Death Penalty Debate Continues in Wisconsin

Even though Democratic Governor Jim Doyle has resolved to veto any legislation coming out of Madison that supports the introduction of the death penalty in the Badger State, seven Republican Assemblymen sponsored a bill on Wednesday that would execute “vicious” murderers.

Even if the bill passed an Assembly floor vote and got by the Democrat-led Senate, Doyle is adamant in his opposition to the death penalty, whose 150+ year ban in Wisconsin is the longest of all states in the country without the death penalty. The last (and only) execution in Wisconsin was in 1851.

But it is not the Republican Assembly lawmakers who are out of step with Wisconsinites on this issue. Voters passed an advisory referendum last November by a double-digit margin (55.5 to 44.5 percent) to bring back the death penalty. In fact, voters in 68 of Wisconsin’s 72 counties supported the introduction of the death penalty for persons convicted of first-degree intentional homicide if the conviction is supported by DNA evidence. Even Democratic mainstay Milwaukee County narrowly approved the referendum, with 50.2 percent supporting the measure. Only voters in Dane County (home to the state’s most liberal city, Madison), Iowa County (bordering Dane—Dodgeville, Mineral Point), Eau Claire County, and Portage County (Stevens Point) voted against the death penalty referendum.

Wisconsin’s support for the death penalty in Election 2006 is particularly meaningful, as the ballot box was flooded with votes for high-profile Democrats at the top of the ballot (Governor Doyle, Senator Herb Kohl). Voters also put the Democrats back in power of the Senate and took back one Congressional seat (WI-08).

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