Anyone who has been watching the Wyoming Legislature in action this year must be wondering what has happened to our House of Representatives.
It has taken a politically leftward turn, and for the first time in decades, it has become more liberal, on balance, than the Senate. The simple explanation for this is that more liberal and moderate Republicans got elected to the House last year than conservatives. Now, they occupy all of the House leadership positions.
This is reflected in the way obstacles are being placed in the path of more conservative House bills, while an unusually generous application of parliamentary grease has been put in the path of more liberal House bills.
There are more liberal bills being supported by more Republicans in the current Legislature than can be explored in this space, but we can start with House Bill 145 – Death Penalty Repeal, sponsored by 12 Republicans and six Democrats. This bill would entirely repeal the death penalty in Wyoming. It passed the House 36-21 on the first day of February and is now waiting for the Senate to review it.
Of course, if the people of a law-and-order state like ours got to vote on HB 145 by referendum, you can bet they wouldn’t pass it. Nor would many of all the people since human history began. The death penalty, like “just war theory” and the right of self-defense, are staples of all viable civilizations, integral to both their rise and their ability to endure.
The most heinous forms of violence can only be stopped by violence. Earthly justice is not perfect, but it is necessary.
These are hard truths. The world is a wicked and dangerous place. Self-defense is a moral requirement of all legitimate governments, all heads of households and anyone else with responsibility for the safety for others in their care. To abrogate this responsibility is to become an accomplice with any person or group that moves to harm one’s dependents, whether it is a parent who stands by while their children are butchered or a regime that affords a proven and convicted killer the opportunity to kill again.
The legitimacy of any government rests directly upon its ability to enforce the rule of law and its willingness to dispense justice where lynch-law would otherwise fill the void. But we live in the 21st century, and Democrats and liberal Republicans like to lecture us, which is their impertinent way of making it known they are so much smarter and better than the rest of the human race. And from this lofty assumption come the silly arguments that carried so much weight in pushing HB 145 through the Republican supermajority in the Wyoming House.
HB 145’s sponsors got a lot of press for saying the state can’t be trusted to execute anybody, which begs the question of what the state can be trusted to do. Given the fact that the first and single most important reason any legitimate government gets established is to keep the peace – literally, to defend its borders and protect its people – a refusal to employ the death penalty under any circumstances makes as much sense as a state’s refusal to honor U.S. immigration law. (Wyoming’s House Republicans also killed HB 151, which would have prohibited so-called “sanctuary” cities and counties.)
But our liberal Republicans weren’t content to stop there and rest their case on the notion the state is incompetent to do its primary job. No, they also came up with novel arguments as to why the state is competent to do things that aren’t its job. For instance, there was an assertion that keeping a killer locked up for life is cheaper than sentencing him to death – as if justice should be a function of the cash nexus.
And of course, there were the obligatory posturings from the “religious left” about how immoral and unjust it is to judge a fellow human worthy of death who had previously judged other human beings worthy of death. But is the state morally obligated to twist itself into logical knots to protect murderers for life whenever it fails to protect law-abiding citizens for life?
It’s easy to see why some of our lawmakers would think so. Life is hard. It has always been hard. And now that we live in an increasingly post-western, post-Christian, post-modern nation, the temptation to retreat into a post-truth fantasy world of moral relativism is stronger than ever. It may seem to free us of the obligation to make the hard choices human beings have always had to make and stand behind them, but truly, that obligation is one thing that always stays the same.
Regardless of what momentary majorities think.
Harlan Edmonds is a former legislator from Cheyenne. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.