By Cly F. Evans
Five Spokane area death penalty abolition supporters, most involved with INDPAG and/or PJALS, loaded ourselves in a van and made their way to Olympia to participate in the February 12 Death Penalty Abolition lobby day organized by the statewide campaign Safe and Just Alternatives. Throughout the day, by my count, members of our group interacted with three Senators (Billig, Padden, and Carlyle) three Representatives (Riccelli, Crouse, and Parker), the staff of two Senators (Roach and Padden), and two Representatives (Ormsby and Shea).
Tuesday morning we met with SJA staff who explained the plan of the day, and provided us the names of those legislators and legislative staff who we were scheduled to meet with. We were then off in groups of one, two, or three to attend our appointments. We Spokane folks were pleasantly surprised to have an additional Spokane person join us. She had not been previously involved with our efforts but had talked to a couple of us after one of the Magic Lantern movie events. She was in Olympia, heard about the Lobby Day, and came to join us.
One of the most dynamic and memorable parts of the day was during a noon hour meeting where all the participants gathered to hear from bill sponsors Representative Reuven Carlyle and Senator Adam Kline. Representative Carlyle has introduced a death penalty abolition bill every session that he has served. He made profound comments explaining why it is necessary for our state to eliminate the death penalty. I wish I could quote him accurately enough to give a sense of how profound, sincere, and convincing he was. Had I not been a believer already I would have been convinced with his comments. He essentially described the fact that we as a society are constantly making moral progress and that the correct moral position that killing people is wrong is past due in being incorporated in state law.
Both he and Senator Kline encouraged us to remember that efforts such as this take time, but that the cultural shift in our state and nation is happening swiftly as evidenced by such victories as marriage equality, progress towards immigration reform, and other examples. They both assured us that even if we don’t get abolition this session we have made progress, and will have a solid toe hold when the subsequent session opens.
The positions taken by the various legislators and staff we met with was largely predictable based on information we already had on what they have previously said on this topic. There were some surprises such as the number of people that reported the death penalty has never been brought up to them, and even saying that they have never given it much thought. One republican representative told me that I was the first person since he started serving in 1995 to ever mention the issue to him. He followed that up by saying he reads the bible a lot and that it says “some people need to be stoned”. Then he acknowledged that executing an innocent person would be one of the worst things a state could do.
Other legislators appeared genuinely open to “exploring” the question but were not willing to give much of a hint as to their position at this point. Senator Billig was very positive, encouraging, and helpful, echoing the comments from Carlyle and Kline that not getting abolition this session is not failure, it just means the effort will continue and that we still have work to do.
It was an invigorating couple of days. We felt that nearly all the people we contacted genuinely appreciated we were there to talk to them, even if they didn’t necessarily agree with our position. We strongly encourage you to take advantage of such an opportunity on whatever issue you are passionate about. If you can’t go in person, call, or write your legislators. It can’t hurt and I think we were all convinced that it is very likely to have some impact. Our group maintains the faith that several of the people we have been lobbying both in Olympia and here in Spokane will ultimately support abolition.
Our thanks to the Olympia Unitarian Universalist Church for providing overnight accommodations for us all.