Texas's record as death penalty capital: a help for Rick Perry?
Gov. Rick Perry, a top-tier GOP presidential candidate, has public opinion on his side on the death penalty. With another execution set for Thursday night in Texas, the danger may be if moderate voters perceive him to be cavalier about taking human life.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry has presided over more executions than any governor in US history, at 235 ... and counting. With convicted murderer Duane Buck scheduled to die in Texas by lethal injection Thursday night, pending last-minute appeals to the governor and the US Supreme Court, a legitimate question is whether that record on capital punishment will help or hurt Mr. Perry in his quest for the GOP presidential nomination.Skip to next paragraph
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Among conservative Republicans, Perry's status as top executioner is something to be applauded. During Monday's GOP presidential debate, audience members cheered when Perry said he has "never struggled" with any of the executions he has presided over in his 11 years in office. "In the state of Texas," he said, "if you come into our state and you kill one of our children ... you will face the ultimate justice."
It's not the number of executions, per se, that is a potential liability for his candidacy, say some analysts, but rather whether Perry's faith in the state's justice system is justified. In the Buck case, for instance, the condemned man's lawyers say irregularities during sentencing, allegedly involving racially charged testimony, warrant a reconsideration of the death sentence.
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Perry "tends to emphasize the fact of conviction and present the other questions as technicalities,” says James Henson, director of the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin. Such resolve plays well among Texans, who overwhelmingly support capital punishment. Moreover, voter concern about jobs and the economy vastly overshadows the matter of Perry’s death penalty record.
“There’s too much else going on right now,” Mr. Henson says. “In this environment, with the economy where it is, I’d be surprised if a lot of voters make a decision based on the death penalty.”
Capital punishment may matter more to moderate Republicans and independent voters in swing states. They may frame Perry’s record on executions as a character test, says Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, in Charlottesville.
“Even people who favor capital punishment want to see each execution taken very seriously, and that includes libertarians who believe the ultimate violation of liberty is taking a life.… If someone is perceived as cavalier with human life, that will be a consideration,” says Mr. Sabato.