When citizens in Ozaukee County go to the polls this November, we will be confronted with three issues of historic importance. We will be asked whether Wisconsin should install and use the death chamber here. We will also be asked to cast an up or down vote on a proposed Amendment to our state Constitution that would prohibit granting basic rights to civil unions other than government-approved marriages. And we will be asked to decide, by a non-binding referendum, whether we support America waging war “throughout the world … until … terrorism is eliminated and citizens of all countries can be assured of their safety… ”.
Two of these questions are put before us by majority vote of our current state legislators. One of those two (the death penalty question) asks us to turn our backs on the trail blazing decision made by Wisconsin pioneers a century and a half ago that has since been adopted by almost all nations of the world. The other one is a proposed constitutional amendment that, if passed, will be the only amendment ever to curtail basic civil rights of certain citizens and families. The third question asks Ozaukee County voters to condone perpetual pre-emptive world war to try to eliminate an idea as old as history, and to assure the safety of everybody in the world.
However they got on the ballot, for better or worse, these questions will be before us when we exercise our hard won, precious right to vote. So let’s think carefully about the questions posed, the actual words, and their meaning, before making our mark. If we fail to do so, we disrespect the meaning of citizenship in a democracy.
Now let’s take a look at the effort to bring the death chamber to Wisconsin.
Does it matter not one bit to you that all sound evidence conclusively shows that the death penalty is not a deterrent to capital crime? Do you find it irrelevant that the only other governments that still kill people in punishment of crime are governments that we Americans roundly condemn as barbaric, feudal, and undemocratic?
Do you dismiss without qualm the fact that the death penalty in America is imposed ONLY on those unable to pay for competent legal defense? Are you undeterred in your blood lust by the ugly reality that in America, the (perceived) race of the victim of a capital crime is a primary determinant in whether a sentence of death is exacted?
Are you filled with contempt for the Republican Governor who, faced with the exposure of a growing number of officially covered-up false convictions of totally innocent people for serious, even capital crimes, declared a recent moratorium on the death penalty in Illinois?
Are you pleased to proclaim that our honored pioneer predecessors who founded the great, progressive, freedom loving state of Wisconsin, were dead wrong when they bravely blazed the trail for the world to an enlightened future, and voted, in 1853, shortly after Wisconsin became a state, to abolish capital punishment?
Does your vaunted sense of fiscal responsibility raise not a peep of objection to imposing the death penalty in the face of how much hard-earned taxpayers’ money has been saved over the years by the foresight of our ancestors in abolishing state executions?
Would you gladly pull the trigger, trip the door, close the switch, inject the poison, without flinching? Are you tough enough to calmly accept the inevitable occasional innocent man, woman, or even child or retarded person being put to death by the state, as an unavoidable collateral cost of state-dispensed “no-nonsense” lethal punishment?
If you can answer yes to all those questions, I guess you’d be in favor of flipping the calendar way back (over 150 years!), disdaining Wisconsin’s proud pioneer tradition, and putting this state in the business of killing people. Of course (considering your ideology) you’d probably promote the modern entrepreneurial option and recommend privatizing executions in the interest of “efficiency” and “eliminating waste and government bureaucracy”. Why not? Don’t you want to privatize everything else?
I march to a different drummer. I feel more like my ancestors, who fled the repression that overtook Europe in the mid 19th century. European peasants were very familiar with the hated, deeply unfair death penalty. Brave Wisconsin pioneers condemned and (acting together) repeatedly disobeyed the evil Fugitive Slave Act, ratified the 15th Amendment (guaranteeing the right to vote regardless of color) within a week of it’s proposal, abolished capital punishment, and were the first to ratify women’s suffrage.
Canada abolished the death penalty in 1975, and by 2003, the murder rate in Canada had decreased 44 percent from the rate the year before it was abolished. Wisconsin showed the way 153 years ago, and by 2005, 60 percent of all the nations of the world had either abolished the death penalty or not used it for at least ten years. The ONLY (so-called) fully developed and democratic countries in the entire world, which retain the death penalty, are Japan, South Korea, and … the United States. The murder rate in the U.S. in 2005 was 5.6 per 100,000 people. The murder rate in Wisconsin in 2005 was 3.5 per 100,000 people. The region of the United States that has the highest murder rate has 80% of the executions. The region of the country with the lowest murder rate performs 1% of the executions.
Instead of trying to reverse and disrespect Wisconsin’s proud history and world leadership, why didn’t the legislature put a question on the ballot about the refusal of our state legislature to pass meaningful campaign finance reform and the badly needed ethics and elections reform bill (SB-1) last session? SB-1 passed the state Senate 28 to 5, and then the majority party caucus blocked it from even receiving an up-or-down vote on the floor of the Assembly, where it would have passed, and then been signed into law.
Why is there no referendum question about the failure of our legislature to even consider, much less come to grips with, the worsening health care crisis and it’s impact on Wisconsin’s families and businesses?
Think, and then vote NO, NO, and NO on the NOvember ballot questions.
Let’s see how the 21st Century Spirit of Wisconsin shapes up this November.
(updated) October, 2006