Nascent movement makes conservative argument against NC's death penalty
Posted September 22, 2015
Raleigh, N.C. — Rep. Jon Hardister, R-Guilford, told reporters Tuesday that North Carolina should follow Nebraska's lead and abolish the death penalty in favor of life without parole.
"I see it as a very inefficient government program," Hardister said during a news conference sponsored by NC Conservatives Concerned about the Death Penalty.
Conservatives, he said, are generally pro-life and skeptical of the government's ability to operate correctly, he said, so death penalty opposition makes sense.
To help make his case, Hardister appeared with Nebraska Sen. Colby Coash, who recently helped lead that state's successful effort to abolish the death penalty. Nebraska is another state where most lawmakers are Republicans.
Coash said he was once a death penalty supporter, but he said the costs and complications of putting people to death made him skeptical of the practice.
"I found out my values and the death penalty didn't align," Coash said.
Nebraska's governor vetoed the bill, but the state's legislature overrode that veto. Some are now trying to resurrect the death penalty by referendum.
"If there was any other program that was as inefficient and as costly as the death penalty, Nebraska would have gotten rid of it a long time ago," Coash said.
At least one bill to end the death penalty has been filed in the House this year. Hardister did not sign on to House Bill 686 by Reps. Greg Meyer, D-Orange, and Mickey Michaux, D-Durham, because it had little chance of getting anywhere. Hardister said he wanted to build more support among Republicans who control both the House and the Senate before making a push.
Both House and Senate leaders favor the death penalty, and during debate on another bill that was aimed at restarting executions slowed by court orders, Meyer offered an amendment to repeal the death penalty entirely. That amendment was withdrawn before it could be heard.
"I guess there is some feeling that a vote to repeal the death penalty would not be wise," said Rep. Leo Daughtry, R-Johnston, who is a death penalty supporter.
Asked if he would support a repeal effort, Daughtry said he did not believe voters in his district would support such a move but didn't know if the state would change its mind.
North Carolina has not executed a death row inmate since Aug. 18, 2006. Since then, various state and federal court challenges have stopped executions, despite multiple pushes by lawmakers to clear those legal obstacles.
North Carolina would be better served, Hardister said, by channeling its money and attention toward helping victims and away from costly appeals.
"It's not going to happen overnight," he said, adding that people like him needed to build support at the grassroots level.
Ernie Pearson, a long-time Republican and former party official, is among the first of those grassroots supporters. Pearson, who served in the GOP administrations of Govs. Jim Martin and James Holshouser, said that in the past year or two he has concluded that putting people to death in inconsistent with his Christian faith.
"We don't have the right to take away a life and take away God's opportunity to redeem one of his children," Pearson said.