Kansas Federation of College Republicans adopts resolution opposing death penalty
Topeka ? The Kansas Federation of College Republicans recently voted unanimously to adopt a resolution calling for repeal of the state’s death penalty law, a sign that capital punishment may be on its last legs in the state.
“More young conservatives like myself recognize that our broken and fallible system of capital punishment in no way matches up with our conservative values,” Dalton Glasscock, a Wichita State University student and chairman of the federation, said in a news release Thursday.
“By ending the death penalty, Kansas has an opportunity to promote a culture of life and fiscal responsibility. As Republicans — whether young or old — this is a smart reform that we should support,” he said.
The vote was significant because the law has remained on the books largely because of support from older conservative Republicans in the Legislature.
Eric Pahls, president of the Kansas University College Republicans, said he thinks there is a generational shift occurring among young Republicans who see a conflict between supporting the death penalty and calling one’s self “pro-life.”
“I think if, as Republicans, we call ourselves pro-life, that is from birth through natural death, not from birth until we decide your life is less important or less valuable,” Pahls said.
In recent years the death penalty has become more of a divisive issue, even within GOP ranks, largely because of the cost of death penalty trials, and the fact that in the 23 years since Kansas reinstated the death penalty, no condemned prisoners have yet been put to death.
Last year, the Kansas Republican Party removed a statement supporting the death penalty from its official platform, but it has not adopted an alternative statement calling for its repeal.
But support for the law has always been thin in the Kansas Legislature.
When Democrat John Carlin was governor from 1979 to 1987, he vetoed at least three death penalty bills sent to him by the Republican-controlled Legislature.
But when Republican Mike Hayden, a death penalty supporter, succeeded him in office, no death penalty bill reached his desk because many of the same legislators who voted for it when Carlin was governor switched positions and voted no once they knew the governor would sign it.
Hayden was succeeded by Democrat Joan Finney, whose position on the death penalty was never clear. She had said she would allow a death penalty bill to become law without her signature if lawmakers could pass a bill.
That finally happened in 1992, her last year in office. The votes were 67-58 in the House and 22-18 in the Senate.
Since then, bills have been introduced in several legislative sessions to repeal the law, but none has ever passed with a majority in either chamber.
Meanwhile, the Kansas Supreme Court has overturned all but one death sentence that it has reviewed. The only death penalty case it upheld was in 2014 in a case involving a man, William Hollister, who had already died in prison of natural causes while his appeal was pending.
During the 2015 session, more Republicans began voicing support for a repeal. But Democrats offered little support, mainly because the main lobby group supporting it, the Kansas Coalition Against the Death Penalty, hired Gov. Sam Brownback’s former chief of staff, David Kensinger, as its lobbyist.
Kensinger also runs a political consulting firm that had actively campaigned to defeat Democratic legislators.
Other Republicans have said they are seeing a shift in opinion among GOP voters.
“Recently, I’ve seen more Republicans reconsider their views on the death penalty and come to oppose it,” said Edward O’Brien of Tonganoxie, the state party’s Second District vice chairman. “I’m encouraged to see young people, committed to protecting life, leading the GOP in the right direction on this issue.”
The last execution in Kansas took place in 1965: Convicted murderers George York and James Latham were hanged on June 22 at Lansing Correctional Facility.