated on marijuana law that went down last year coupled with the demise the guns on campus ban and the defeat of the death penalty repeal you might think the Levy is on a losing streak but she has stood up for issues that she thinks are important and as at least brought them out in the open.  And she is probably going to be the chair of the JBC next year so she still has some legislative objectives to achieve.

  3. Craig says:

    So, just do what should have been done all along.  Put the repeal on the ballot and let's see what the voters decide.  It was adopted by the voters in the first place and should be repealed by the voters.  While the right is split on this (some favoring, some opposing on religious grounds, some opposing on cost grounds) the left is united in oposition.  My guess, the death penalty is repealed and the Dems don't have to take any heat.

    • GalapagoLarry says:

      I hope that's the next step, although I'm not as optimistic about the outcome as you are. This issue will attract a lot of outside money and, because of it, a lot of misinformation, distracting imagery and demagoguery. I have confidence in an informed electorate, but not in a misinformed electorate.

  4. ajb says:

    Just a few short years ago, the Dem legislature passed a bill (I don't recall exactly what) and Ritter vetoed it. Ritter then caught all sorts of heat for wasting everybody's time, especially from Pols. It's pretty clear that Hick would likely have vetoed the bill. I don't agree with that position, but at least he cut it off before it consumed any more time. 

    And remember, it's the Republicans that pass meaningless DOA bills to send a message. Dems, on the other hand, get shit done. At least that's the meme we've been succcessfully telling voters for the past few election cycles.

    • JeffcoBlue says:

      It's a decent point about good communication, I recall the Guvs making it as you say. In this case, I think Hick indicated was wavering, not that he was definitely against the bill. Maybe the debate would have convinced him, as it did with some of the gun safety bills? I dunno. It depends on how short circuited the process felt to legislators.

      At the end of the session, we'll still have more to celebrate than not. 

      • Davie says:

        My take is that, as with the diary Pols posted a few days ago on the matter of overreach, Hick was asking himself that same question.

        And so, besides pretty good communication between the lege and the Gov so that not a lot of time was wasted only to have further buised feelings and a likely veto, there might have been a little consideration given to Rep. Fields' unique place on the matter.

    • rexxcrowbar says:

      Good point. Ritter was attacked for vetoing legislation that he did not publicly oppose beforehand.  I am glad he expressed his intent in advance.  

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