Rick Perry has apparently decided to double down on Willingham. After multiple articles came out documenting inappropriate political pressure on the investigation, Perry came out firing yesterday. Here's the Houston Chronicle:
Gov. Rick Perry on Wednesday defended his actions in the execution of Cameron Todd Willingham, calling him a “monster” and a “bad man” who murdered his children.
Fortunately, though, the story seems to be getting national legs -- which probably explains why Perry felt the need to further shame himself today.
Here's a question, though, that I've been thinking about lately: Why exactly is Texas so terrible on capital punishment? It's an urban, diverse state -- conservative to be sure, but not more so than many other states. Why exactly, then, does Texas execute so enthusiastically? Are there structural explanations?
I don't know what the actual origins of Texas's lust for execution are. But I have an idea of why it continues -- basically, I think it's a function of intra-GOP politics.
Interestingly, Texas has two "Supreme Courts." The Texas Supreme Court is the highest appellate court for civil matters, while the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals is the highest court for criminal cases. Both courts are 100% Republican. Also, the judges are all elected -- and each one of them runs state-wide. Thus, even though Texas is only majority Republican, the election structure produces courts that are 100% Republican.
My own pet theory, then, is that capital punishment has become an ideological issue on which aspiring GOP politicians must show party loyalty to get elected and to ascend the intra-party hierarchy. If, however, they show the slightest hesitancy on executing the inadequately represented, their future in politics is over.
In short, ostentatious support for capital punishment-on-demand is all benefit and no cost for ambitious GOP judges and officials.
What's interesting about the Perry controversy, then, is that it has the potential to change this calculus. For the first time, an elected official may actually pay a political price for knee-jerk support for capital punishment. If he does, that would obviously be good in and of itself because Perry is an immoral man. But it would also open political space for skeptical GOP officials, including judges.
I refuse to believe that every single Texas GOP judge and elected official feels just fine about the Texas criminal justice system. But, neither can I realistically expect them to ignore political incentives. If, however, Perry took a big political hit, then maybe that calculus would suddenly change.
That's why I wish Hutchison would go all in on this issue. Texas has open primaries, meaning I could go vote for her if I wanted to. And if she got serious about this issue, I think I might. The Republican primary is going to decide the election anyway. So it would be nice to have a Republican who got there because of Democratic cross-over votes.
Certainly better than the alternative.