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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Opinion >  Syndicated columns

Smart Bombs: Death penalty slumber disrupted

Gov. Jay Inslee’s moratorium on executions has sparked a strong reaction from legislative proponents of capital punishment. The key word is “reaction,” because that’s the only action ever seen on this issue.

The political contretemps remind me of a child with a long neglected toy. All is quiet until a sibling is seen playing with it. Then, suddenly, it’s the most fiercely defended possession in the house.

Hate to break the news to death penalty advocates, but sympathetic lawmakers haven’t done much over the years to boost executions, unless you count grandstanding and press releases. The state has killed five people since the death penalty was reinstituted in 1981.


So where was the outrage before Inslee acted? Where was the concern for justice and the families of victims? Where were the political rallies? Where were the bills? Where was the clamor for change?

Is five enough?

I’ve been involved in hundreds of endorsement interviews and can’t recall a single incumbent or challenger complaining about the rust on this punishment tool. It just doesn’t come up. But now there’s a Senate bill that would make it more difficult for governors to call a timeout. There’s a game-changer. All better now?

How about legislative action that paves the way for more lethal injections? Texas executes hundreds of people. Why not shoot for that, if you believe it deters crime, upholds justice and buoys the family of victims?

Nope. No bills like that. Maybe next year. Or maybe never, as long as supporters aren’t roused again from their torpor.

Five executions. About one every six years.

And it’s not even the most heinous murderers, because multiple serial killers have averted execution. Why doesn’t this trigger action among death penalty believers? Is merely having capital punishment on the books comforting enough?

Abortion protesters rally and put pressure on lawmakers. Last week, gay rights activists swarmed the Idaho Capitol. Why don’t execution advocates become activists, instead of reactivists? Don’t they believe their own rhetoric on the benefits?

Personally, I think five executions is five too many. But apparently for proponents, it’s just right.

Safety off. News item – “The Idaho Senate has voted 25-10 in favor of legislation to allow guns on the state’s public college and university campuses, over the objections of all of its state college presidents and unanimous opposition from the state Board of Education.”

(A group of Idaho senators gather at the front door of a university president and knock)

President: “Hello. What brings you gentlemen here?”

Sen. Curt McKenzie: “We’re with the government, and we’re here to help.”

President: “Come on in! Are you here to give us money? Tuition is just killing students.”

McKenzie: “No sir. We’re here to help with campus safety.”

President: “We don’t have a safety issue. We have a funding issue.”

McKenzie: “That’s for us to decide, and we’ve decided your students are in grave danger because they can’t pack heat.”

President: “Wait, what? We testified against that! Law enforcement doesn’t support it either!”

McKenzie: “Actually, we couldn’t squeeze in police testimony. The NRA lobbyist chewed up the time.”

President (pointing to a senator patting his hip): “Does he have a concealed carry permit?”

McKenzie: “Legislators are exempt from that law. You see, we need more Second Amendment than your average citizen.”

President: “Well, we’ve never had a shooting, and I’m going to have to ask him to surrender that gun while on campus.”

McKenzie: “When my bill passes, that won’t be your call anymore.”

President: “You shouldn’t have.”

McKenzie: “You’re welcome.”

Associate Editor Gary Crooks can be reached at or (509) 459-5026. Follow him on Twitter @GaryCrooks.
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