Is opposition to the death penalty no longer the third rail in politics?

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There are six major-party candidates running for governor of California, and according to a recent report in the San Francisco Chronicle, all but one is opposed to the death penalty.

“As the death penalty has gradually lost its once-overwhelming public support, it may also have lost its effectiveness as a wedge issue among office-seekers,” says reporter Bob Egelko.

The four Democrats who are running include Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Delaine Eastin, and state Treasurer John Chiang. Two Republicans, John Cox, a San Diego businessman, and Assemblyman Travis Allen of Orange County, are also running.

According to Egelko, the four Democrats, as well as Republican John Cox, openly stated their opposition to the death penalty in response to written questions submitted by the paper. Only Allen has expressed support for capital punishment.

While it’s encouraging, whether this opposition really matters, however, is debatable for several reasons. In November 2016, a very slim majority of California voters approved Proposition 66, which claimed it would speed up executions, and which was subsequently upheld by the California Supreme Court. The state’s Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation is expected to unveil its new lethal injection protocol sometime this year and, if it’s found to meet constitutional standards, the state could begin scheduling executions for the approximately 18 men on death row who have completed one full round of state and federal habeas corpus. California’s consti-tution mandates that the governor cannot grant a pardon or commutation to a condemned prisoner who has been convicted of two or more felonies without the approval of a majority (four) of the state Supreme Court’s justices.

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