Guest opinion: Montana should follow Nebraska in repeal of death penalty

This Opinion Editorial originally appeared in the Billings Gazette on June 4th, 2015

Roy Brown

Former State Senator Roy Brown, R-Billings

As one of the founders of the very first Conservatives Concerned about the Death Penalty group in Montana, I am thrilled to see that Nebraska has successfully ended the death penalty in favor of life without parole.

It was no easy feat since the unicameral legislature had to vote three times on the bill, plus take multiple votes to stave off attempts at filibuster. The final vote was to override the governor’s veto. Clearly, these senators have thought through their positions on this issue, and they feel strongly that the death penalty has no place in the state of Nebraska.

My own beliefs about the death penalty have gone through a transition over the years. I grew up supporting the death penalty, but my beliefs changed as I learned about the many problems with capital punishment. As a Catholic, I believe that all life is sacred from conception to natural death. Some would say that the difference between abortion and the death penalty is that the baby is innocent and the convicted criminal is not. But I realized that it’s not that simple. In doing research one day, I came across a man named Roy Brown, a man with my same name, who was convicted for murder and later exonerated because he was innocent. I quickly realized that we do get it wrong – that it’s not always the guilty who are convicted and sentenced for the crime.

This is just one of the many problems with the death penalty. As a fiscal conservative, there is no way that I can support a government-run system that wastes millions of dollars when a sentence of life without parole is significantly less expensive. The death penalty is most certainly not an example of limited government. We’re giving the government the ability to take the lives of its citizens. I for one am extremely uncomfortable with granting government that power.

For these and many other reasons, I congratulate the senators of Nebraska for making the right decision – for standing up for life, and for ending the death penalty. Now it’s time for states like Montana and Kansas to take note. I am encouraged by the recent action in both states. Montana’s bill received a 50-50 vote on the House floor, which shows tremendous progress. I hope that next session, more of my Republican colleagues will support an end to this broken system. The Kansas bill to end the death penalty has gained the support of Legislators from across the political spectrum. It will be great to see Kansas follow the lead of its northern neighbor.

Roy Brown, R-Billings, is a former state lawmaker who was the 2008 Republican nominee for governor of Montana.