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The last time someone was executed by lethal injection in Oregon was in 1997. A moratorium on capital punishment has been in place since 2011. Oregon’s death chamber, pictured above, was dismantled in 2020.

Drazan, Johnson Would Allow Future Executions; Kotek Wouldn’t

Republican Christine Drazan and unaffiliated candidate Betsy Johnson say they would approve future executions under Oregon’s death penalty while Democrat Tina Kotek indicates she would continue a moratorium on executions that began in 2011 under Governor John Kitzhaber.

Republican Christine Drazan (left) and unaffiliated candidate Betsy Johnson (center) say they would allow capital crime executions as governor. Democrat Tina Kotek (right) said she would continue the moratorium on executions that former Governor John Kitzhaber imposed in 2011.

Views on the death penalty by the leading gubermnatorial candidates were published online in unedited form by Oregon Public Broadcasting last week. Here are their statements:

Drazan: “I am personally opposed to the death penalty, but the death penalty was put in place by Oregon voters. I will follow the law by reviewing cases on a case-by-case basis, which is my duty as governor. Rather than setting aside the law, I will act based on the facts and fulfill my duty within the confines of my conscience.”

Johnson: “As governor, I will enforce Oregon’s death penalty in cases where a judge or jury deems it appropriate for a heinous crime. Oregonians have twice voted on and affirmed our death penalty. It’s time for liberal politicians to stop trying to overturn it or subvert it by letting dangerous criminals out of prison.”

Kotek: “Oregon has not followed through on the death penalty in over 25 years, and as Governor, I would continue the current moratorium. I am personally opposed to the death penalty because of my religious beliefs.”

The death penalty in Oregon has had an on-and-off-again history. Oregon voters reinstated a constitutional provision allowing capital punishment in 1984. Since then, there have only been two executions carried out in 1996 and 1997, both under Kitzhaber during his firm term as governor. Following his election to a non-consecutive third term, Kitzhaber imposed the death penalty moratorium. Governor Brown, who succeeded him, has maintained the moratorium.

There have only been two death penalty executions in Oregon since 1984 when Oregonians approved a constitutional amendment allowing them. Both executions were carried out in Governor Kitzhaber’s firm term. When elected to a third term, Kitzhaber imposed a moratorium on executions that remains in effect.

Kitzhaber has been outspoken in opposition to the death penalty, citing his own revulsion and regret over answering a call and allowing an execution to proceed. He was among the advocates for Senate Bill 1013 that passed the 2019 Oregon legislature to narrow offenses qualifying for capital punishment to people convicted of murdering a law-enforcement officer, carrying out a terrorist attack that kills at least two people, murdering a child younger than 14 or killing someone in prison while serving time for a murder conviction.” [Disclosure: CFM represented Oregonians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty in the 2019 legislative session.]

Drazan and Johnson, who both were in the legislature during the 2019 session, voted against Senate Bill 1013. Kotek, as House Speaker, voted for it.

Senate Bill 1013 didn’t make the new capital punishment requirements retroactive. However, the Oregon Supreme Court effectively did by ruling it would be cruel and unusual punishment to apply the death penalty to any prior convictions that don’t meet the new law’s categories. The provision in the Oregon Constitution allowing capital punishment remains in place.

Of the 20 inmates still on death row in Oregon, only two or three may meet the new legal requirements for execution, according to Jeff Ellis, who drafted SB 1013 and is director of the Oregon Capital Resource Center, which assists attorneys representing people sentenced to death. Future executions might be complicated because the Department of Corrections dismantled the death chamber in 2020. The space is now used for prisoner disciplinary purposes.

Voter attitudes about the death penalty have gradually moved toward opposing it, but efforts to ban capital punishment have had mixed success. There is no active effort underway in Oregon to push a ballot measure to remove the death penalty from the state constitution.