Local Columnists

Dave Helling: Kansas governor candidates agree on capital punishment, disagree on state Supreme Court

A recent television ad by Republican Gov. Sam Brownback (left) offers a chance for voters to further examine his and challenger Paul Davis’ views on the death penalty and the state Supreme Court — where they converge and where they differ.
A recent television ad by Republican Gov. Sam Brownback (left) offers a chance for voters to further examine his and challenger Paul Davis’ views on the death penalty and the state Supreme Court — where they converge and where they differ. The Associated Press

Gov. Sam Brownback’s new TV ad about the Kansas death penalty and “liberal judges” is a reminder that political commercials can help voters make informed choices, but only by looking beyond the ads to the issues underneath.

The spot refers to Jonathan and Reginald Carr, brothers who were convicted of brutal killings in Wichita and sentenced to death. The Kansas Supreme Court overturned those sentences this summer.

The Brownback ad makes much of the court’s ruling, claiming it “let the Carr brothers off the hook.”

The statement is misleading. The Carr brothers are still very much in custody and may yet face the death penalty. The case is under appeal.

But let’s use the ad to explore a deeper issue: Where do Brownback and Democratic opponent Paul Davis actually stand on capital punishment?

Brownback has expressed reservations about its use. More than a year ago, he said executions should be imposed only on inmates considered a future threat to society, using Osama bin Laden as an example.

“Most Kansans would look at it as wanting this to be very, very, very sparingly used,” Brownback said. “You’re always looking to protect life.”

His campaign did not directly answer when asked if the governor believes the death penalty was appropriate in the Carrs’ cases.

Davis believes the Carrs’ death sentences were “absolutely appropriate,” a spokesman said. In general, the Democrat has said he supports the current Kansas death penalty law.

That suggests both candidates roughly agree on capital punishment — they both approve of its use in some cases.

Where Brownback and Davis disagree is how the state should pick its Supreme Court judges.

Davis supports the current system. A special panel submits three nominees to the governor, who then chooses one. Opponents say that process gives too much power to unelected people.

Brownback wants the governor to appoint judges subject to state Senate approval. That system closely mirrors the U.S. Constitution, but it may make the judicial selection process in Kansas more partisan than it is now.

That’s an important debate in the governor’s race. Judges play a role in how the state imposes the death penalty, so the system for picking them makes a difference.

But don’t let the commercial confuse you about the Carrs’ unspeakable crimes. Both candidates for governor support the Kansas death penalty, which may still await the two killers.

To reach Dave Helling, call 816-234-4656 or send email to dhelling@kcstar.com.

  Comments