California’s Progressive Identity Crisis

For all the progressive politics that run through the legislative veins of California, including the recent legalization of marijuana and the plastic bag ban, the possibility of a repealed death penalty in the state has surprisingly withered.

Two starkly different propositions concerning the death penalty were on the ballot this November. The first, Proposition 62, would have repealed the death penalty in the state, replacing it with life without parole. Proposition 66 was 62’s ugly cousin–a piece of legislation that sped up executions and let the state look past regulations on lethal injections.

As of now, Proposition 62 has failed with California voters, with 53 percent of the state saying yes to a continuation of the death penalty. Although votes are still being counted, it looks as if Proposition 66 will pass. Where there was success in legalizing marijuana and banning plastic bags, California voters were apparently not willing to go too overboard with their progressiveness. The results from the propositions this year reveal a state that may be losing its status as the vanguard of progressive politics, and a voter population that is more conservative than many liberals are led to believe.

Proposition 62’s failure stems from the existence of Proposition 66. The main argument against the death penalty is that it is costly. Death row prisoners are expensive, and the lengthy appeal process has cost the state billions. The state still needs to house death row prisoners, which will continue to cost more money, and there will still be a wait time on death row since prisoners are still able to make appeals. This bill only makes death row cases cheaper by condensing the appeal process from a couple of decades to a couple of years. While Proposition 66 appears to be the more economically safe choice, the legislation allows the state to look past regulations on lethal injection, even though the chemical mixture has not been verified to produce a quick and painless death. Since there was a measure on the ballot this November that promised to expedite the process to save money, those who believe the death penalty stands on moral ground felt there was also a financially-responsible method of continuing the practice.

While there is a prominent fiscal argument as to why the death penalty should stay in place in California, the state’s moral obligation to set aside funds to house prisoners remains.

The Foghorn editorial team sees the latter as a governing approach that better reflects the progressive politics California has historically triumphed.

Voters in the state must also come to terms with the fact that the political fabric of California may not be as blue as many think. Public opinion regarding the death penalty was split in the 2012 election, revealing a staunch support for more conservative values in the state that has only continued in 2016. Four years ago, 48 percent voted to repeal the death penalty. This year, it lowered to 45 percent.

Red chunks of California that were seen on the electorate maps most likely added the largest contribution to the failure of Proposition 62. Being one of the more contentious topics in a very divided election, it is certainly possible Republicans wanted to stick with their party’s leanings on the death penalty, but still voted in the legalization of marijuana.

As shown in the presidential election, progressivism has been challenged by the Republican Party, and it is time the left made a concerted effort in rallying together those who see it in the state’s best interest to repeal the death penalty. For a state which has legalized marijuana and won’t let its citizens use a plastic bag, it is about time the death penalty saw its way out.


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