Murdered police officers and murdered children are a tough backdrop in which to argue against the death penalty.
But a return to it, after former Gov. Bill Richardson successfully oversaw its abolishment, would be a step in the wrong direction for New Mexico. It was in 2009 when the state added its name to a progressive national movement. Richardson signed legislation to repeal the death penalty and replace it with life in prison without parole. It was the right move then, and it still is seven years later.
But Gov. Susana Martinez wants to reinstate it, and she’s looking to next year’s legislative session to do it. Details haven’t been drafted, but it appears her proposal might only apply to child killers and those who murder law enforcement.
New Mexico residents, at least at first glance, seem to be in favor of Martinez’s move.
An online poll by The Taos News (still active at taosnews.com) shows a majority of respondents in support of the death penalty’s return. A fair amount think it’s the wrong move. Some are undecided. The New Mexico Political Report released results of a commissioned poll this week showing similar results — 59 percent support it, 34 percent support current penalties of life in prison and restitution for families and 8 percent are undecided.
Some of the pro-sentiment is likely because of the death of Hatch Police Officer Jose Chavez, 33, who was shot during a traffic stop and died Aug. 12. Some of the support for its return is likely due to the kidnapping and death of Ashlynne Mike, 11, in Shiprock, who was murdered last spring. Both of those cases have been cited by Martinez.
But here’s the political rub and the reason there are skeptics and cynics.
The Martinez administration has often been described as acerbic and harsh. Harsh in its dealings with New Mexico teachers. One that’s had a caustic relationship with the media. It’s been an administration that spins and downplays pressing issues the state is facing. Issues like the current budget shortfall, teacher pay, dismal child well-being rankings, the reduction in behavioral health options and high crime rates and police brutality issues — especially in the state’s most populous city, Albuquerque. She’s never been a fan of Richardson and his actions as governor, either.
It’s part of the reason why the move feels more like a distraction than an issue that should land on the forefront of the ever-important 60-day session.
Martinez is a former prosecutor. These issues are familiar territory. She’s worked with law enforcement for much of her career and has successfully prosecuted scores who committed crimes against children. But even in the face of recent horrific murders, the governor and her administration must prioritize by tackling job growth, the economy, crime and education.
New Mexico should stay in the company of 19 other states with no death penalty laws and a continuing national movement that includes four other states that have abolished capital punishment. Reinstating it would be a step backwards for an already-struggling New Mexico.