Nebraska Voter Guide

Here is the often promised voting guide for Nebraska.  A few notes before we begin.  I make no apologies for any charge of bias that you think I might have.  I will give you the relevant information about the candidates out there, as well as a recommendation of who I would vote for.  I will also link to some policy posts that I have written over the last year to provide you with some background, as well.

100 Facts

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Statewide ballot measure:

The Nebraska Death Penalty Repeal Veto Referendum: I wrote much more about this subject earlier.

A More Perfect Union’s Recommendation: Retain

Image result for hillary clinton donald trump

U.S. Presidential Election

This is very difficult for me to write without coming off as a jerk.  The major party’s nominees for this election leave voters with an obvious choice.    Without going too far into it, voting for a third or fourth party simply does not make any sense in presidential elections.

The debt

Among the arguments against voting for a Democrat is the argument that Democratic policies will leave the country bankrupt and significantly increase the debt or deficit of the United States.

Trump’s tax plans, according to the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center, would reduce federal revenues by $9.5 trillion over the first 10 years and an additional $15 trillion over the next 10 years after that.  To put this in perspective, spending for the entire US Government in FY2015 was $3.7 trillion.  The Tax Policy Center found that the tax cuts could produce deficits as high as $11.2 trillion over the next 10 years.  To avoid creating a deficit, Congress would have to cut spending by 21% overall.  Discretionary spending could also be reduced by 82% to avoid the deficits.

Hillary Clinton’s tax plans would increase revenue by $1.1 trillion over the next decade and an additional $2.1 trillion over the next 10 years.  Not surprisingly, Clinton’s tax plans would reduce the national debt by $1.2 trillion over the next 10 years.

It would seem difficult to vote for Trump based on that information.


The reason that Trump’s plan is so disastrous for the debt is that it would cut taxes at every income level.  The Tax Policy Center found that on average it would cut taxes by $5,100.  The highest 0.1% of income-earners would receive an average tax cut of $1.3 million in 2017 or about 19% of after-tax income.  Middle-income households would receive an average tax cut of $2,700 or 4.9% of after-tax income.  This would significantly increase the number of people not paying federal income tax.  63% of households would not pay federal income tax if the tax plans were passed, as is.

Trump would also repeal the estate tax, known as the death tax.  I wrote about this, in the past.  But long story short, the estate tax only affects 2 out of every 1,000 deaths.  Clinton’s tax plan would also increase the estate tax.

Clinton’s tax plans, meanwhile, would increase taxes on high-income filers. The most significant portion would be her support of the “Buffet Rule.”  The rule would require those with an adjusted gross income of over $1 million to pay a 30% effective tax rate.  This would reduce the after-tax income of those in the top 1% by about 5%.  The bottom 95% of income-earners (those earning less than $300,000) would see little changes to their after-tax income.  This report was written before any tax cuts for the middle class or lower.  While the report from the Tax Policy Center’s report was written when Clinton’s elderly care plan was proposed, the lack of specificity prevented the Tax Policy Center from analyzing the effects on middle class individuals.


According to Moody’s analytics in their report on Trump’s economic policies, if Trump’s policies are enacted as is, there will be a lengthy recession with an estimated loss of 3.5 million jobs by the end of Trump’s first term.  After-inflation incomes  will stagnate, stock prices will decline, and real house values will also decline.  The biggest beneficiaries, according to this analysis, of Trump’s job plans are high income earners.  Moody’s gives a more favorable rating to Clinton’s plans on the economy.  They estimate that at the end of her first term, there would be an estimated 3.2 million job growth.  They estimate that there will be an average increase in real household income by $2,000.   The biggest beneficiaries of Clinton’s jobs plans are low – middle income earners.


This is where I may lose some of you.  Trump is significantly hard-line on immigration, especially compared to Clinton.  Trump has promised to deport 11.3 million undocumented immigrants from the United States.  Deporting the undocumented immigrants here would cost the federal government $400 to $600 billion. The argument that undocumented immigrants are a drain on the taxpayer are based on the idea that undocumented immigrants do not have a high level of education and take more out of social welfare spending than they put in with taxes.  The estimates for how much undocumented immigrants are mixed, at best.  Beyond that, he supports ending birthright citizenship, which is likely unconstitutional as a violation of the 14th Amendment.  Further, Trump has called for a ban for Muslims entering America.  This is almost certainly unconstitutional.

Clinton has run on a campaign that is advocating for immigration reform, including a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants and DACA and DAPA executive orders that President Barack Obama instated.

I can’t believe I got this far in talking about immigration without talking about the wall.  Trump repeatedly called for a wall between Mexico and the United States. Trump hasn’t talked about it recently because it doesn’t poll well outside of his base.  But he’s still advocating for it.  Of course, when he went to Mexico to talk, ostensibly about the wall, he choked.


Trump’s signature issue throughout the primary beside his strong stance on immigration was his distaste for trade and globalization.  People have been trying to make too much of this issue slowly creeping back into the American conscience that trade is something that most people understand.  And wouldn’t you know it, Trump doesn’t seem to understand it, either.  Trump is seemingly unaware that most Americans work in the service sector of the economy.  Not that many workers work in America in manufacturing internationally traded goods.  Despite his claims that the biggest plants in the world are being built in Mexico, the biggest plant is being built by Tesla in California.  The current biggest plant is in the United States.  The third biggest plant is in Illinois. The biggest plants are Mitisubishi and Boeing depend on international trade to be able to thrive and for how/why they are able to have their biggest plants.  Manufacturing output in the US has increased by 50% since the implementation of NAFTA which was negotiated by the George H.W. Bush administration.  Unemployment in Ohio and Michigan, in particular have declined since the implementation of NAFTA.  The problems of free trade tend to be overstated in an effort to blame complex issues on something simple.

To be sure, there are complex problems on globalizatoin and free trade.  There are winners and losers when you open free trade agreements.  No trade deal is perfect in reality.  What we have is an ideal economized version of trade vs the reality.  This is often my complaints about a number of minor parties and their vision of how the government works.  Their idealized version could almost never works out in reality.  Simply blaming the loss of manufacturing jobs or jobs in general on free trade or trade agreements, seems to me, to ignore real complex issues about the economy and how it works.

I’m not a free trade apologist, by any measure.  There are real concerns about free trade and the effect on workers.  I do believe that we should have principles to hold global supply chains accountable for their actions.  Clinton has repeatedly walked back statements over her initial support of the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP).  So much so, that she has now stated that she no longer supports it and would not sign it.  Trump also does not support the TPP.  If you do not support the TPP, then your question is how much do you believe Clinton and how much Trump.

Here’s a helpful primer of TPP.

Foreign Policy

We’re at a lot of words already for this voting guide and we’re not even close to being done.  Let’s pick up the pace. Trump’s foreign policy is largely based around the idea of trade and economic interests which don’t seem to make much sense.  Trump’s foreign policy, despite his claims to the contrary, are very hawkish.  Trump has repeatedly lied about his views on Iraq and Libya.  Trump has an unusually close relationship with Russian autocrat Vladimir Putin despite his denial.  His claims that Russia is fighting ISIS, as is Bashar Al-Assad is not one that is shared with US intelligence experts.  Trump’s original plan was to wait out the fight between ISIS and Assad.  He now thinks that we should send troops to Syria.

Nearly every comment Trump has made on foreign policy has been met with appropriate scorn.  Trump, in an interview with The New York Times, tried to set conditions for invoking Article 5 and protecting NATO countries.  His response to that was that he was misquoted.  Then New York Times then released the full transcript from the interview.  Beyond that, he apparently doesn’t know that Putin has made his play into Ukraine.  And even if Putin did go into Crimea (which he is) the people would prefer to be part of Russia but it was bad under Obama’s watch.  Despite his claims that he knows more than the generals or the ones giving the briefings to him, he does not seem to understand the very basics of foreign policy.

Clinton’s position on a no-fly zone is probably not that tenable without intense negotiation with Russia to prevent having another world war or a cold war with Russia.  I’m not as enthralled with Clinton on her foreign policy issues.  She cast a vote for the AUMF in Iraq and has made questionable calls for military intervention in Libya.  further, as it turns out, she made the wrong call with regards to Syria as it was happening.  Her foreign policy hawkishness seems to stem from the Clinton presidency failures in Rwanda.  Her basic fear of not being involved in ending human rights violations and potential genocide weighs heavily on her, as well as her husband.  Her cavalier remarks about Russia from herself and her staff do not speak well of her.  While I do think that Putin is an authoritarian who is not to be praised, painting Russia as the boogeyman for a number of issues is still problematic.

Temperament and “intangibles”

I can’t go through all of the policies that Trump and Clinton have that compare the two.  Clinton’s wonkiness on her campaign is a reflection of who she is.  She has plenty of plicy ideas and ideals of how to make America and the lives of everyday Americans (despite her hatred of that phrase) better.  You may disagree with how we get there.  You may disagree that the federal government should do something to help make college more affordable for young Americans.  Or you might think we do too much to help the poor because the programs, you feel, are rife with abuse.

More likely, you have a visceral hatred of Clinton because of things you have seen on the internet or saw briefly when you were younger.  You might have a strong belief of how Clinton handled her e-mails.  And yes, it is very obviously problematic that Clinton set up her own private e-mail server, most likely to prevent herself from Freedom of Information Act requests.  It was, as FBI Director James Comey stated, “reckless.”  But to cherrypick his claims, you have to continue.  There is simply not a precedent for criminal investigations.  And lest we forget, there were only 3 (!) classified e-mails found on her server by the FBI.  These e-mails were improperly marked in the e-mail, as well.  You might want to read the actual Benghazi report put out by the House Republicans. It’s not nearly as damning as the claims made in various right wing publications.

If you have a hatred of the Clintons because of the appearances of improprieties, I can’t really help you.  Almost all of these appearances of improprieties are just that, appearances.  Despite over 20 years of investigations of the Clintons, there has been little to show for it.  There was the perjury of Bill Clinton and the revelation that Hillary used a private e-mail server.  Even the supposedly damning e-mails published by Wikileaks do not seem to indicate a number of the problems that they try to point out.  I simply do not have the time to debunk your pet conspiracy theory about the Clintons.  Or debate the appearances of improprietis, especially since the reason they are problematic are because they seem to give power and undue influence to people like Donald Trump.

Supporters of Trump seem to cling to the idea that he will somehow protect American ideals and appoint the right justices to the Supreme Court and federal courts.  Trump released a list of Supreme Court justices that he would appoint.  Like many of the jobs, he seemingly creates, he outsourced the job.  Unlike his manufacturing jobs, he left it in the United States. They’ve largely been a production of the rightwing think tank, the Heritage Foundation.  They may be sufficiently conservative for some Republicans to want to vote for Trump, especially given the fact that there is an open seat on the Supreme Court.  Surprisingly, this is one of the rare instances where Trump has managed to stay within Constitutional grounds on the separation of powers.

An argument for Trump is that he will be constrained by the separation of powers and that he can be constrained by his own advisers.  Trump is still repeating the same policy gibberish that he has long said since the beginning of the year.  He ran in the Republican primary on this concept of “lines” in health insurance that need to be erased to bring in competition.  What this policy is referring to is the ability to sell insurance across state lines.  This is a terrible policy but it is at least a policy that Republicans advocate for.  His nonsense about lines is a reference to that.  Even though, he has literally no idea what that means.  If he was interested in learning health care policy, he could talk to his running mate Mike Pence.  Pence’s version of the Medicaid expansion is one way Republican governors are trying to reform healthcare.  It’s, again, not policy that I think is any good but it’s at least something.  It’s unclear if Trump is willfully ignoring the advice of his advisors or if he’s only willing to learn about certain subjects.

To be clear, what’s important is not that Trump isn’t advocating for Republican ideas and policy goals.  I would rather him not advocate for these types of policies.  What’s important is that over the course of the last year, Trump has not shown a willingness to to expand his knowledge or to respond to any new information.  If you’re counting on Trump showing an ability to learn or to respond to new information, there is simply no evidence.  Even in the very rare instances where Trump tries to take responsibility for something, he later doubles down making his apology null and void.  You can see that in the interviews that he holds, when called out for trying to bullshit his way through answers, he tries to double down on this bullshit.

One of the reasons that Trump supporters are still clinging to for the reason for their vote is because of the supposed idea that Trump will protect the 2nd Amendment.  I’ve written that this is false and all of the Constitutional Amendments that Trump’s policy will violate.  His stop and frisk policy where he would like to proactively take guns away from citizens is blatantly unconstitutional and more gun grabby than any policy Clinton or Barack Obama have ever advocated for.  Trump’s continued insistence on torture and trying to force the military to do illegal things would be a violation of international norms and our own Constitution.  In most normal elections, this would be enough to stop someone from being a serious contender for President.

Or maybe it’s his insistence to appoint a special prosecutor to have his political opponent jailed.  That is likewise a violation of our democratic institutions and our belief that we solve political battles and disputes with elections.  Trump’s insistence on this is in the articles of impeachment brought on Richard Nixon.  This is an abuse of power.  It threatens us to our democratic core.

Trump has been running explicitly on the idea that the only way he can be defeated is through voter fraud.  Not just voter fraud but voter fraud from minority communities.  This is the efforts of a racist demagogue.  There’s very little evidence of in-person voting fraud, yet his supporters believe that ACORN, an organization defunded for 5+ years will steal the election.  This insistence on voter fraud and his ideas of jailing his political rival is something seen in third world banana republics, not in the United States.

I could go on.  But Trump’s unique awfulness is a threat to democracy.  I’ve had multiple policy disagreements with John McCain, with Mitt Romney, with Republican members of the Legislature but I never am scared for the violations of our democracy and our institutions.  His outright lies and demagogic racism combined with the very tenuous grasp that he holds onto for his policy ideals makes him a threat.

Trump often ends various debates and statements with a misguided notion that he has “the best temperament.”  He often lashes out at reporter, politicians, officials, and staff who disagree with him when he has his feelings hurt.  Or when they tell him what he wants to hear.  From a number of Republican strategists, officials, and many numbers of people who have worked with Trump, he surrounds himself with “yes, men” who are too afraid to tell him, “no.”  We should not be afraid to tell him no.

A More Perfect Union’s Recommendation: Hillary Clinton

U.S. House of Representatives:

District 1:

Republican: Jeff Fortenberry
Democratic: Daniel Wik

Fortenberry, by GovTrack analysis, is on the right fringes of the moderate portion of Congress.  The most similar member of Congress based on their analysis was Aaron Schock.  Their analysis is based on sponsorship and cosponsorship patterns.  Fortenberry has introduced 15 bills during the 114th Congress.  The majority of the bills he has introduced during this Congress have been about healthcare.  His bills on healthcare have been focused on trying to strengthen health savings accounts and retirement accounts.  H.R. 1494 was introduced by Fortenberry to rollover retirement plans to health savings accounts.  H.R. 1169 was another bill that Fortenberry introduced to increase the maximum amount that someone can contribute to a health savings account.

He has tried to stay away from a number of controversial bills in recent years.  While scanning for my legislative scorecard, a couple of bills that he co-sponsored stand out.  He was a co-sponsor of H.R. 1147 Legal Workforce Act which would create a national mandatory E-Verify system.  I think this bill is problematic because E-Verify is a problematic system.

Fortenberry joined his Nebraska Congressional delegation member Adrian Smith in co-sponsoring H.R. 1885 Securing Access to Rural Postal Services Act of 2015 to try to protect rural postal service offices. It’s a decent bill to try to protect rural postal service offices; however, it does not attempt to help make the postal service solvent.

Fortenberry is pro-life and did co-sponsor H.R. 36 Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act which attempted to ban abortion at 20 weeks.  If you are a pro-life, single issue voter, Fortenberry has fairly strong credentials in that regard.  He has also supported legislation to include fetuses under protection of the 14th Amendment.  Of course, he only supports that protection if one parent is an American as he wants to end birthright citizenship and have to have one parent who is an American to receive citizenship.

The person running against Fortenberry is Dan Wik.  Wik describes himself as a financial conservative, repeatedly.  He has a link on his website about his thoughts on Brexit where he tries to capitalize on anti-globalization thoughts.  His thoughts on job and the economy are likewise influenced with a special affinity for manufacturing and a belief that we don’t have a “military industrial complex, and loose (sic) national security.”  Going futher, Wik would want to place a tariff to fund social security while cutting corporate tax, capital gains tax, and personal income taxes.  He would want to eliminate the rules of engagement and “let the military do what it is trained to do…win!”  . Wik also argues for a flat tax of between 0-18% depending on income and supports a balanced budget.  Wik does argue for universal healthcare coverage based on the current Medicare system.  This isn’t remotely politically possible in our current environment but it’s an interesting idea.  His immigration reform ideas of allowing undocumented immigrants to apply for a green card if they are not relying on social welfare programs, is likewise intriguing.

Wik’s policies seem to be as mishmash of economic isolationism and trying to nudge in the idea of fiscal conservatism.  His grasp of the issues leaves me unimpressed, his website is filled with easily corrected grammatical errors, and what’s more is that his ideas don’t seem to make a lot of sense if you think about them.  Manufacturing jobs is not the way to grow the American economy, at this point.  Even if it was, it seems like a strange argument to make at this point in time when manufacturing jobs are on the rise.  His insistence on a flat tax is also not economically feasible.  If I’m going to criticize Trump for his lack of policy chops, I have to do the same to Wik.

Fortenberry, in this Congress, has written bills that have attracted both Democratic and Republican co-sponsors on 38% of them.  Of the 146 bills Fortenberry has co-sponsored, 14% of them were introduced by a Democrat.  I think Fortenberry’s views on birthright citizenship are wrong.  I think both Wik and Fortenberry are wrong on the idea of a balanced budget amendment.  I believe Fortenberry is wrong on LGBT rights as well as wrong for not wanting to assist workers who lost their jobs due to free trade agreements.  I, again, think he is wrong on the PATRIOT Act, as well.  I wish that someone else would have ran against Fortenberry who in a wave election might prove to be vulnerable.

It’s hard for me to say who I would recommend to vote in this election as I oppose Wik and Fortenberry on a number of issues.  It’s not as if I can just hand wave around the problems Fortenberry has and I can’t just ignore the problems Wik has, either.  This honestly, comes down to who I think each candidate will vote for in leadership.  The House’s leadership has almost total control of what bills will be introduced.  I believe Wik will vote for Nancy Pelosi for Speaker of the House and Fortenberry will vote for Paul Ryan.  Since I believe in progressive legislation, I would reluctantly cast my vote for Wik.

District 2:

Republican: Don Bacon
Democratic: Brad Ashford

Ashford was elected in 2014, which was a pretty good year for Republicans outside of Omaha.  The Congressman who Ashford defeated made a weird remark that ended up sinking him.  Going into this election cycle, Ashford seemed fairly vulnerable.  But thanks to the tanking of Donald Trump and his lack of appeal among college educated white voters, it seems more likely that Ashford will be able to win re-election.

Ashford has introduced 9 bills since he took office in January of 2015.  The sense on Ashford is that he has been fairly moderate in Congress.  The bills that he has introduced have largely focused on government reform for either pay for members of Congress or how they are reimbursed.  He has stayed away from a number of controversial issues to try and stay in line with Nebraska’s 2nd Congressional District which is fairly moderate.

Bacon is trying to run as a conservative and tries to contrast himself with Ashford.  They agree on a number of issues.  Both Ashford and Bacon oppose the Iran deal that the US negotiated with Iran.  They both support the building of the Keystone XL oil pipeline.  They both support a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution.  Ashford helped introduce a bill in Congress to that effect  They both oppose closing Guantanamo Bay, as well.

They do differ on key issues.  Bacon believes that we should slowly raise the social security retirement age.  Bacon opposes bills that would essentially be ENDA or add sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression to nondiscrimination law. Ashford was a co-sponsor of H.R. 846 and H.R. 3185.   Ashford voted against the Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act which Bacon said he would support. Bacon stresses that America pays one of the highest corporate tax rates in the world at 35%, he wants to lower the corporate tax rate to 25%. The 35% corporate tax rate refers to the statutory tax rate that is on the books for corporate tax.  There are a number of loopholes that bring the effective tax rate lower.  The Congressional Research Service put the US effective corporate tax rate at 27.1%. I e-mailed Bacon’s campaign about whether Bacon’s corporate tax reduction would be a decrease in the statutory rate or the effective tax rate. I have not heard back.

Bacon supports repealing the Affordable Care Act.  Ashford has repeatedly co-sponsored legislation from Republicans with an effort to reform health care in America but does not support the wholesale repeal of the law.  Ashford has repeatedly said that he would not have supported the law but that he is committed to reforming the law.  In the debate between Ashford and Bacon, Bacon said that Rep. Tom Price had introduced a number of bills that would repeal the ACA and still keep the prohibition on discrimination of pre-existing coverage, that people up to the age of 26 can stay on their parents health insurance, etc.  Basically, Bacon’s idea is to keep the popular parts of the ACA while getting rid of the individual mandate.  Here are the bills that Price have introduced regarding health care in the 114th Congress. We have H.R. 2650, H.R. 2300, and H.R. 1234.  Ashford rightly told Bacon that the bills Price have proposed would not do what Bacon claimed and Bacon just smiled.

I don’t want to relitigate the health care debate, again.  The individual mandate is what makes the ACA work.  I have my own issues with the ACA and don’t think it’s perfect.  It’s a significant improvement over the status quo prior to the ACA.  Unfortunately, like a lot of things, it gets blamed for more complex issues that are hindering progress.

Bacon further does not believe that the federal government should set a minimum wage.  Not just an increase, but no minimum wage.  That’s at least what he said in the Republican primary debate.  The idea that the minimum wage should be set by the private sector is a belief that private businesses operate in an idealized world.  This doesn’t seem to have any grounding in the actual world where Trump, who Bacon as of this week (10/10) still seemed to support had 25 violations of the FLSA since 2005.

Bacon also has a section on Common Core on his website.  Nebraska rejected Common Core. Bacon opposes a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants whereas Ashford said he would be supportive of the Gang of Eight immigration bill that would have granted citizenship.

I’ve been critical of Ashford for being a moderate in the past but Bacon is just much, much worse on many of the issues that I am supportive of.

A More Perfect Union recommendation: Brad Ashford

District 3:

Republican: Adrian Smith
Democratic: None

I guess we don’t really have a choice.

State legislature:

District 3:

Tommy Garrett
Carol Blood

Garrett likes my friend’s band, Faded, on Facebook and you should, too. Garrett’s biggest issue was medical marijuana in Nebraska.  He introduced the legislation to allow for medical marijuana in Nebraska and the regulation of it.  It eventually failed a cloture vote.  In return, Garrett voted against advancing LB10 which was a bill that would have changed Nebraska’s electoral votes back to winner take all. There was a tenuous deal in place between Garrett and supporters of LB10 and their support of his bill on medical marijuana.

Garrett voted in favor of LB268 which repealed the death penalty in Nebraska.  As a Republican, Garrett faced considerable pressure from Governor Pete Ricketts to change his vote after Ricketts vetoed the bill.

Garrett voted in favor of LB947 which allows for those here with protection of Barack Obama’s DACA executive order to obtain professional licenses.  He did, however, vote against LB485 in 2014 which was the Employment Nondiscrimination Act (ENDA) to protect employees from discrimination based on sexual discrimination or sexual identity.  He voted to table LB586 ENDA in a previous session, as well.  He also voted to table LB1032 expanding Medicaid, which is essentially a vote against the bill. Garrett also voted against LB943 in a previous session which would have raise the minimum wage to $7.65/hour in January 2015, $8.35/hour in January 2016, and $9.00 in January 2017.  Garrett continues to oppose a minimum wage increase.

While Carol Blood has not filled out the voter guide information that Nebraska Voter Guide uses, we do have some of her issues.  She does believe that voting is a fundamental right and that voter fraud is not a problem in Nebraska.  She does not support voter id laws.  Contrary to Garrett, she does support Medicaid expansion in Nebraska.  She also thinks that we should review mandatory minimum sentences and expanding prison alternatives.

A More Perfect Union recommendation: Carol Blood.  Despite Garrett’s noble quest to support medical marijuana in Nebraska and to repeal the death penalty.  I do believe that Blood is the better person suited for the job from District 3.

District 5:

Mike McDonnell
Gilbert Ayala

McDonnell and Ayala provide a much larger contrast than Blood and Garrett.  McDonnell would support ENDA or a similar law.  Ayala would oppose such a law.  McDonnell supports expanding Medicaid compared to Ayalsa who opposes it.  Ayala does support voucher programs to “increase school choice” and McDonnell opposes it.  McDonnell supports bringing casinos, horse racing, slot machines, or video keno in Nebraska which Ayala opposes.  McDonnell does support raising the minimum wage in Nebraska which Ayala opposes.

They both agree on not legalizing the recreational use of marijuna; prohibiting abortion, although Ayala opposes abortion in all cases; and opposing regulations for additional gun control measures.

A More Perfect Union recommendation: Mike McDonnell.  Both ENDA and Medicaid expansion are very important to me and issues that I support strongly.

District 7:

Tony Vargas
John Synowiecki

There was a bit of a scuffle for Douglas County Democrats when they listed Vargas as a Democrat running and did not list Synowiecki.  They are both Democrats so there was some problems.  Synowiekci is a former State Senator for the district.  He has been supported by Heath Mello, who is running for Mayor of Omaha, and Jeremy Nordquist current chief of staff for Brad Ashford.

Synowiecki was the co-sponsor of LB 239 in 2005 which would allow undocumented immigrants to be able to pay in-state tuition to attend college.  He was attacked in Republican mailers for this support. In 2007, he voted in favor of LB 476 which was a bill to eliminate the death penalty. He also voted in favor of a similar bill in 2008 LLB 1063.  He did vote against LB 395 in 2008 which was the Statewide Smoking Ban.

Vargas and Synowiecki both stated that they would support Medicaid expansion and giving professional licenses to certain undocumented immigrants.  Vargas has expressed some support for the role of charter schools (which is not part of the current educational environment in Nebraska).  He has walked back those comments saying that he has no interest in introducing legislation to introduce charter schools to Nebraska.

Synoweiecki, in the candidate forum, talked about rescheduling marijuana out of schedule I drug.  He supports a bill to study medical marijuana in cannabis studies to see if hemp oil is medically helpful.  He would support medical marijuana if the study with UNMC proves that hemp oil is effective.  Vargas, likewise, supports the UNMC study to see if hemp oil is proven to be medically effective.

You can watch their candidate forum here:

District 9:

Sara Howard
Larry Roland

Howard has been described to me as the real life version of Leslie Knope.  She was the co-sponsor of LB887 to expand Medicaid in Nebraska in 2014.  She did not vote on LB943 to increase the minimum wage.  She did vote in favor of ENDA, as well.  She was a co-sponsor of LB947 to allow those protected by executive actions to receive professional licenses.  She voted against LB10 to change Nebraska to a “winner take all” electoral system as opposed to splitting electoral votes.  Finally, she voted in favor of LB643 for medical marijuana.

Roland runs in stark contrast.  He opposes ENDA and expanding Medicaid.  He does support “increasing school choice.”  He supports prohibiting abortion in all instances except in the case of the health of the mother.  He would also oppose any increase in gun regulations.

A More Perfect Union Recommendation: Sara Howard

District 11:

Ernie Chambers
John Sciara

Chambers is a controversial figure in Nebraska.  There’s plenty of people out there who won’t vote for Chambers because of his style and overall demeanor.  What they may have missed is his importance in the Nebraska legislature.  When LB10 to change Nebraska to a “winner take all” state for electoral votes came up, Chambers became a one-man wrecking crew to filibuster the bill.  Arguably, he was the biggest impediment to LB10 getting a full vote (which likely would have passed).  If you think Nebraska should continue to split its electoral votes, then thank Chambers.

Chambers also voted in favor of repealing the death penalty and was one of the staunchest advocates for repealing the death penalty.  As he has been, for years.  He supported LB947 to license certain undocumented immigrants.  He supported a state ENDA bill and opposed tabling LB1032.

Sciara opposes ENDA, expanding Medicaid, and raising the minimum wage.  He supports vouchers for “school choice.”

A More Perfect Union recommendation: Ernie Chambers

District 13:

Jill Brown
Justin Wayne

Wayne unleashed a somewhat policy heavy portion on his website to talk about his economic plans. Some of it crosses traditional party lines.  He supports increasing wind energy in Nebraska.  But he also wants to focus on removing regulations for small businesses to be able to run.  He wants to expand Medicaid to be able to help support the economy while also creating “enterprise zones.”  He also supports paid sick leave for all Nebraskans. There’s a lot of good ideas in his economic plan if not completely fleshed out.

Brown’s website focuses on issues for expanding Medicaid, fighting for a living wage, and investing in education at the state level.  She opposes charter schools for Nebraska and wants to strengthen teachers’ say in educational reforms.

Wayne, while he has been criticized for charter school support, in the candidate forum proposed an idea of public options to give more choices to schools instead.  He declined the idea of introducing charter legislation. Brown also does not support charter schools. Wayne does support the idea of school choice and says that there is a distinction between school choices and charter schools.

Wayne does support medicinal marijuana in the form of cannabis oil.  In the forum, he brings up a story of a friend who moved to Colorado for seizures for her children.  He also opposes the legalization of recreational marijuana.  Brown does not support Garrett’s bill to legalize medical marijuana as many people get prescriptions for marijuana.  This is actually a very good point and distinction.  While I support medical marijuana because I think that there are some medical conditions that can be treated with it, I do believe that in a lot of states and a lot of bills out there, it is a way for more affluent people to be able to get access to legal pot while those who do not have access to it, to be arrested.

You can watch the candidate forum here:

A More Perfect Union recommendation: Justin Wayne

District 15:

David Schnoor
Lynne Walz

Schnoor voted against repealing the death penalty.  He voted to change Nebraska’s electoral votes to a “winner take all” system.  He also opposed ENDA and expanding Medicaid.  He has stated that he opposes all abortion.  He was also a co-sponsor in establishing a minimum wage for minors.  He did not vote for allowing medical marijuana in Nebraska.

Walz doesn’t have very many issues on her website about what she would support and did not find any data about her political statements.  Walz has been critical of Schnoor for not offering enough ideas or plans to try to help Nebraska.  Schnoor has disagreed stating that legislation “just adds red tape and government.”

I disagree with Schnoor on the role of government, as well as disagree with him on a number of issues.

A More Perfect Union recommendation: Lynne Walz

District 17:

Ardel Bengtson
Joni Albrecht

There’s not much information that I can find on these candidates.  Albrecht filled out the information to provide to Nebraska Voter Guide.  As you can see from there, she opposes ENDA, expanding Medicaid, and raising the minimum wage in Nebraska.  She would also oppose any new regulations for gun control in Nebraska.  She does support voucher programs to “increase school choice.”

Bengtson did not fill out the information for the Nebraska voter guide, as far as I can tell.  Her campaign website focuses on increasing better funding for public education to reform the public school system.  She would like to lower local taxes, as well.  I’m not sure how that would work, to be honest.

With this little information out there, it’s hard to really make an informed decision between the two.  But I have a hard time voting for someone who is not going to expand Medicaid and who is not going to support ENDA.

A More Perfect Union recommendation: Ardel Bengtson

District 21:

Larry Scherer
Mike Hilgers

Hilgers came very close in 2012 to be the State Senator in district in 2012.  He decided to run again, this year.  He describes himself as a fiscal conservative. He wants to lower taxes based on his website it would look like he would want to eliminate or reduce the state income tax.   Scherer is an opponent of charter schools or vouchers to “increase school choice.”  He is looking to work with secondary education and postsecondary education to help train for hard to fill jobs. Scherer also supports Medicaid expansion in Nebraska. Scherer also would like to make the income tax in Nebraska more progressive.  Both Hilgers and Scherer seem to agree that we should eliminate the state income tax on social security benefits.

A More Perfect Union recommendation: Larry Scherer

District 23:

Jerry Johnson
Bruce Bostelman

Johnson initially supported repealing the death penalty but ended up not voting to override the Governor’s veto.  Governor Pete Ricketts was slightly involved in propping up a challenger to Johnson in the primary citing that voters would want to hold their candidates accountable.  The votes Ricketts criticized included a gas tax hike and providing driver’s licenses to children of undocumented immigrants.

Johnson voted in favor of changing Nebraska to winner take all and effectively opposed ENDA and Medicaid expansion. Bostelman, likewise, opposes ENDA and expanding Medicaid.  Johnson and Bostelman largely agree on most issues.

A More Perfect Union recommendation: Jerry Johnson, I guess.

District 25:

Jim Gordon
Suzanne Geist

Gordon’s website includes the idea that there should not be a tax on Social Secuirty retirement benefits.  Gordon and Geist’s websites are both, what I can assume is intentionally, vague.  Geist does support repealing the ballot measure on the state ballot which would repeal the repeal on the death penalty.  According to the Nebraska voter guide, she opposes medicaid expansion in Nebraska.  She also opposes ENDA and the the legalization of recreational marijuana.  Finally, she opposes raising the minimum wage in Nebraska.  Gordon is a registered Democrat, so it’s not surprising that his website is vague in order to try to run for a more conservative district.  He also has a sweet mustache.

A More Perfect Union recommendation: Jim Gordon

District 27:

Anna Wishart
Dick Clark

I’m impressed with Clark for deciding to go with his nickname instead of Richard.  Wishart is a registered Democrat who is a former legislative aide for Rick Kolowski.  Kolowski is on the education committee and Wishart’s primary issues concern with education.  Wishart supports early childhood  education, creating new after-school opportunities, and attempting to help make college more affordable.  She also wants to promote career readiness programs.

Clark is a supporter of creating more school choices by creating “career academies, charter schools, and tax credits” (or essentially vouchers).  Clark also supports a new way of funding education to make it less complicated for schools.  He also wants to “reform Medicaid to provide better, more efficient services and help more patients.”  I’m not 100% sure how you can reform Medicaid to do so.  I’m open to ideas but it strikes me as a talking point.  He opposes ENDA, expanding Medicaid, and raising the minimum wage in Nebraska.  He also supports legalizing recreational marijuana in Nebraska.

A More Perfect Union recommendation: Anna Wishart

District 29:

Kate Bolz
Melody Vaccaro

Bolz voted to repeal the death penalty.  She voted against changing Nebraska to winner take all.  She supported professional licenses to certain undocumented immigrants and ENDA.  She also supported Medicaid expansion.

Vaccaro is mainly running on ideas to prevent climate change from spreading in Nebraska.  She also is trying to reform gun laws in Nebraska and ending the practice of putting juvenile offenders in solitary confinement.

A More Perfect Union recommendation: Kate Bolz

District 31:

Rick Kolowski
Ian Swanson

Swanson who swooped back to Nebraska after going to one of the most conservative colleges in the country.  Swanson’s website talks about how he is “uniquely placed to take out one of those politicians that is enacting ruinous policies that are bankrupting our state and nation.”

Kolowski is considered one of the more moderate members of the Nebraska Legislature.  He did vote for increasing the minimum wage in Nebraska, expanding Medicaid, ENDA, and repealing the death penalty.  He opposed changing Nebraska to a winner take all state.

Swanson’s website is full of various ideas.  They’re pretty vague but they’re there.  He argues that we need “commonsense” tax reform.  What would that be?  I’m not sure. He cites nonpartisan think tanks as the reason for this.  Some may argue that the nonpartisan think tanks would support an increased refund in the Earned Income Tax Credit or a circuitbreaker for property tax for low and middle income families as opposed to the Homestead Act.

Swanson believes “that one abortion is too many.”  He would want to work under the framework of Roe v. Wade to enact new laws.  Would they be TRAP laws that were largely ruled unconstitutional under the Supreme Court? Or would he support personhood laws since he told the Nebraska Voter Guide that he opposes abortions in all cases whatsoever.

He wants to fight against policies like Common Core (which Nebraska rejected) and wants to support mandatory minimums for violent criminals to keep Nebraska safe.

Swanson’s website is just a combination of standard Conservative ideas that are posted willy nilly on his website without any real sense of what needs to be done.  I’m sure that there are other Senate candidates who post similar ideas on their site without any explanation of what they actually support but Swanson’s run coincides with my former legislative district so I care more.

A More Perfect Union recommendation: Rick Kolowolski

District 33:

Les Seiler
Steve Halloran

Seiler was another one of the legislators who Governor Ricketts targeted.  Seiler’s race is a little bit different in that Ricketts has explicitly endorsed his opponent, Steve Halloran. Ricketts asked Seiler to change his vote on giving professional licenses to certain undocumented immigrants but Seiler chose not to.  Ricketts was also critical of Seiler for overriding his veto on the death penalty and hiking the gas tax.

Halloran entered the race because he didn’t like that Seiler overrode the vetoes that Ricketts sent through and that Seiler’s votes on professional licenses “had the effect of disregarding federal law on illegal immigration.” I’m sure Halloran and Seiler agree more often than they disagree but at least I know Seiler is willing to stand up for what he believes in.

A More Perfect Union: Les Seiler

District 35:

Dan Quick
Gregg Neuhaus

Quick is a union leader running for state legislature in Nebraska.  This seems a little strange only because of the intense conservatism that runs throughout the state.  Quick is running his campaign on an idea that he is the voice of the working class in Grand Island.  He thinks that we should be focusing on trade jobs in education and bringing new jobs to Grand Island.  Because of his role as a union leader, his website is, most likely, intentionally vague.

Neuhaus opposes ENDA, Medicaid expansion, and raising the minimum wage in Nebraska. Neuhaus also supports the death penalty.  He believes in “the sanctity of life and will fight to protect all innocent life.”   He also supports ending the tax on Social Security retirement benefits.

A More Perfect Union recommendation: Dan Quick

District 37:

Bob Lammers
John Lowe

Lammers and Lowe are both Republicans running for the State Senate seat.  They agree on raising the minimum wage, expanding Medicaid, and ENDA (they oppose all three).  They both support the death penalty.  They also think that we should lower property taxes.  Lowe believes that to pay for transportation infrastructure that we should direct a portion of the state’s sales tax revenue should be marked for transportation projects.

A More Perfect Union recommendation: Lammers, I guess.

District 39:

Lou Ann Linehan
Bill Armbrust

Linehan opposes ENDA, Medicaid expansion, and raising the minimum wage in Nebraska. Likewise, she supports the death penalty.  She is running as a conservative leader.  She is a former policy aide to Chuck Hagel.  She does believe that taxes are too high, including property taxes. Linehan argues that we would get away from taxing authority for the learning communities. Linehan opposes the “good time” provision.  She believes that expanding Medicaid is hypocritical to her idea of cutting taxes.

Her quote on Medicaid expansion:

We don’t gain by handing out health insurance to people who are able to work, ablebodied, who could get a job, and could get health insurance

Linehan also argues that Medicaid expansion paid for by the federal government is wrong because Nebraskans think their income taxes are too high and it’s a cost to the federal government.   She doesn’t think we should give health insurance to able bodied people.

Armbrust made the argument in the candidate forum that he is a sanctity of life candidate.  He also made the argument that that because Nebraska shifted away from funding education and shifted toward property tax funding education, property taxes have exploded. He would like more state support for educational spending.  Armbrust argued that we should expand Medicaid to cover the gap with health insurance with the subsidies from the ACA and making it about a fiscal issue.  He thinks that we can support Medicaid from the heart and the pocketbook.

Both candidates believe that we should do more to help mental health to keep people out of jail if they can.  Linehan and Armbrust agree that we should look for efficiencies and wastes on money to cover the budget shortfalls.

Candidate forum:

A More Perfect Union recommendation: Bill Armbrust

District 43:

Al Davis
Tom Brewer

Davis had one interesting vote.  He was one of the more conservative members of the legislature to vote to repeal the death penalty.  Otherwise, he supported changing Nebraska to a winner take all state.  He also opposed licensing certain undocumented immigrants.  He effectively opposed ENDA and expanding Medicaid in Nebraska.

Likewise, Brewer opposes ENDA, Medicaid expansion, and is probably fairly similar to Davis on other social conservative issues.  The biggest thing that Brewer has going for him is that Governor Pete Ricketts supported his challenge.

Ricketts has taken an active role in legislative races where his Republican supporters have not supported him.  This includes overriding his death penalty repeal veto, gas tax, and providing driver’s licenses to children of undocumented immigrants.

I’m not a big fan of either Davis or Brewer.  But I’d rather trust the devil that I know in Davis who, at least, is willing to stand up to Governor Ricketts.

A More Perfect Union recommendation: Al Davis

District 45:

Sue Crawford
Michael Cook

Crawford voted in favor of a number of progressive issues in the unicameral.  She voted in favor of LB268 which would repeal the death penalty.  She voted against LB10 which would have made Nebraska a winner take all state for electoral votes.  She cvoted in facvor of LB947 which would have provided licenses to certain undocumented immigrants.  She voted in favor of LB485 which would have created ENDA in Nebraska.  She voted against killing the expansion of Medicaid bill.

Cook’s website focuses on the idea that he needs to be elected for real “conservative leadership.”  The issues on his his website can be succinctly summed up in one sentences. His website uses the same skin from one of my favorite blogs that I read, so that’s sad. He is “opposed to the expansion of Obamacare in Nebraska.”  I believe that he is trying to say that he is opposed to the Medicaid expansion in Nebraska. He is pro-life and family values, as well.  This is mostly a nonsense statement.

Candidate forum here:

A More Perfect Union recommendation: Sue Crawford

District 47:

Karl Elmshaeuser
Steve Erdman

Erdman and Elmshaeuser are both running pretty much the same campaigns.  They’re both running as conservatives for a conservative district.  They both oppose ENDA.  They both oppose Medicaid expansion.  They both oppose any increase in gun control regulations.  They’re both pro-life.  Although Erdman is a little bit more “pro-life” and doesn’t think abortion should ever happen to save a mother. Erdman does support additional research for ethanol products as it’s a product that can be created in Nebraska and used in Nebraska.  He also believes that a funding formula for education in Nebraska should be 1/3 income, 1/3 sales, and 1/3 property taxes with income taxes returning to the district, as well.

A More Perfect Union recommendation: Elmshaeuser, I guess.






The case against the death penalty

The troubling case of Carlos DeLuna

In February of 1983, Carlos DeLuna and Carlos Hernandez went to a bar in Corpus Christi.  The two Carloses looked very similar.  Sometimes they were even mistaken for twins.  They were the same height and weight.  Although, there was a slight difference.  Hernandez had a moustache while DeLuna did not.  After the bar, Hernandez went to a gas station, the Shamrock to buy something.  After waiting a while, Hernandez had not returned.  DeLuna went to see what was taking so long and he saw Hernandez wrestling a woman behind the counter.  Scared because of his prior police record for sexual assault, DeLuna took off running.  When he heard sirens, he got even more scared and hid underneath a pickup truck.

deluna carlos.JPG

Image: Carlos DeLuna from the Corpus Christi Police Department; image from the Atlantic

Forty minutes later, he was found there by Corpus Christi Police.  He was arrested for the murder of Wanda Lopez.  Lopez had been stabbed to death.  Police photos showed blood splattered over three feet high.  DeLuna did not have any blood on him.  Police assumed that the rain washed away the blood.  Less than two hours after the murder, the owner of the Shamrock was allowed to wash down the store washing away crucial evidence that could potentially lead to the killer.  As far as the Corpus Christi police were concerned, they had caught their man.

DeLuna, for his part, claimed his innocence.  He took it one step further.  He named the killer.  Carlos Hernandez was the killer.  Corpus Christi police called Hernandez a “phantom.”  The prosecutors were given the name by DeLuna’s lawyers but they were unable to find any evidence that this person existed.  The chief prosecutor of the case called Hernandez a “figment of [DeLuna’s] imagination.”

hernandez carlos.JPG

Image of Carlos Hernandez from the Corpus Christi Police Department.  Image appeared in the Atlantic.

DeLuna was executed for the murder of Lopez on December 8, 1989.  In October of 1989, Hernandez was arrested for the attempted murder of Dina Ybanez.  This information was not brought to the courts of Texas in order to help exonerate an innocent man.

We know all of the information mentioned above and even more information showing the innocence of DeLuna because of the research of Professor James S. Liebman and his colleagues in the book Los Tocayos Carlos: Anatomy of a Wrongful Execution.

Liebman et al. found even more disturbing information regarding this case.  They found that Hernandez bragged to members of the community that he was a knife murderer and that he was the one who killed Lopez.  Further Hernandez joked that his stupid namesake was the one taking the blame.  Oh yes, they found this information out in less than 24 hours after hiring a private detective.  Yet, Hernandez was so elusive that he was unknown to prosecutors.  These claims that he was the killer reached the police within weeks but was dismissed by the prosecutors.

Hernandez had been on parole for virtually his entire adult life.  As reported by Liebman, Hernandez had been arrested 39 times.  Several of these crimes had been due to wielding his knife.  Some of his arrests were for holding up local gas stations.  What’s worse is that he was arrested twice for a 1979 murder.  Once in 1979 and once after DeLuna was on death row.  This information was not disclosed to the courts.  Instead, Hernandez was a phantom.

Liebman and his team of researchers pored over the crime details and police reports for this crime.  They found a shoeprint in blood at the crime scene that was never investigated.  No usable fingerprints were taken at the scene of the crime.  A beer can, a cigarette butt, chewing gum, a button, and a comb were not forensically examined for saliva and/or blood.  When the researchers went to examine the DNA of the crime after DeLuna’s death, they were told that all of it had disappeared.

Carlos DeLuna was executed for the murder of Wanda Lopez.

Nebraska and the Death Penalty

Picture of Governor Pete Ricketts of Nebraska picture originally appeared on Huffington Post

In May of 2015, Nebraska legislators brought LB268 to be considered for a debate.  LB268 was introduced by Ernie Chambers who had been working to this end for four decades.  LB268 would repeal the death penalty in Nebraska and would instead have life in prison as the maximum sentence for first-degree murder.  Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson wrote a letter to the Nebraska legislature that “under current Nebraska law, a sentence to life imprisonment is effectively life imprisonment without (the possibility of{ parole.”

Governor Pete Ricketts said in a statement ahead of the vote, “no one has traveled the state more than I have in 18 months, and everywhere I go there is overwhelming support for keeping the death penalty in Nebraska.  Ahead of this morning’s vote, I am reminding senators that a vote for cloture on LB268 is a vote to repeal the death penalty and to give our state’s most heinous criminals more lenient sentences.  This isn’t rhetoric.  This is reality.”  The stakes were high.  Legislators knew that this bill would face the veto by Governor Ricketts.

Conservative legislators banded together with their progressive counterparts and passed the bill 32-15.  In order to override the veto, they would need 30 votes.  Governor Ricketts criticized the legislature for their votes when issuing a veto saying that “while the legislature has lost touch with the citizens of Nebraska, I will continue to stand with Nebraskans and law enforcement on this important issue.”  After intense lobbying by the Governor and his team, a vote to override the veto succeeded 30-13.

State senator and loyal Ricketts ally Beau McCoy announced that he would do everything he could to stop this bill from being enacted.  McCoy launched a new organization called Nebraskans for Justice to help put the measure on the ballot for the November general election ballot.  McCoy said,”I am standing with Nebraskans who are thoroughly disappointed with Nebraska legislators who voted to end Nebraska’s death penalty.”

McCoy was not the only one disappointed.  State Senator Bill Kintner of Papillion filed an amendment on LB268 to replace the method of execution from lethal injection to the firing squad.  Kintner was disappointed and bitterly complained, “this body is intent on moving the progressive-left agenda ahead.”  Senator McCoy was successful in getting this measure on the ballot in time for the November 2016 election.  If voters in Nebraska vote in favor of the amendment there will effectively be a repeal of the repeal of the death penalty.  Rejecting the measure will keep the death penalty repeal.  I urge all Nebraska voters to reject this measure.  It is time to show Governor Ricketts that he is wrong.  We need to show Senator Kintner that he is wrong.  This is not a partisan issue.  The death penalty as it stands is arbitrary, unconstitutional, and economically infeasible.

Economic costs of the death penalty

The American Law Institute (ALI) is made up of 4,000 judges, lawyers, and law professors.  They helped create the penal system that we currently have and helped create the death penalty, as we know it.  In 2009, they voted to remove the death penalty from their model penal code.  They argued that the death penalty is “so arbitrarily fraught with racial and economic disparities and unable to serve quality legal representation for indigent capital defendants, that it can never be administered fairly.”  As we will see later with regards to the arbitrariness of the death penalty, poorer defendants are more likely to have their crime considered a capital offense.  The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has found that 90% of those on death row could not afford to hire a lawyer at the time of their trial.

In Gideon v. Wainwright, the Supreme Court found that the 6th Amendment’s guarantee of counsel is a fundamental right essential to a fair trial.  Writing for the majority, Justice Hugo Black wrote a fair trial “cannot be realized if the poor men charged with crime has to face his accusers without a lawyer to assist him.”  Even looking at this case, we see that Florida and other states would only allow lawyers appointed for the indigent in capital cases.  This certainly adds to the cost of death penalty cases.

As we see in state, after state, after state, the death penalty is significantly more expensive than other options.  The Nevada Legislative Auditor issued a report studying the cost of the death penalty in Nevada.  They found “the death penalty, from arrest through the end of incarceration, costs about $532,000 more than other murder cases where the death penalty is not sought.”  Where the death penalty was sought, sentenced, but the offender was not executed the cost was $1.3 million and the cost was only slightly lower where the death penalty was sought but not sentenced at $1.2 million.  Where the death penalty was not sought, the costs were $775,000.

Kansas issued a study on the cost of the death penalty and the Kansas legislature approved the linked report.  The total cost for the 9 trial cases where the death penalty was sought costs on average $395,762 compared to $98,963 on average for the 6 trial cases where the death penalty was not sought.  Some of that has to do with the the fact that when the prosecution sought the death penalty, there was an average of 40 days in court compared to 17 days for cases where the death penalty was not sought.

Seattle University commissioned a study on the death penalty in Washington.  The found that the total costs of the death penalty cases were about $3.07 million compared to $2.01 million for non-death penalty cases.  The biggest differences in the costs were found with the defense costs, prosecution costs, and the petition/appeals for death penalty cases.  The defense costs were about 2.8 to 3.5 times more expensive than non-death penalty cases.  Prosecution costs were about 2.3-4.2 times more expensive and the appeals were 5.7-6.3 times more expensive.

Seeking the death penalty is consistently found to be more expensive than non-death penalty cases.  The only question really is how much more expensive it is.  The rebuttal to this is that while seeking the death penalty in trial is more expensive, the costs even out after a criminal is executed compared to the cost of incarcerating a criminal for the remainder of their life.  Intuitively, this argument holds some appeal.  Unfortunately, it does not match reality.  This is because of two main reasons.  The first one is that in 2014, the executions occurred on average about 18 years after the conviction of the defendant.  Because of the lengthy time in prison, it is hard to find easy cost-savings.  The other reason for a lack of cost-saving is that keeping and maintaining death row is fairly expensive.   In fact, death row inmate management costs more on average than the management of non-death row inmates.  There are a couple of factors for this which include greater security, inmates having their own cells, and that there is a disparity in the inmate-to-staff ratios.

The Seattle University studied linked to earlier found that the cost for incarcerating non-death penalty inmates was 0.7-0.8 times the cost of death row inmates.  As they note in their report, though, they used the “same average daily cost post-2013 for both the [Death penalty] and [non-death penalty] groups.  This resulted in an underestimation of DPS/DPI DOC costs.”  The report of the Kansas legislature noted that it cost $49.3 thousand per inmate per year for a death penalty inmate compared to $24.69 thousand per inmate per year for non-death penalty inmates.  The report from the Nevada legislative auditor found that for incarceration costs, the death penalty is the most expensive sentence for those convicted of first degree murder.  Noting “incarceration costs are higher for the death penalty subgroup, since they are typically housed at a higher cost facility.”

All of this is before we even get to the cost of obtaining the drugs needed to execute an inmate with lethal injection.  With a number of pharmaceutical companies no longer offering the drug cocktail, the prices have skyrocketed.  I do understand that we cannot just reduce moral questions of actions such as the death penalty with an economic rebuttal.  It’s not enough to show that a policy is economically unsound to show that the described action is immoral or should otherwise not continue.  With all policies, I believe that we should do a calculus of cost-benefits to see what we should do going forward.  The death penalty as it currently stands is not viable only on economic grounds but is on shaky constitutional grounds, as well.


I should note that before we continue that a lot of the information for this section is based on the brilliant dissent from Justice Stephen Breyer in Glossip v. Gross.

The 8th Amendment of the United States Constitution plainly states “excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.”  In Weems v. United States, the Supreme Court found “that it is a precept of justice that punishment for crime should be graduated and proportioned to the offense.”  Justice John Paul Stevens wrote in the opinion for Atkins v. Virginia “a claim that punishment is excessive is judged not by the standards that prevailed in 1685 when Lord Jeffreys presided over the ‘Bloddy Assizes’ or when the Bill of Rights was adopted but rather by those that currently prevail.”  It is on this precedent where Justice Breyer calls into question the constitutionality of the death penalty.

Justice Breyer writes that the death penalty fails the constitutional question because of “serious unreliability, arbitrariness in application, and unconscionably long delays that undermine the death penalty’s penological purpose.”  As we’ve seen, there have been innocent people executed for crimes that they commit.  Beyond that, there has been a number of cases where people have been sentenced to death but were exonerated.  There have been 115 exonerations in capital cases.  In his dissent, Justice Breyer notes that courts are 130 times more likely to exonerate a defendant when a death sentence is at issue.  Comparing to other murders, they are nine times more likely to exonerate a defendant with a capital murder compared to noncapital murder. Why does this happen?

The simplest explanation is that there is tremendous bias with the jurors.   In an article titled The Principled Executioner: Capital Juries’ Bias and the Benefits of True Bifurcation, Susan D. Rozelle explores the bias found in jurors.  The term used to describe potential jurors who will not convict someone of death even if they are convinced of a defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt is nullifiers.   She cites a Supreme Court Case Lockhart v. McCree  that allowed nullifers to be excluded from the guilt phase section of a capital case.  Further, the Supreme Court found that each juror should be “willing to consider all of the penalties provided by state law.”  Early social science studies found that once prosecutors were able to eliminate nullifiers from juries, those who remained were more likely to hold beliefs that would help the prosecution.  An example of this belief was “if the police have arrested an individula and the district attorney has brought him to trial, there is good reason tto believe that the man on trial is guilty.”

Moreover, eliminating nullifiers from jury pools made the juries more homogeneous.  This may not sound like a problem.  But similar people see evidence the same way.  When you have more people who are different who have different worldviews and different backgrounds, the same piece of evidence is seen in a different way.  As Professor Cass Sunstein wrote “normative bias is well supported by evidence of confirmation bias, by which people tend to seek out, and to believe, evidence that supports their won antecedent views.”  Or more simply, there is a tendency to see what we expect to see.  When you have the same worldviews or same backgrounds people will have the same expectations for what they should see so it will match up.

The Capital Jury Project (CJP) undertook a large study interviewing 1200 jurors who served on 350 capital trials in fourteen states to help study the behavior of capital case jurors.  Their conclusion was that “capital jurors hold disproportionately punitive orientations toward crime and criminal justice, are more likely to be conviction-prone, are more likely to hold racial stereotypes, and are more likely to be pro-prosecution.”  Over 70% of jurors interviewed felt that death was the only acceptable punishment for a murder committed by a defendant with a prior murder conviction.  Almost 60% agreed that death was the only acceptable punishment for planned or premeditated murder.  There were a few other categories including where the victim as a police officer or prison guard, murders involving multiple victims, and murders committed by a drug dealer.  About half of those interviewed felt that death was the only acceptable punishment in each of those situations.  About 30% of those interviewed stated that death was the only acceptable punishment for all of the above crimes.  About 24% of the jurors stated death was the only acceptable punishment for felony murder where the killing that occurs during another crime.  More troubling, some of the capital jurors offered some situations where they would not vote for the death penalty which included war time, children playing with a gun, hunting accident, or if the guy was not guilty.  Comparatively, only 2-3% of jurors who were interviewed stated that the death penalty is unacceptable in those situations mentioned.

What could be more troubling than that?  Perhaps the fact nearly half of those interviewed admitted that they decided the proper punishment before “they had heard a single piece of evidence on the issue of punishment.”  Or that about 10% of jurors stated that the death qualification question (being asked if they would consider the death penalty) “made them think the defendant must be or probably was guilty and that death must be or probably was the appropriate punishment.”

But before we get to the trial, there is tremendous pressure on the community including police officers and prosecutors to find the person who committed this crime.  Capital cases tend to be horrendous crimes.  There the police face pressure to quickly find the person who committed the crime.  In cases where the defendant was exonerated, the police investigation was shorter than those where the defendants were not exonerated according to the article “Frequency and Predictors of False Conviction: Why We Know So Little, and New Data on Capital Cases.”  Because of this pressure, there is a greater likelihood of of the hallmarks of wrongful convictions as noted in Convicting the Innocent: Where Criminal Prosecutions Go Wrong including false confessions, mistaken eyewitness testimony, and untruthful jailhouse informants.  Because of all of these factors, researchers estimate that about 4% of those sentenced to death are actually innocent.

Justice Breyer notes in his dissent that when the death penalty was reinstated in Gregg v. Georgia that the death penalty would be unconstitutional if “inflicted in an arbitrary and capricious manner.”  A lot of studies found that individuals who were accused of murdering white victims as opposed to minority victims were more likely to receive the death penalty.  The Government Accountability Office (GAO) found in 1990 that 82% of the 28 studies found that “race of victim influences capital murder charge or death sentence.” A similar finding was found in the article Furman, McCleskey, and a Single County Case Study published in 2013.  The geographic location of the defendant and victim make a difference, as well.  29 counties nationwide account for half of all death sentences imposed nationwide.  In 2012, 59 counties accounted for all death sentences nationwide.  The reasons for this are that only some states permit the death penalty, the counties may have weaker public defense programs, or it could be that the federal district that the jurors will be filled are a big racial difference than the county where the crime occurred.

Beyond that arbitrariness, there is an arbitrariness involved with what crimes are going to be charged as capital crimes.  Justice Breyer lists a number of crimes that were prosecuted as capital crimes compared to other murders.  Most of them include a single murder from a defendant who previous felony convictions compared to a murderer with multiple victims or other offenses in the context of the crime that make it seemingly more heinous.  I won’t repeat them all here.  But the crimes he chooses are supposed to show that capital charges are arbitrarily chosen and I believe him.

As we look at Gregg v. Georgia, we know that every safeguard has to be observed when a defendant’s life is at stake.  These requirements take a long time to implement.   As Justice Breyer writes, “unless we abandon the procedural requirements that assure fairness and reliability, we are forced to confront the problem of increasingly lengthy delays in capital cases.”

There were 35 executions in 2014.  These executions occurred on average about 18 years after the initial sentencing.  Some states have even longer waits.  For instance, in Florida, the last 10 prisoners executed spent nearly 25 years on death row before execution.  The delays have only increased in recent years.  The average delay in 1960 was two years.  In 2004, it was 11 years.  According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, nearly half of the 3,000 inmates on death row now have been there more than 15 years.

The ACLU found that inmates on death row are kept in isolation for 22 or more hours per day.  Solitary confinement can lead to anxiety, paranoia, hallucinations, rage, and panic.  Beyond that as Justice John Paul Stevens wrote in Gomez v. Fierro lengthy delays subject “death row inmates to decades of especially severe, dehumanizing conditions of confinement.”  Or in the denial of cert for Lackey v. Texas, Stevens wrote that “excessive delays from sentencing to execution can themselves constitute cruel and unusual punishment prohibited by the Eighth Amendment.”

The delays are necessary because they provide additional safeguards to make sure that the inmate is guilty but they are damaging in their current form.  These delays undermine the claim that the death penalty is a retributive punishment that effectively deters crime.  This claim is undermined by social science research.  The National Research Council reviewed the empirical evidence saying “despite 30 years of empirical research in the area, there remains no reliable statistical evidence that capital punishment in fact deters potential offenders.”

If we take it all into consideration: the unreliability, the arbitrariness, and the delays, I find myself agreeing with Justice Breyer that we need a wholesale review of the constitutionality of the death penalty.


If ridding ourselves of the death penalty were as straightforward and easy as simply agreeing with Justice Breyer, we wouldn’t have these debates that we’ve been having for over 40 years.  Instead of focusing on concrete issues and what has happened in the past, we are often faced with abstract questions or hypotheticals over would we support the death penalty in what situations.  While it’s impossible to predict how I would respond given a particular situation, based on the evidence that is out there, the death penalty should be repealed.  In Nebraska, it was successfully repealed.  I urge all of you to vote AGAINST the Nebraska Death Penalty Repeal Referendum on November 8.