As the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) approaches, it is important to be reminded of what conservatism really is. More than anything, it is about commonsense pragmatism and an uncompromising adherence to our core principles, including valuing life and promoting fiscal responsibility and limited government. Increasingly, capital punishment has been viewed through these principles since Conservatives Concerned about the Death Penalty launched at CPAC in 2013. Since then, it’s been remarkable to observe how the death penalty conversation has shifted.
Last year, the State of Nebraska’s unicameral legislature repealed its death penalty, and Republicans proudly led the charge. When Republican Senator Colby Coash was asked why he supported repealing Nebraska’s death penalty, he explained, “People sent me [to the legislature] to find and root out government waste,” and capital punishment certainly fits the bill. It is a program marred by dysfunction. It risks innocent lives, costs far more than life without the chance of release, fails to deter crime, and can harm murder victims’ families by prolonging the legal process. Given these facts, it’s no surprise why the Cornhusker State’s legislature realized that Nebraska was better off without the death penalty.
Nebraska’s repeal wasn’t the only capital punishment domino to fall. 2015 was also a landmark year for America’s declining death penalty in other ways. Executions, death sentences, and support for capital punishment all reached or neared historic lows. In a stunning reversal, Texas, which was once a hotbed of executions, only sentenced three peopleto death in 2015. These trends illustrate how capital punishment is slowly going out of business. States are learning that capital punishment is just too costly and dangerous to administer. However, while the death penalty steeply declined in 2015, its risks remained apparent. It was discovered that six individuals were wrongly sentenced to die, and each of them spent an average of 19 years on death row before their names were cleared.
Regardless of the death penalty’s gradual descent into disuse at a national level, some states are still actively sentencing and executing individuals, but conservatives aren’t standing by idly. Local conservative groups working to end the death penalty have formed in numerous states, including Kentucky, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Washington, with other groups forming. The past few years have also been marked by a growing number of Republican legislators introducing or co-sponsoring repeal legislation in Kansas, Kentucky, Nebraska, Ohio, South Dakota, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming.
If this wasn’t enough proof that the landscape has changed, Americans need only to listen to what many conservative icons are saying about the death penalty. Colonel Oliver North, Jay Sekulow, Dr. Ron Paul, Richard Viguerie, and many others have all been outspoken advocates of repealing the death penalty. They’ve determined that capital punishment just isn’t’ worth the trouble, and they simply cannot trust the government with the death penalty.
As Conservatives Concerned about the Death Penalty returns to CPAC for the fourth year in a row, it does so not as an outlier within the conservative movement. More and more conservatives are questioning whether it really makes sense to give a fallible government the power that comes with the death penalty. This growing conservative opposition suggests that this broken government program may not last much longer.
Marc Hyden is the National Advocacy Coordinator with Conservatives Concerned about the Death Penalty.. He previously worked for the National Rifle Association (NRA) as a Campaign Field Representative in the State of Florida.