Under cover of darkness, the New Mexico House of Representatives approved the reinstatement of the death penalty Thursday morning.
That such a momentous decision was introduced at a special legislative session designed primarily to deal with budget deficits was a bad idea, a triumph of politics over the good of the state. To then approve the death penalty in the early hours of the morning, robbing citizens of a chance to speak out, was malfeasance in governing. Especially when the GOP-run House knew that any legislation it passed likely would die in the Senate.
Republicans wanted to pound Democrats over the head with their opposition to the death penalty and needed a vote before the November election. This legislation was not about actually bringing back the ultimate punishment; it was about winning.
How shortsighted. Reinstating the death penalty — which involves the state taking a life — is consequential. It deserves discussion, lengthy hearings and expert testimony to debate all its ramifications. It is not an action to take in a day, or two, especially not one to consider after midnight while the public is sleeping.
The House Republicans, motivated by what they must believe are the favorable politics of this issue, moved ahead anyway. Not in a deliberate fashion, however. Just before the solemn vote, there is a photo of GOP members laughing while taking selfies in the House chambers. Hardly the kind of reflection that such momentous legislation needs.
House Speaker Don Tripp decided to hear the bill to reinstate the death penalty after midnight on Thursday morning, giving no notice to the public. The Socorro Republican did not listen to the pleas of Democrats who wanted to debate the bill in sunlight. Instead, he spent his time talking on the phone, according to news reports.
For two hours, representatives sparred over hearing the bill and then, for three hours, went back and forth on the bill itself. House Bill 7 passed on a 36-30 vote just before 6 a.m. The victory was shortlived.
The Senate, in its quick gathering later Thursday to approve budget bills, did not take up any of the crime bills. The attempted revival of the death penalty died just hours after the House passed it. Had it been signed into law, the bill would have allowed the death penalty in cases where children, police officers or corrections workers were murdered.
Passage during the special session was not really the goal, however. Getting Democrats on the record as opposing the death penalty was. It is unfortunate that, to achieve a political goal, the House GOP took to after-hours brangling. The public deserved the right to weigh in on this important legislation. Petty politics cost them a say.
Who knows? The politics of the death penalty, when debate is cloaked, could hurt the GOP. Political polls might show support for the death penalty. But voters also want a say in important legislation. They want laws that are thoughtful and deliberate, not legislation passed without thought or consideration. Most of all, voters know when they are being hoodwinked.