Conservatives join anti-death penalty movement in Ohio


By Jeremy Pelzer - Advance Ohio Media, Cleveland



COLUMBUS — As Ohio’s years-long struggle to obtain execution drugs continues with no end in sight, there’s a new effort underway to completely abolish capital punishment in the state — this time, with increasing involvement by conservatives.

But though activists say they’re confident that state lawmakers will soon get rid of the death penalty, whether legislators will actually take such action isn’t a foregone conclusion.

At a Statehouse news conference Tuesday, the newly created Ohio chapter of Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty released a list of conservatives in favor of abolishing Ohio’s death penalty, under which more than 50 people have been put to death since the state resumed executions in 1999.

The list includes a number of former Republican officeholders, including former Attorney General Jim Petro, ex-Gov. Bob Taft and longtime U.S. Rep. Pat Tiberi. Several former staffers of ex-Gov. John Kasich also signed on — though Kasich himself has not.

Only three people on the list are sitting GOP lawmakers: state Reps. Craig Riedel, of Defiance; Laura Lanese, of suburban Columbus; and Niraj Antani, of the Dayton area.

Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder, a Perry County Republican, has repeatedly said that his support of the death penalty is eroding. Gov. Mike DeWine, a Greene County Republican, has put a freeze on executions in Ohio because pharmaceutical companies have refused to sell drugs to the state for use in lethal injections, though he has stayed silent about whether he continues to support the death penalty.

Hannah Kubbins, director of the non-partisan Ohioans To Stop Executions, said she and Hannah Cox, national manager for Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty, have already spoken with a majority of Ohio lawmakers about getting rid of capital punishment.

“I think that we will see repeal in the next year or so,” Kubbins said in an interview. “The conversations are encouraging. …It’s becoming a conservative-led, bipartisan-supported movement.”

Some Republican lawmakers, she said, were already skeptical about capital punishment on religious grounds, or because of concerns about the high taxpayer-funded expense of putting someone to death. Others, she said, are becoming anti-death penalty because of Ohio’s problems with death drugs.

Another factor is conservatives’ preference for smaller government.

“To give big government power over life and death is rather concerning to a lot of us,” Lanese said Tuesday.

Despite the optimism, repealing Ohio’s death penalty is anything but a done deal. Senate President Larry Obhof, a Medina Republican, said earlier this month that it’s “unlikely” that the Ohio General Assembly would abolish the death penalty completely in the next year, adding that most lawmakers still favor executions in “particularly heinous cases.”

Antani said Tuesday that there’s a “distinct possibility” that Ohio lawmakers will act within a year to abolish capital punishment. But so far, there have been only discussions among House Republicans about the issue, and it’s unclear when legislation might be introduced.

Lanese said while she admires Kubbins’ optimism about lawmakers abolishing the death penalty within a year, such a move won’t happen overnight.

“We’re going to chip away at this,” Lanese said. “I do know that this is a deeply held belief for a lot of people on both sides, so it’s going to take a lot of work — especially with conservatives.”

Cox, a New York resident who travels the country lobbying states against the death penalty, said in an interview that Ohio wasn’t on her group’s radar until last year.

“There’s just been such tremendous growth in the state momentum that we now feel that there’s enough support in the states for conservatives to really start leading the charge,” Cox said.

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By Jeremy Pelzer

Advance Ohio Media, Cleveland

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