When Governor Rounds stayed Elijah Page's execution last night, the news carried comments from relieved protestors, including one woman on KELO TV who said she knew that the Governor had it in him to spare Page's life. She averred that Rounds is a good man, as demonstrated by his support for the abortion ban (now Referred Law 6 on the November ballot). Others now may draw the conclusion that Rounds holds a consistent pro-life vision.
Nothing could be further from the truth. In his press conference yesterday laying out his reasons for the stay, Rounds said absolutely nothing about sparing Page's life or even sparing the convict cruel and unusual punishment. Rounds couched his decision entirely in terms of the particularities of South Dakota statute. South Dakota's death penalty law, written in 1984 (and evidently not reviewed by the governor until yesterday afternoon around 4 p.m.), specifies the use of a two-drug combination in the lethal injection chamber. Board of Corrections officials had made plans to use the 3-drug combination that apparently has become the standard in other states. The only reason Governor Rounds postponed the execution was his concern that state employees participating in the execution might have faced legal penalties afterward. He thus has stayed the execution until July 1, 2007, by which time he expects the legislature will have addressed the issue in its winter session and cleared the way for the execution to take place in a legal fashion.
As he did on the first abortion ban to come to his desk in 2005, Governor Rounds has avoided making a moral decision and instead played the bureaucrat. He has successfully delayed the execution, South Dakota's first since the 1940s, until well after the election, when he can calmly oversee the state's killing of a man without facing any awkward questions from his voters on their way to the polls about the depth and consistency of his pro-life stance. Governor Rounds has not answered anyone's prayers besides his political consultants, who know that the two-drug mix of abortion and the death penalty, while perhaps not guaranteed lethal, could cause Rounds some cruel and unusual punishment at the hands of his fellow Catholics and other riled voters in his effort to be re-elected governor.
The debate on an issue as serious as the death penalty, the state-sanctioned pre-meditated killing of individuals who have already been contained and deprived of their state-given rights, should not center on technicalities. True political leaders would engage us in a conversation about the fundamental values involved. True political leaders would face up to and either defend or resolve the apparently contradictory position of forbidding a rape victim from seeking an abortion because of our dedvotion to the sanctity of life but allowing a brutal criminal to dictate the terms of his punishment and assisting in a suicide. Governor Rounds is failing to show that leadership on this moral issue.
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