Governor John Kitzhaber

Last week, Oregon’s governor, John Kitzhaber, took a stance for life. He refused to sign the death warrant for Gary Haugin and then he went further. He said no to any more executions on his watch. He’d allowed two executions to proceed in his earlier terms as governor, but as he said:

“I have regretted those choices ever since both because of my own deep personal convictions about capital punishment and also because in practice, Oregon has an expensive and unworkable system that fails to meet basic standards of justice. I am convinced we can find a better solution that keeps society safe, supports the victims of crime and their families and reflects Oregon values. I refuse to be a part of this compromised and inequitable system any longer; and I will not allow further executions while I am Governor.”

I was in Oregon just before Governor Kitzhaber made this decision. I spoke at the City Club of Portland, with legislators and staffers among the audience, including Chip Shields, a strong opponent to the death penalty. I was told before my address, broadcast by radio across the state, that the governor was listening.

In my talk I distilled the main arguments about why Oregon isn’t really a killer state; after all, the only executions over the past 15 yrs have been consensual. The millions spent on the machinery of death should instead be used on at-risk kids, health care, education, life programs.

Kudos go to the state coalition, who have been working steadily for 15 years, and who fashioned the exit strategy of a moratorium, which this principled governor embraced in his own way. Although Governor Kitzhaber did not commute any death sentences, he has invited the people of Oregon to reconsider their state’s death penalty and he has insured that no-one will be executed during the rest of his tenure.

Finally, finally, educating the people, changing consciousness and moral will bears fruit. All of it at the heart of the Gospel of Jesus, as I experience it - and, of course, human rights.

Here is an excerpt from my talk at the City Club of Portland, where I talk about Oregon as the best place to start to end the death penalty.


If you’d like to listen to the whole speech, here it is: