George Boardman: Newsom’s death penalty ban ignores will of the people who elected him | TheUnion.com

George Boardman: Newsom’s death penalty ban ignores will of the people who elected him

George Boardman
Columnist

Gov. Gavin Newsom ignored the will of the people who put him in office when he announced a moratorium on the death penalty, granting a reprieve to 737 people currently awaiting execution.

The reprieve, which will last only as long as Newsom’s in office, was issued despite candidate Newsom’s assurances that he would uphold the law, and despite voters backing the ultimate penalty on three separate occasions.

The will of the people doesn’t matter anymore, when the people in power don’t like their decisions.

When the California Supreme Court overturned the death penalty in 1972 — that’s why the likes of Charles Manson and Juan Corona ended up dying in prison — the state’s voters reinstated the penalty in 1978. Two ballot initiatives to ban the penalty were rejected by voters in 2012 and 2016, the same year they voted to speed up executions.

The will of the people doesn’t matter anymore, when the people in power don’t like their decisions.

The intent of voters is very clear: They want the death penalty on the books and they want it implemented.

When he was a candidate for governor, a spokesman for Newsom said that while he opposed the death penalty, he “recognizes that California voters have spoken on the issue and, if elected governor, he’d respect the will of the electorate by following and implementing the law.”

But he apparently had a change of heart after taking office, particularly when he realized the ban on executions over the state’s single-drug execution procedure was about to end, and that 25 people given the death penalty have exhausted their appeals and are ready to have their execution dates set.

“I’ve had to process this in a way that I frankly didn’t anticipate a few months ago,” Newsom said when announcing the moratorium. “It was an abstract question. (It became) a very real question. I cannot sign off on executing hundreds and hundreds of human beings.”

This should have occurred to Newsom before he ever decided to run for office, assuming it’s an issue he gave much thought. I also oppose the death penalty for many of the same reasons mentioned by the governor, but the people of California have spoken clearly and unambiguously on the subject, and I have to live with their decision.

So should Newsom, particularly after he swore to uphold the laws of the state of California.

“The decision of whether we have the death penalty or not is one the people have made over and over again through the initiative process,” said Kent Scheidegger, legal director of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation. “It is improper for an executive to use the reprieve power to frustrate the people’s position.”

Newsom’s decision is just one recent example of the willingness of elected officials to ignore the will of the people. There’s already talk of placing another death penalty initiative on the 2020 ballot, and several bills have been introduced in the state Legislature to institute rent control, another initiative that was rejected in 2018. It makes you wonder why we bother to have elections.

Bad precedent

A congressional committee is mucking around in the affairs of Fox News in a manner that should concern every defender of free and independent news media. But because it’s Fox News, none of the usual suspects have yet to protest this threat to our First Amendment rights.

The probe stems from a New Yorker magazine report that Fox News killed a story on Donald Trump’s payment of hush money to stripper Stormy Daniels before the 2016 election because 21st Century Fox Chairman Rupert Murdoch wanted Trump to win the election. (The story was first reported by other media in 2017.)

That prompted the House Oversight Committee to ask Fox to turn over any information it had about Trump’s “debts and payments to silence women alleging extramarital affairs with him prior to the 2016 presidential election.” The committee also wants information about any “action taken against” reporter Diana Falzone in “connection with attempts to report such stories,” and has asked Falzone to turn over her notes by March 28.

Falzone worked on the story in question and was subsequently fired by Fox. She sued alleging gender and disability discrimination, and the case was settled out of court. Her attorney, Nancy Erika Smith, said Falzone is willing to ignore the nondisclosure agreement she signed and testify before the committee.

This is “about obstructing justice and a news organization that has become an arm of a campaign,” Smith said. “Real journalists don’t kill stories because of political preferences and certainly not two weeks before presidential elections.”

I hate to break the news to Ms. Smith, but there’s nothing unique about what Fox allegedly did. A lot of stories never see the light of day because they fall apart under close scrutiny, and some stories are even “spiked” because they would upset a major advertiser or a good friend of the owner. It happened to me many years ago, and my experience wasn’t unique.

But regardless of why Fox killed the story, no arm of the government should be poking around the inner workings of a news organization, or second-guessing in congressional hearings the editorial judgment of decision makers. News organizations have a First Amendment right to publish — or not publish — what they please, and they can spike a story for any reason they choose. That’s part of freedom of the press.

I get it. This involves Fox News and Trump, but even people who would like to see both disappear are playing with fire if they countenance this government intrusion into the affairs of a news organization. It’s a dangerous precedent that can lead to more aggressive oversight in the future that can threaten the independence of media.

If you don’t believe me, just look at the press in countries where editors and news directors have to worry about how the government will react to any story they publish or broadcast.

George Boardman lives at Lake of the Pines. His column is published Mondays by The Union. Write to him at ag101board@aol.com.


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