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Conzet Asks, I Reply: Moms, Dads, All Citizens Equal Participants in Death Penalty Debate

Rep. Kristin Conzet (R-32/Rapid City) favored me with a Tweet yesterday. Yesterday she was one of three Republican legislators who voted against killing House Bill 1183, Rep. Steve Hickey's (R-9/Sioux Falls) failed attempt to repeal South Dakota's death penalty.

During the discussion in House State Affairs, Rep. Conzet said something about how she wasn't sure how she would square her feelings as a mother with the law. Not sure where Rep. Conzet was going with this thinking, I tweeted, "There's a difference between how a mother should act and how the state and law should act."

Later in the day, Rep. Conzet replied via Twitter, asking me to clarify and wondering how I could comment on what a mother should do, given that I am not a mother.

Uh oh.

Once I found Rep. Conzet's inquiry, I tapped out two responses:

A mother raised me. I'm married to another. Regardless, never should the state act like one enraged, vengeful citizen.

I have previously rejected and continue to reject the idea that the unique life experiences of any citizen render her or his actions immune to the analysis and judgment of other citizens. We should all cultivate a sense of empathy sufficient to understand and comment the actions of our fellow citizens. If any group of citizens has unique experiences that we do not understand, the proper response is not to wall off that experience as an excuse for any statement or behavior but, to the extent that it is relevant to public policy, share that experience and make it understood so we can come to a common agreement and agreed course of public action.

But in case Rep. Conzet wants to maintain the position that men like me cannot comment on the prerogatives of women like her, then I look forward to the South Dakota Legislature ending all discussion of abortion until it is comprised of a supermajority of women who have experienced pregnancy.

Now more specifically to the comparison Rep. Conzet may have been making and the clarification she may have sought:

Clarifying: Child at risk, parent kills to defend: OK. Victim dead, killer behind bars, state kills for vengeance: not OK.

We restrain the use of deadly force to avoid irrevocable error and check our innate bloodlust. We excuse the use of deadly force in extremis, but we do not vaunt or cheer it. Under the social contract, we mostly surrender our right to use force to the state, but we permit the state to use that force only when necessary, and only in proportion to threats at hand. The state does not need to kill a convict in chains, behind bars, subdued by the full weight of the corrections system.

With her vote yesterday, Rep. Conzet perhaps signals that she agrees. Or maybe she just wanted the full House to get a shot at grappling with the death penalty before making her final decision. But she didn't appear to want to carry on the discussion with me: since my response last night, she has deleted her tweet to me... which is a bummer, since I really get a kick out of talking with our elected representatives... as ought we all.

* * *
Yesterday's hearing on House Bill 1183 included a wealth of important, heartfelt testimony on both sides. The Legislature would serve the public well by posting a written transcript of the entire hearing. Among the quotes I'd like to see highlighted:

"The more politically ambitious the prosecutor, the more likely he or she will use the death penalty." —Mark Meierhenry, former South Dakota Attorney General, testimony to House State Affairs, Pierre, South Dakota, 2014.02.21.


  1. mike from iowa 2014.02.22

    As someone much smarter than me said one time,"I ain't never birthed a shoat,but I know good bacon when I eat it." I'm glad that you can engage some congress people in SoDak in conversation. My congressman?"-Steve"cantaloupe calves redux" King won't answer emails or questions.

  2. interested party 2014.02.22

    Curious what Marty will do after Pierre gets flushed: lobbyist?

  3. Papldn 2014.02.22

    A real problem for me: if an individual is convicted, sentenced to death, the law upholds such a sentence and the appeals process has been exhausted, why should this sentence not be carried out? If the law for capital punishment is retained in SD, will the judicial process be followed in all cases or will some persons be allowed to purchase their way out of that same judicial process? If we continue to punish convicted criminals using capital punishment and if capital punishment is designed to deter crime in more than the present case, what number of killings must we complete until we reach that significant deterant? Will it truly make a difference if the Legislature makes a change or not?

  4. caheidelberger Post author | 2014.02.22

    Larry, I have no doubt the SDGOP's current players will find ways to land on their feet and keep themselves close to wealth and power if we are smart and lucky enough to unseat them.

    P, your comment makes some sense in the context of Meierhenry's statement. Whether a defendant faces the death penalty has some relation to how much the defendant can pay for lawyers. It also depends on a number of other cultural and personal factors unrelated to the nature of the crime or the criminal.

    Let me check, P: are you saying that if the death penalty is law and is properly pursued, you would oppose allowing a governor to commute that death sentence?

  5. Vincent Gormley 2014.02.23

    Deterrent? The death penalty has been in use for as long as humans have. At what point will you realize that you are under an illusion in attempting to justify your ignorant refusal to face your own desire for vengeance? That threshold should have been reached long ago.

    The pro- death penalty argument is hollow and redundant. It defies reality, no matter how many mirrors you practice it in front of.

  6. Troy 2014.02.23

    As I listen to Bohemenian Rhapsody (not relevant npbut I love this song), Cory, I think you missed what she was saying. She is just bringing her experience as a mother to the debate, as you as a father should.

    If my child were the victim, how would I feel. If it were my child to be killed, how would I feel.

    Conzet is opposed to the death penalty. You jumped on an ally, and a sincere one.

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