Death penalty repeal gains momentum
Julie Bykowicz and Gadi Dechter report today on some potentially meaningful shifts in Mike Miller's rhetoric on the death penalty. Not only did the pro-death penalty senate prez applaud when the anti-death penalty Gov. O'Malley made his pitch for ending captial punishment in yesterday's state of the state speech, Miller also said the death penalty is "not working" in Maryland. That's a pretty big shift -- he's not saying he opposes capital punishment per se, but he is laying the rhetorical groundwork for facilitating the repeal bill's passage through his chamber.
Perhaps even more remarkable were his comments on the possibility that the repeal bill could be petitioned directly to the Senate floor if it (once again) gets bottled up in the evenly-divided Judicial Proceedings Committee. This is the nuclear option in Maryland politics and the kind of maneuver that the order-loving Senate president generally abhors. He said he would not thwart any effort to petition the bill to the floor if it fails in committee and would work to break up any filibuster by death penalty proponents.
That may not seem like much, but it's a big deal. Seemingly subtle rhetorical shifts by Mike Miller can mean big things in Annapolis. The general rule of thumb is that Miller says nothing by accident, and nothing happens in his chamber that he does not intend. His comments yesterday suggest he wants the bill to move, and if he wants it to move, move it will.
An interesting secondary question is, why the shift now? It's certainly a big chit he can offer to the governor, who said this year that he would do everything in his power to get a repeal passed. Was Miller persuaded by the state task force report on the application of Maryland's death penalty? Is there something Miller wants from the governor? Now that slots passed, it's hard to know what that would be. This issue has suddenly become an interesting one to watch over the next 10 weeks.