Can O'Malley swing the death penalty vote?
Gov. Martin O'Malley said thsi week that he would do "everything in my power" to abolosh the death penalty in Maryland this year and floated the idea of doing it through a constitutional amendment rather than a straight-up vote of the legislature. That's the same idea that broke a logjam in the House of Delegates on slot machine gambling in 2007.
So what are the odds? All indications are that the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee is still a big obstacle. None of the players on that committee have changed since the 2007 vote on the issue, so who can O'Malley sway?
Back then, these people voted for a repeal: Bryan Frosh (D-Montgomery); Lisa Gladden (D-Baltimore); Jennie Forehand (D-Montgomery); Anthony Muse (D-Prince George's); and Jamie Raskin (D-Montgomery). These voted against it: Jim Brochin (D-Baltimore County); Larry Haines (R-Carroll); Alex Mooney (R-Frederick); Bryan Simonaire (R-Anne Arundel); and Norm Stone (D-Baltimore County). Nancy Jacobs (R-Harford) was away for a funeral at the time of that committee vote, but she was on record as opposing a repeal, and her vote didn't matter since a 5-5 tie is insufficient to vote a bill out onto the floor.
Most of the attention in 2007 focused on Alex Mooney, an observant Catholic who has said his faith makes him torn on the question of the death penalty. He was lobbied by the church and by O'Malley, a fellow Catholic, back then, but ultimately, he was unable to get past the question of what would dissuade someone who was already in prison for life from, say, killing another inmate or a prison guard. He proposed the idea of keeping the death penalty just for those sorts of situations, but the repeal proponents wouldn't go for it.
Simonaire has also emerged as someone who is keeping an open mind on the issue. He has indicated that he would be taking seriously the report of the gubernatorial commission that recommended abolishing the death penalty and the witnesses who testify at the committee hearing on the issue.
But realistically, how much more is there to hear on the subject? Is it possible that some gubernatorial arm-twisting could change some votes on the issue, and if so, are those two Republicans the ones who might be most receptive to it?
What about the two no-voting Democrats on the committee: Stone and Brochin? Stone is a conservative Democrat from Dundalk, and Brochin is a determinedly independent Democrat from the Towson area. Stone has faced the heat from a governor before on social issues, breaking with Gov. Parris Glendening's push for gay rights legislation -- and paying an intense price for it. Then again, Stone's still here.
Brochin is a guy who drives other Senators crazy because he's hard to pin down ideologically. But then again, so is his district. He's got rock-ribbed conservative precincts in Timonium and increasingly liberal ones in Pikesville and near the city line in Towson. He, too, has been personna non grata with the administration before, notably on tax votes, so it's hard to imagine that he'd cave that easily either. If his vote swings, it would more likely be because he tends to agonize over tough votes and has been known to change his mind.
The telling question may be how these four senators react to the constitutional amendment idea. It only takes one of them to switch to get the issue onto the Senate floor, and after that, who knows? There's generally been a sense that a majority in both the House and Senate would coalesce around a repeal, but a super-majority to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot? Nobody knows. And even before it gets to that point, there's the threat of a filibuster in the Senate. There's no doubt that the governor has a lot of power to bring to bear, but it still may not be enough to move this one.