First, kudos to Maddow's recognition — which escaped many lesser journalists — that the first red state in 42 years to abolish the death penalty was a significant story. It certainly was.
What she missed in her occasional, mild condescension was why. (Clearly Maddow doesn't understand Nebraska much, or she wouldn't have feigned annoyance at the Unicameral's presiding officer calling time on Ernie Chambers — Ernie "loquacious" Chambers — as is done with equanimity to every senator.)
But back to what Maddow was unable to explain to her viewers: the very conservative reasons many senators had for voting to abolish the death penalty in the Cornhusker State and the fact that conservative does not necessarily mean bloodthirsty.
Here's how Slate's Beth Ethier perceptively explained it:
Nebraska's use of the death penalty is relatively rare, with no executions carried out in the past 18 years and only 22 since 1901. Eleven inmates are on Nebraska's death row today, including one who has been there for 35 years.As the very conservative state senator from Crete, Laura "Extinction" Ebke put it:
Given Nebraska's red-state reputation, the overwhelming legislative support for repealing the death penalty might seem shocking at first glance, but objections from the state's right-leaning legislators to capital punishment reflect many bedrock conservative principles: The AP notes that some of the driving forces behind the push to end executions in Nebraska are "conservatives who oppose the death penalty for religious reasons, cast it as a waste of taxpayer money and question whether government can be trusted to manage it."
“If government can’t be trusted to manage our health care … then why should it be trusted to carry out the irrevocable sentence of death?”Another comment from Ebke might illuminate more clearly for Rachel Maddow how conservatives in Nebraska could oppose the death penalty without exploding:
"The faith that informed my personal views on the question of abortion, which says that life is endowed by God, couldn't be reconciled in my mind with capital punishment when other means of punishment were available. Friends, we don't live as nomads. We are settled. And with that settlement comes a means of locking people away who are a danger to society."Sen. Colby Coash, whom this blog has justifiably savaged for raising campaign funds by using Ted Nugent as bait, was instrumental and persuasive in marshaling support among conservatives, as the following honest, affecting and admirable confession poignantly illustrates:
"There was a side there that thought it was a party, and they had a barbecue, and they had a countdown like it was New Year's Eve," Coash said, according to a legislative transcript. "They had a band. Can you imagine that, colleagues? A band at an execution. And on the other side of the parking lot were people who were quietly praying, trying to be a witness to life, trying to understand how their government could end a life. And I was on the wrong side of that debate that night, and I never forgot it. ... The death penalty is not justice, it is revenge."Then there was Bob Krist, well aware that raw-meat fellow Republicans would trash him for voting to help kill the death penalty but bravely unrepentant anyway:
"I am Republican enough. I am conservative enough. And I am strong enough to follow through with my life convictions, which is life from conception to natural death. Thank you for listening."Krist was prescient. Nebraska's popular
“I am Republican enough. I am conservative enough.”Finally, what Nebraskans, liberal and conservative, know and what Maddow evidently doesn't, are the three recent law enforcement/prosecutorial scandals that weigh heavily on the trust implicit in the death penalty process. A post on a gun aficionado website in Nebraska had the following to say (Yes, Rachel, even some of those 2nd Amendment crazies are not only leery of capital punishment, but articulate in their suspicion! Shocking, ain't it?):
Enough for whom?
For your own conscience?
Or how about for those that elected you?
Agreed. I have no problem with the death penalty as long as it is absolutely certain that the accused person really is the perpetrator. I have more confidence in the judgment of a terrified homeowner, with a phone to 911 in one hand and a gun in the other, than I do in the competence and integrity of the judicial system to investigate a capital crime and find the actual perpetrator. We have three examples of such injustices here in Nebraska.
There are the six from Beatrice who were convicted of a murder someone else committed. It's a good thing they weren't executed. At least, they can be compensated for their ordeal. A million or more each, so that they can live out the rest of their ruined lives in comfort and security, would not, in my opinion, be excessive.
The second example is the two guys, one of limited intelligence, who were wrongfully accused of the Stock murders in Murdock. Even after the real murderers were found (two kids from out of state), the deputy sheriff and state patrolman investigating the murders wouldn't let go of their theory that their first two suspects were guilty. It looks like the two guys will make out like bandits. Good for them.
Finally, there is former CSI David Kofoed who was convicted of planting evidence. He was caught only because he escalated to whoppers (undegraded DNA from a sample that had sat a the bottom of a dumpster for six months) that were beyond belief. The blood sample he "found" in one of the original Stock murder suspect's car encouraged the investigators to continue pressuring those suspects. CSIs in other jurisdictions have been convicted of planting evidence.