When Gov. John Hickenlooper decided to give Nathan Dunlap a temporary reprieve from his death sentence last year, many people were puzzled by the seemingly “non-decision”.
He didn’t grant clemency and turn his sentence into a life term, nor did he allow the execution to move forward. He simply delayed the decision to a later time, for seemingly someone else to decide.
For a while, it seemed that Hickenlooper meant the “someone else” involved being a future governor of Colorado.
However, whoever ends up making that decision in the future may not be another governor, per his comments in a CNN documentary about capital punishment.
In the documentary filmed several months ago, Hickenlooper says that if the Dunlap decision were to become a “political football” in his re-election bid, and he were to lose, he would still have the opportunity to grant Dunlap clemency before a would-be governor would be able to take office.
On one hand, this was a mysterious turn of events for some. If Hickenlooper didn’t want Dunlap put to death, why didn’t he simply grant clemency in the first place? Why put off a decision to someone else if you disagree with how someone may make the call?
But on the other hand, it’s possible to imagine where Hickenlooper is truly trying to go with his move on Dunlap.
I don’t think Hickenlooper issued the temporary reprieve to kick the decision to another governor. I think he is hoping that Colorado voters will come to the decision that capital punishment is not the way to handle the most heinous crimes committed in Colorado.
Otherwise, why would he have a problem with a new governor deciding to see the death sentence carried out just because the issue became political? What issues in a re-election bid aren’t treated like political footballs?
Hickenlooper’s comments tell me that he wants to give Colorado a chance to make what he now believes is the right decision, but on their own time. He wants to see a death sentence turned into a life sentence not because it’s what he thinks is the right thing to do, but because it’s what Colorado thinks is the right thing to do.
However, Colorado may not work on his timetable.
Opinions on capital punishment certainly evolve, and Colorado is known for its evolving stances on issues. But if John Hickenlooper wants to give Colorado a chance to go through the same change of thinking that he has gone through, he will need to win a new term first. Four more years may just do it, but then again, maybe not.
If everything goes his way, both being re-elected and Colorado changing its collective views on capital punishment, his 2013 “non-decision” will be hailed as being ahead of its time and a thoughtful decision.
But if four more years isn’t enough to change Colorado’s minds, or if he loses in November, he may need to follow through on granting clemency if that is truly where his conscience currently resides on this issue.
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– Dominic Dezzutti, producer of the Colorado Decides debate series, a co-production of CBS4 and Colorado Public Television, looks at the local and national political scene in his CBSDenver.com blog. Read new entries here usually every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Dezzutti writes about federal, state and local matters and how our elected leaders are handling the issues important to Colorado. Dezzutti is also the host and producer of the Emmy award winning Colorado Inside Out on Colorado Public Television.