and the
Citizens Economic Research Foundation


Barbara's Column
October 2003 #1

Let voters decide on death penalty, casino gambling
© by Barbara Anderson

The Salem News
Friday, October 3, 2003

Most columns carry the strong opinions of opinionated columnists, and mine is usually no exception. But two issues that will be front and center on Beacon Hill this fall are issues about which my strong opinions keep changing: the death penalty and casino gambling.

We should have a death penalty in Massachusetts because the voters said so, both on a 1968 advisory question "retain capital punishment" and then, when the state courts ruled that capital punishment was unconstitutional, with a 1982 constitutional amendment to allow it that won with 54% of the vote.

The Legislature was supposed to draft enabling legislation that passed the new constitutional muster, and it has never done this. Shame, as usual, on the Legislature.

But I voted "No" in 1982. I had planned to vote "Yes" but my co-worker Chip Faulkner and I argued throughout the campaign and in the end he convinced me that the government shouldn’t have this extraordinary power. Of course, I convinced him that murderers must die, so he voted "Yes" and cancelled me out.

He has since switched back to "No ... for the same reason I would vote "No" again: we don’t trust the judicial system. The convictions of three innocent people in the Fells Acre Daycare Case solidified our position: if the state can keep people in jail for fabricated crimes, it could execute innocent people as well.

I applaud Governor Romney’s determination to create a death penalty statute that would use science to determine guilt with no chance of error. If we know for sure who they are, I want the really bad guys dead. Justice/revenge is a good enough reason.

The life imprisonment without parole thing doesn’t work for me. This punishment would be fine for people like us, who would find being imprisoned almost unbearable. But many criminals are not like us; some commit a crime when released just to get back to their familiar prison environment. Real murderers should not be watching TV and eating food that their victims no longer enjoy. Once they’ve killed, they’ve expresssed their opinion that life is not sacred, so theirs no longer is.

I would give some weight to the opinions of the families of their victims. If I were such family, I would ask for justice, and be willing to pull the switch or inject the poison myself. But if the nearest kin ask for mercy for the killer, as some do, perhaps a judge should respect their compassion as long as "life without parole" means the rest of us will never be threatened by their misplaced kindness.

Murder is a mortal sin. Gambling is merely a vice, though calling gambling "immoral" seems strange to someone who was raised in the small-town Catholic Church, where bingo was almost a sacrament and raffles represented the three primary virtues: "Have Faith in God, Hope for a win, and at least your dollar went to Charity".

In a libertarian world, the government would neither allow nor forbid casinos, or other forms of gambling. They would be treated like any business, legitimate til proven otherwise. Public safety forces would step in when laws were broken in pursuit of making a profit.

This is where I start to have misgivings. Some states seem to have gambling without corruption: it’s hard to imagine that Massachusetts would become one of them.

It is, however, easy to imagine that our welfare system would expand to cover the families of breadwinners who cast the family bread upon the roulette tables. Taxpayers might benefit initially from added gambling revenues, but would end up paying the public safety and social costs.

On the other hand, we are presently paying the social costs of the state lottery; I’m sure some people spend the bread money on tickets. So I would vote to stop the hypocrisy: if gambling can be run by the state, it can be run by the Indians. And at the moment we have a superior Secretary of Public Safety, Ed Flynn, to address additional public safety issues. Let’s give free-enterprise gaming a try with one Indian casino, to compete with Foxwood, and put the question of expansion on the next state ballot as a legislative advisory question.

Once Governor Romney creates his fool-proof death penalty bill, legislators could also ask the voters about that subject, once again. Legislative candidates can run on pledges to support the people’s will on both issues. There will be debates, forums, talk-radio discussions, editorials, columns and letters to the editor from those who already have definite opinions; by election day we all can make an informed decision. Yes, my opinion on the death penalty and casino is, let the voters decide. Then let the Legislature obey.

Barbara Anderson is executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation. Her syndicated columns appear weekly in the Salem News and Lowell Sun; bi-weekly in the Tinytown Gazette; and occasionally in the Providence Journal and other newspapers.

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