Jerry Kopel

Should we have a three judge panel, one judge decision, or twelve jurors on the death penalty? It certainly matters to the defendant and to relatives of the victim, but Colorado is small-time (past and future) when it comes to either carrying out executions, or having people on death row. That's an area where the Bush brothers, Jeb and George, reign supreme.

The U.S. Dept. of Justice recently released their execution numbers for 1999, and the total is still subject to possible revision (but only upwards).

"During 1999" states Justice, "twenty states executed 98 prisoners, a 44 percent increase over the 68 executed in 1998. This is the MOST inmates executed in a single year since the 105 inmates executed in 1951." (Emphasis added). Actually in 1999, Jeb didn't do well at all (just one execution), but George had 35, which alone was 36 percent of all executions in the U.S. last year.

Of the 98 executed, "sixty-one of those executed were white (which includes Hispanic), 33 were black, two were American Indian, and two were Asian."

(The Wall Street Journal on March 21st published totals which gave a glimpse of the year 2000. There were 25 additional executions, including 12 in Texas.)

In 1998, Texas with 20, and Florida with four totaled 35 percent of the 68 executions. Nationally, 66 were male, and two female. "Forty-eight were white, 18 were black, one was American Indian, and one was Asian." The 1999 numbers reported did not separate "male and female".

To find an execution niche for Colorado, the Justice report has to go back to reciting the numbers between 1930 and 1976. Colorado and Washington state were tied for 22d place with 47 executions each. But no one was executed in Colorado through 1976 after Louis Monge in 1967, so Colorado could have placed a few notches higher if we only looked at 1930 through 1968.

It may be hard to believe, but during 1930-1976, Texas was NOT the leading state for executions. It was Georgia, with 366 dead, followed by New York with 329, and the bronze metal winner was Texas with 297.

The Justice report goes in great detail about the annual year 1998, with 3,433 prisoners on death row from 38 states. Colorado, with three on death row, ranked sixth from the bottom among the 38 states. Not that Colorado hasn't tried. The report shows Colorado had 16 inmates sentenced to death between 1973-98. One was executed, one died in prison, 10 had their sentence or conviction overturned, and one had his sentence commuted, leaving three still under sentence of death.

Of the 3,433 prisoners on death row in 38 states, Texas had 451 and Florida, 372. That means nearly one out of every four prisoners on death row could have their fate decided by George or Jeb.

Trivia questions. The ages of the youngest and oldest person on death row? Eighteen and 83. Of the 38 states with a death penalty, how old do you have to be to be sentenced to death? In eight states there is no minimum age specified. In 16 states, the "age of eligibility" is between 14 and 17. Colorado is one of the 14 states in the minority with a minimum age of 18. Which northern state has the worst white-black ratio on death row? Pennsylvania with 75 white inmates and 138 black inmates.

* * *

Just some speculation. If John McCain WAS on the ballot as presidential candidate of a third party that had won the right to run in most of the fifty states, could McCain be elected president?

In the past 10 presidential elections, 1960-1996, five were won by less than 50 percent of the popular vote. Nixon won in 1968 with only 43.4 percent of the popular vote, and going back to 1912, Woodrow Wilson won with 41.9 percent of the popular vote.

Everyone knows Abe Lincoln was elected president in 1860 on the Republican ticket, but most people aren't aware how badly he did. He won with only 39.44 percent of the popular vote.

Lincoln and his running mate, Hannibal Hamlin, did win 180 electoral votes, but Lincoln only carried 17 of 33 states, and he lost the popular vote by nearly a million.

In round numbers, Lincoln had 1,866,000 votes. The Democratic candidate, U.S. Sen. Stephen Douglas and his running mate Herschel Johnson, has 1,375,000 votes and carried two states for 12 electoral votes. Vice President John Breckinridge, distrustful of what Douglas would do if elected president, had walked out of the Democratic convention of 1860 and took delegates from 11 southern states with him.

Breckinridge and his southern Democrats (with Joseph Lane as his running mate) received 848,000 votes, won eleven states and 72 electoral votes. Not all of those votes came from the south. He had a decent following in the north and certainly deprived Douglas of a chance at the majority of votes cast.

Meanwhile, others at the Republican convention were unhappy with Lincoln. They formed a new Constitutional Union (CU) party, consisting mostly of conservatives who were formerly with the now-defunct Whig Party. They named U.S. Sen. John Bell as their presidential candidate and Harvard University President Edward Everett for vice-president. The CU Party garnered 591,000 votes, won three states and 39 electoral votes. And yes, the "so's your old man" approach would give Lincoln a majority with the CU votes.

Lincoln was no saint when it came to politics. U.S. Sen. William Seward of New York was supposed to be the 1860 Republican candidate for president. Neither Lincoln nor Seward were at the convention, but their lieutenants were. Lincoln's men promised almost all the cabinet positions to party bosses of various states in return for delegate votes, and Lincoln won on the third ballot.

When told of his victory, Lincoln remarked in good humor "Well, gentlemen, where do I come in? You seem to have given everything away."

If McCain decides to run on a third party ticket, he, like Lincoln, might well win the electoral vote with less than forty percent of the popular vote.

Jerry Kopel writes a column for the Statesman based on 22 years past experience as a state legislator.

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