DEATH PENALTY REMARKS
June 21, 1994
Old Governor's Mansion
I want to thank you all for joining me here today.
During the course of this election campaign, I have endeavored to candidly present my views on a wide range of issues, including the death penalty.
I have clearly stated my personal opposition to the death penalty ... and equally as forcefully, my unyielding commitment to conscientiously enforcing the laws of the
State of California, including the death penalty.
Those positions are in no way contradictory.
I have attempted to turn away media questions about my personal attitudes on the death penalty -- questions frequently provoked by opposing politicians seeking to use this issue for political purposes.
Their intent is to divert attention from a serious discussion about the strategies we must pursue as a State to fight the rising tide of crime and violence that is on
the rise in California.
But the questions, they keep coming and they threaten to do just what my opposition wants -- to keep my views on capital punishment as the focus, rather than focus on their failure to deal with the issues of crime and violence in our State that threaten it, and threaten our people.
Now I recognize that efforts will be made to exploit and distort for political purposes what I say here today.
But to end the so-called "mystery" about my views, I will share with you the deeply personal values and experiences that formed my attitude about the death penalty ... and my commitment to enforce the law.
This is for me a uniquely complex and personal matter. One that has not easily fit into or translate into 30-second sound bites or even to one minute-and-fifty-second debate response answers.
Because you see for me, the death penalty is not a political textbook issue. I literally grew up surrounded by it. I never volunteered for the assignment, nor did I have
the choice to opt out. It was quite simply "my life" as the Catholic daughter of the Governor of California.
The Catholic household that I grew up in steeped me in the teachings of the Baltimore catechism. I was taught that I have a responsibility to God, and to family and to
community; that one can only fully realize oneself by serving others; to respect authority; and that a higher truth guides us all.
But even more fundamentally, I was taught to live my life by my values. Yet to be a Catholic is to also understand that the basic values and teachings of the Church are applied in many different ways by Catholics throughout the world and the nation.
From my father, I learned about life and death from his personal anguish in dealing with California's capital punishment law.
My father supported the death penalty as San Francisco District Attorney and as California's Attorney General. He entered the Governor's Office in 1959 believing capital punishment was a necessary evil. But after eight years of making life and death decisions for 59 individuals, he left office believing it was wrong.
As a teenager growing up in the Governor's Mansion, right here, I lived through my father's education about the death penalty as he managed the awesome legal powers on the Governor and as he agonized over the suffering of the victims and their families and the fate of those 59 individuals on Death Row.
No Governor in modern California history -- not Ronald Reagan, not Jerry Brown, not George Deukmejian, and not Pete Wilson presided over more death penalty cases, sent more people to the gas chamber, and yes, spared more lives with executive clemency than did my father.
The total numbers -- 36 executions, 23 commutations -- do not do justice to the amount of emotional energy and time my father dedicated to this issue. He was called upon and he made life and death decisions on average of once every 49 days over his eight years as Governor.
As his daughter, I will never forget those death penalty days.
My father reviewed each case individually from briefing materials assembled in thick black briefing binders. He used to sit in a mustard-colored chair, in fact it was
right here in this living room, and he would sit here after dinner and ponder his decisions late into the night.
I remember sneaking downstairs, at the stairs right there, after he went to bed to read the black books that he left behind on the ottoman here in the living room. I saw the photographs of the crime scene, I saw the photographs of the victims, and I saw the photographs of the perpetrators. I read the letters from the family members -- families of the victims and the families of the death row inmates.
I always knew when an execution date was coming because when I would arrive home from school, I saw demonstrators chanting outside the house carrying signs and candles. Some were there to demand justice; and others were there calling on my father for mercy. I had to pass through them to get home.
One evening I will never forget when I arrived home with my father as we went up the back stairs, the ones that you came in to the mansion this morning, we were accosted by an elderly woman who had tears in her eyes, and as she grabbed and tugged on my fathers coat she begged for mercy for her son.
In 1960, during the Winter Olympic Games in Squaw Valley, my father sent my mother and me to represent him at the opening ceremonies. It was a magnificent Walt
Disney-produced moment in the main skating arena, and a thousand doves of peace were released into the sky. There were flags from every nation in the world. And I was just about as joyful as a 14-year-old could be to be out of school and at such a spectacular event.
But, I was totally unprepared for the angry, and the hostile and thunderous boos that my mother received when we were introduced. Broadcast for all the world to hear, it was mortifying. It was frightening. It was the public outcry over my father's handling of the death penalty in the Caryl Chessman case.
Even then I understood the public's demand for punishment. I understood it from the reading of the horrifying and grizzly details of the crimes committed in the death
penalty case books which I had read.
For in confronting serious and violent crime, it is wrong -- morally and socially -- for criminals to go unpunished. Indeed, many of my own faith accept the principle that the state may take appropriate actions and measures to protect its citizens, and its self from grievous harm, and that the state has the right to take the life of a person guilty of an extremely serious crime.
Today, I understand even more the public's demand for punishment.
I understand it from Linda Sawin, who is my administrative assistant in the State Treasurer's Office in Los Angles, whose 20-year-old son, Danny, was brutally stabbed to death right outside her home six years ago yesterday. She supports capital punishment -- and I both respect and understand how she feels.
I understand it from Marc Klaas when he talks about his anger, about his anguish and about his demand for capital punishment for his daughter Polly's abduction and slaying. He supports capital punishment -- and I understand and respect how he feels.
I understand it because I would feel the same way if anyone harmed my children or my grandchildren. I would feel the same anger, I would feel the same anguish, and I would feel the same demand for retribution.
But even in the face of those justifiable human passions, there is no way that I, Kathleen Brown, could possibly change my personal views on capital punishment for they are too rooted in the values that were passed on to me by my father. A change would represent a repudiation of what he taught me, of what he endured for his beliefs, and for what he instilled in me about the fundamental responsibilities that come with holding public office.
And so today, as a candidate for Governor of the State of California I am mindful that I am on the wrong side of a hot political issue, 80 percent of the voting public in
California supports the death penalty.
I know many politicians who have changed their views on this issue, each one citing the gruesome details of the case that pushed them over the line and prompted them to consider the issue anew.
But these are my personal beliefs -- they are shaped by my parents, they are rooted in the events of my life, they are grounded in personal religious values.
There are another set of values that I want to talk about today -- another set of beliefs that are shaped too by my family, rooted in the events of my life, and grounded in democracy.
They are beliefs that are central to any discussion of the death penalty.
I speak of my fierce devotion to the democratic process and my unflinching commitment to the rule of law.
As the granddaughter of a San Francisco police captain, I understand the law is not some abstraction. My grandfather, Captain Arthur Layne, gave his life's work to
the rule of law and to its enforcement.
As the daughter of a San Francisco D.A. and later California Attorney General, I understand the law is not some abstraction. My father went to night school to learn
the law and he gave his life's work to the betterment of people's lives through that law.
And that is why I studied the law. As a lawyer -- and now as a constitutional officer -- I understand that the law is not some abstraction. As an elected official, I have sworn to serve the people of California and to uphold all the laws of this state.
As Governor, I will take an oath to "support and defend the Constitution of California and the Constitution of the United States of America.
In taking an oath to preserve our Constitution, I am pledging to protect the freedoms it represents --the freedom of religion, the freedom of expression, and the
freedom of association. I gladly take that oath because it guarantees not only my freedom but the freedom of others.
So while I hold my own beliefs dear, the people and the courts have spoken. California's death penalty is the law of this state. And I will enforce that law.
Its so basic -- and so fundamental -- that it almost goes without saying. But the rule of law and its rigorous enforcement are the very cornerstones of our democracy.
Or, as Abraham Lincoln observed in 1838, the law is the "political religion of our nation" and our only protection against mob rule and anarchy.
So while I am my father's daughter, I am also my own person.
And times have changed since my father labored over those 59 death penalty cases.
In my father's day, people were condemned to Death for crimes that did not even involve murder. And the jury was given virtually unbridled discretion because the law provided no standard for the application of the death penalty.
Today we have a new and a tougher law, one that has been refined over the last 17 years -- a law that specifically identifies the "special circumstances" in which the death penalty should be applied.
Today's law has been approved resoundingly by the voters, it has been passed by the Legislature, it has been upheld by the Supreme Court of California and the Supreme Court of the United States.
Unlike my political opponents or even former justices, I will not play politics with the death penalty. Nor will I flaunt the public's will.
As Governor, I will enforce the letter and the spirit of that law.
Let me take this opportunity to make clear just what my commitments are in regard to the appointment of judges and clemency.
In the appointment of judges, my criteria is simple, I will look for experience, intelligence, integrity, competence, diversity and a total commitment to enforce the laws of the State of California, including the death penalty.
Further, I pledge not to use the executive power of commutation to tamper with or undermine California's death penalty statute.
Historically, clemency proceedings do not focus on guilt or innocence, nor on the merits of the capital punishment law, nor on errors of law.
Traditionally, they have focused on what has happened since the trial that may make the death penalty inappropriate. For example in 1967, Ronald Reagan -- the last Governor to commute a death sentence to life without parole -- granted clemency to Calvin Thomas because organic brain damage was not discovered until after the conviction.
While there are no magic litmus tests, criteria or templates that can be imposed on each case to decide the issue of capital punishment, or excuse me of clemency , in
describing my approach to clemency I would invoke the language of Pete Wilson's own legal affairs secretary when he granted a clemency hearing for Robert Alton Harris:
He said: "The wisdom of the death penalty as a matter of policy has already been determined by the Legislature and the people. Thus no oral statements or written materials concerning the merits of capital punishment will be solicited or accepted."
In fact, in that case I would have reached the same conclusion as Pete Wilson did. I would have allowed the execution of Robert Alton Harris.
But let us put this issue of capital punishment into perspective.
Yes, the death penalty is an important issue.
But so is the fact that in each of the past four years, the number of Californians who have been murdered on our streets and in our homes has grown.
So is the fact that in each of the past four years, the number of violent crimes committed by juveniles has grown.
So is the fact that in each of the past four years, the number of Californians arming themselves because they feel unsafe has grown.
And just as important, just as important are the problems of joblessness and educational decline -- issues that have nothing to do with the death penalty statute but are
inextricably, inextricably related to making our communities safe once again.
Pete Wilson doesn't want to talk about the state's murder rate ... or about juvenile violent crime ... or even about our economy or our education system. He wants to distract the voters from his failed record by focusing solely on one issue.
And despite loud and strident talk, Pete Wilson has been a failure on the issues that count in California. He has been a failure on jobs. He's been a failure on schools.
He's been a failure on balancing the budget. And he has been a failure on crime.
Pete Wilson has failed California.
So let us move beyond the death penalty. Let us set ourselves to the task of talking about how we can create more jobs ... how we can make our schools better and ready our kids for the 21st Century ... and how we can realistically and responsibly stop the violence and restore the peace and security for all of our people.
return to the main page
The material included in this voter guide is archived and will not be updated. Please visit the California Voter Foundation's homepage for the most current information and resources.
© California Voter Foundation 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997 & 1998