Ricketts’ Lavish Funding Of Death Penalty Referendum Sets A Troubling Precedent

Governor Ricketts faced a difficult first legislative session in which most of his major policy priorities were simply ignored and where three high profile vetoes were overridden by bi-partisan majorities.  Ricketts was criticized by members of his own party for failing to engage the Unicameral in the early stages of the session and for hiring an inexperienced legislative liaison staff.

The Governor’s most visible and embarrassing defeat was when the Senators voted to repeal the death penalty over his veto by a 30-19 margin.  This development provided further evidence that the death penalty is on it’s way out in the U.S. and even garnered international attention.  It’s not every day that a red state legislature votes to abolish capital punishment.

The death penalty was abolished in Nebraska because it is an expensive and wasteful government program that simply doesn’t work.  The Lincoln Journal Star recent reported that the cost to prosecute a death penalty case in Kansas is more than three times as expensive to pursue as a non-capital case.  This same article also found: “Between 1973 and 2007, Nebraska taxpayers paid for 103 cases in which the prosecution sought the death penalty. Thirty-one of those cases led to a death sentence, more than half of those were reversed, and three have ended in an execution, none since 1997.”

Governor Ricketts responded to this embarrassing political defeat by heavily funding Nebraskans for the Death Penalty, which is pursuing a petition campaign to put capital punishment on the ballot next year and to restore this archaic and useless government program.  Thus far, Ricketts and his billionaire father have contributed $200,000.00 out of the $244,000.00 this group has raised to date.

The lavish funding of this death penalty ballot campaign sets a troubling precedent because we have a situation where a billionaire Governor and his super wealthy father are funding a referendum to undo an historic vote in the Unicameral – including the votes of 16 Senators from his own party.  Apparently, if Ricketts can’t get what he wants out of the legislature, he and his father will drop hundreds of thousands of dollars into this campaign (or a future campaign.)

I fully expect the Ricketts family to spend whatever takes to restore the failed capital punishment system and attempt to win a political victory for the Governor.  The television ads will be slickly produced and most likely deceptive in nature.  I fully expect to see images of the likes of Nikko Jenkins and other heinous criminals in a shameless attempt to scare Nebraskans into bringing back the death penalty.

These huge donations from the Ricketts family are also troubling because they are not for middle class tax relief, a better health care system, better roads, and a better education system.  Instead, the money is being spent to restore a failed and immoral  government program.

What we need to do as Democrats is to volunteer for campaigns and if we can afford it, make some financial contributions.   It’s not enough anymore to simply show up and vote in every election cycle.  Good government isn’t free and doesn’t come easy.  That means we need to get involved in the political process or even step up our already existing activism.