Gary Haugen: Op-ed piece by Jeff Ellis, OADP Board member and Director of the Oregon Capital Resource Center
On November 22, 2011, when Governor John Kitzhaber declared a moratorium on executions, he was acting on behalf of all Oregonians by calling a ‘time out’ so that we can have a long overdue conversation about whether we want to replace the death penalty. Governor Kitzhaber was right. It has been nearly 50 years since we have executed someone in Oregon against his will. In that time, we have spent countless millions of dollars on a system riddled with error. Governor Kitzhaber gave us an opportunity to decide whether we want to replace that obviously broken system with a different one before we again use the power of the State to take a human life in our names.
Governor Kitzhaber’s actions were entirely consistent with a democratic form of government where the people ultimately decide. Governor Kitzhaber was not using his broad clemency powers for the narrow purpose of offering a singular reprieve to Gary Haugen. The moratorium was for all of us.
Clemency is not a private contract between our Governor and an inmate, where each inmate has unilateral control. Judge Alexander erred when he ruled that Mr. Haugen must accept the reprieve for it to be effective. The judge’s ruling distorts the constitutional right to clemency that our Governor possesses. If a reprieve must be accepted, then Oregonians could be forced to execute someone even where the Governor’s actions were undeniably legal and overwhelmingly supported by Oregonians. If a reprieve must be accepted, then the public good takes a back seat to the express wish of a death row inmate—even the express wish of someone suffering from severe mental impairments.
Judge Alexander’s ruling diminishes the clemency power in Oregon by concluding that Governor Kitzhaber could not act in our interest. We look forward to the appeal and the Oregon Supreme Court’s decision.