Our View: Gov. Gavin Newsom misfires on death penalty issue | TheUnion.com

Our View: Gov. Gavin Newsom misfires on death penalty issue

The Union Editorial Board

If Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration is like a car, the cylinders aren’t firing right.

Newsom’s move this month to place a moratorium on executions in California is proof of that misfire — that he’ll act on his own despite a vote of the people.

Proclaiming he couldn’t sleep at night if executions continued in this state, Newsom gave a reprieve to 737 death row inmates. He argued the death penalty discriminates against the poor, minorities and the mentally ill. He pointed to death row inmates who have been exonerated.

The governor made strong points in favor of suspending all executions. There are significant flaws with a justice system that kills people.

Problem is — this isn’t about the death penalty. It’s about a governor who failed to obey the wishes of his constituents, opted against following the law and decided to create rules of his own.

It’s easy to focus only on the literal life-and-death issue at the core of Newsom’s decision. We’re talking about the state taking people’s lives, about opening fresh wounds for victims’ families who have waited for justice.

However, it’s Newsom’s willfulness that could affect future administrations years into the future. The next governor could reverse Newsom’s decision on executions. A precedent of ignoring the will of the voters could linger for decades.

Some 7.2 million people voted against repealing the death penalty in 2016. Last November 7.7 million people voted for Newsom.

That’s no mandate for Newsom to wield his executive power to implement his personal beliefs. Make no mistake, that’s what he did.

The LA Times reported Newsom said voters knew he opposed the death penalty. His reprieves shouldn’t surprise anyone.

They should surprise people who expect their elected leaders to obey the wishes expressed at the ballot box. They should surprise those who want a government by the people.

If Newsom were honest with himself, his reprieves should surprise even him. He’s the one who told the Modesto Bee editorial board in 2016 that he’d be accountable to the will of the voters. Newsom said he wouldn’t allow personal opinions to interfere with the public’s right to determinate if it wants the death penalty.

Look in the mirror, governor. Surprise.

Our state has proper methods of repealing the death penalty. It could be placed on the ballot, which has occurred over the years. Newsom could have pushed it through the Legislature with nothing more than political will. We can only surmise what a Democratic supermajority would have done.

Instead we have public policy ruled by personality and ego, and a precedent future governors certainly will use.

Newsom supporters, along with death penalty opponents, may celebrate the current turn of events. They should instead worry about what the next governor whose views they oppose could do in Newsom’s wake.

President Donald Trump’s border wall is a good analogy. It’s great, as long as you support it. But then the next governor or president comes along, wipes away the plans based on personality and feelings and goes in another direction.

Let’s support the law instead of relying on our feelings. We deserve leaders who respect the process, not those who say people shouldn’t be surprised when they rule by fiat.

And no one should be surprised when this clunky vehicle misfires.

Our View is the consensus opinion of The Union Editorial Board, a group of editors and writers from The Union, as well as informed community members. Contact the board at EditBoard@TheUnion.com.

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