Fonticulus Fides

Friday, March 05, 2004

Political Ick…

Well, Nebraska’s stance on the death penalty is in the news again. We happen to be the only remaining state to use an electric chair exclusively to put convicted murderers to death. A few other states have electric chairs, but also things like lethal injection.

Our legislature is looking into adding other options, because at any moment, the Supreme Court could declare electric chairs "cruel and unusual punishment" which would leave us without any means of killing our murderers at all. There’s a bill on the table, I guess.

Nebraska’s legislature works differently than other states. We have a unicameral or single-house system. That means that a bill only need be ratified once, rather than approved by both a House of Representatives and a Senate, such as at the federal level. This cuts down on gridlock. Also, our unicameral senators do not have party affiliations. Every one of them is an independent, which actually cuts down on gridlock, too. And finally, our legislature only meets for 60 working days on the even years (like this one) and 90 working days on the odd years.

All this makes for efficiency and helps Nebraska run on a shoestring budget. It also makes fertile ground for our freak of a senator, Ernie Chambers.

Ernie would not mind me calling him a freak. He wants to be a freak. He is non-conformist to the max. He wears sweats to legislative sessions. He makes outlandish statements to get press coverage. Since I’ve been in office, the man has not sponsored one functional bill, nor leant himself to any cause other than utterly ridiculous ones. I mean, he equates college football with slavery and has actually tried to get the state government to recognize that the "white elitists" are "enslaving young black men" for the sake of entertainment. Last year, he introduced three bills about rights for pets in honor of his recently deceased kitty and gave long, tearful speeches about poor Mollie or Maggie or whatever her name was.

I have a sneaking suspicion that back in the 60s, Ernie went to a showing of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington while he was high. Because he seems to think that the best thing he can do is stage a filibuster. He does it all the time. And I mean all the time. He doesn’t appear to be capable of anything constructive, so he just brings the legislature to a grinding halt.

Ernie has promised to do this again on the death penalty issue. He knows that most folks in Nebraska want the death penalty, so there’s no point in trying to get it voted away. So his goal is to block any legislation that would bring an alternative to the electric chair. Then the U.S. will declare the electric chair unlawful and bingo, no more death penalty in Nebraska.

I gotta tell you, this is one time that I hope Ernie succeeds.

I hear people on the local radio talk shows discussing why we need lethal injection as though it doesn’t involve the death of a fellow human being. Somehow, they all manage to keep that fact at arm’s length. They discuss it calmly and rationally, as though they were talking about butchering cattle or combating a virus.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not on the murderer’s side here. I just don’t think that folks should calmly try to shove other people prematurely into hell. Which is pretty much what the death penalty is, to hear folks talk about it. "Give him what he deserves…" and all that.

It’s vengeance.

It’s trying to play God.

Okay, so there are some people who are genuinely more concerned about safeguarding the rest of society, rather than vengeance. And yeah, that’s a real concern when you’ve got somebody who has chronic murderous tendencies.

But you mean to tell me that there is absolutely no way to keep such a person in prison, what with our modern surveillance devices, etc.? It’s not like these convicts have superhuman powers that enable them to become invisible or turn themselves into goo and escape by dripping down the pipes. Seriously, if all folks want is to keep the rest of us safe, I think you can accomplish that without the death penalty.

When you kill somebody – even if that somebody is a murderer – you deny God the ability to lead that person to holiness in this life. I don’t think that we, as a society, should do that.

I don’t have any other solution, other than prison. And I know that prison is an expensive undertaking for each citizen.

A long time ago, somebody told me that the Mexican prison system was such that each prison got the minimum of housing, clothing, food and toiletries, and if a prisoner wanted more than that, it was up to his/her family, friends or lawyer to provide it.

I don’t know if that’s still true (or ever was true) or not, but it is an intriguing thought. What if society gave the prisoner a cell, a mattress, two sets of clothing, some basic toiletries and three small meals a day, and that was it? If the prisoner wanted more than that, it must be paid for by the prisoner or family or whomever, but the taxpayers wouldn’t be burdened by it.

Well, anyway. I’m no expert in criminal justice. And just like most Nebraskans, I’m capable of not thinking too much about capital punishment. But when I do, I find it appalling that people can blithely discuss the best way to kill a fellow human being, as if they were discussing slaughtering cattle or weeding a garden. I hear people talk about putting sick animals down with more compassion than they refer to the death penalty.

So I hope Ernie’s up for a nice long speech and gets his way this time. And I suspect our Governor Mike Johanns – who is a pro-life Catholic but belongs to the pro-death penalty Republican party – might just be silently cheering Ernie on, too.



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