Jay Inslee endorsed the death penalty for his entire political career.
But once the Democrat became governor and got his finger on the switch, he realized he couldn’t push it.
He recently pronounced that no death-row inmate would be executed on his watch.
“This is a hard decision given what this means to everybody in our state,” he said. “I’m at peace with it. I’m comfortable that this is the right decision.”
He did not commute the sentences of the nine inmates now on death row; he’s given them a reprieve during his time in office and a future governor still could authorize their execution.
And Inslee didn’t propose erasing the death penalty law voters tried to put in place and lawmakers eventually did 33 years ago. He’s left that task to others.
Still, will Washington ever conduct an execution again?
With its long winning streak in gubernatorial races, Democratic Party leaders are confident Inslee can capture a second term in 2016 when the death penalty will certainly be a campaign issue.
If this happens, executions would be on hold until 2020.
Any Democratic candidate looking to succeed Inslee at that point would be hard-pressed to publicly reject the approach of the party’s reigning incumbent.
Turns out one prominent Democrat who might consider running already knows he doesn’t want to do executions either.
Attorney General Bob Ferguson said he agreed with the governor’s rationale for pushing the pause button on executing death row inmates by lethal injection or hanging.
He declined to elaborate. But his opinions on the death penalty aren’t a secret.
They came into sharp focus in the 2012 campaign for attorney general when Ferguson made clear he opposed the law, but would uphold the state’s right to impose capital punishment.
He implied in a March 2012 statement to Washington State Wire it included conducting executions in some cases.
“I have long been a supporter of the men and women who risk their lives to protect our communities, and should a tragedy occur on my watch where an officer is killed in the line of duty, I will use every legal tool available under law, including capital punishment as appropriate.”
In that campaign, opponents questioned that resolve by citing comments he made to a student law journal in 1993 after he worked on a case for the Arizona Capital Representation Project. His efforts as a researcher in the appeals case for a cop-killer on death row resulted in the inmate gaining legal representation.
Ferguson told the magazine: “The reason I went to law school was to work against the death penalty. I see absolutely no justification or support for executing people. But after this experience I came away feeling almost radicalized against the death penalty.”
Fast forward, and Ferguson finds himself deeply involved in defending the state’s death penalty law.
Inslee’s decision may make it possible for Ferguson to be less so as it turns out neither one of them is interested in seeing executions proceed.
Jerry Cornfield is a political reporter who covers Olympia for The Daily Herald in Everett, which is among the Washington state newspapers in the Sound Publishing group. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.