None of the four lieutenant governor candidates is anti-capital punishment. But all told the Indy they favor the legislation that would establish a moratorium on the death penalty while the question of whether it can be administered fairly, and without mistakenly executing an innocent person, is studied.
In state Senate, Dalton voted for the moratorium bill in 2003, when it passed the Senate but died in the House. Dalton says he's struggled with the death penalty, but can't avoid the conclusion that if we're sending soldiers to die in war to protect freedom, someone guilty of the most wanton violation of that freedom should also be subject to death.
Dellinger says he supports the death penalty "as an option for the jury to consider in limited cases," but adds the state should use a moratorium to review the much higher number of death sentences meted out before 2001, when a series of reforms sharply reduced the number of capital cases and sentences. "We have two death rows," he says, "one post-2001, the other pre-2001."
Besse says a moratorium should not expire until two questions are answered. One is whether racial bias in death sentences can be eliminated. The other, whether evidentiary standards can be designed "which will eliminate, for all practical purposes," the possibility that someone will be executed for a crime he or she did not commit.
Smathers suggested that, following a moratorium, North Carolina should hold a statewide referendum on the death penalty. "I think, as a society, that's something we need to arrive at as a whole," he says. "My personal view? I have very mixed feelings. If you'd asked me 10 years ago, I'd have said yes. But since then, so many things have come up, with DNA ... that I'm not as steadfast in my thinking. I can't imagine anything worse than executing an innocent person [by mistake]."
All four candidates campaigned this month at the convention in Durham held by Equality North Carolina, a gay-rights advocacy group. Here is what they're saying about gay issues so far:
Dalton co-sponsored the anti-gay "Defense of Marriage Amendment" in 2005 because constituents in his Senate district demanded the right to vote on whether it should be added to the state constitution. He didn't sign on to any other DOMA bills introduced over the years and doesn't support them now. "The constituency has changed," he says, from local to statewide. "And times are evolving."
Dellinger opposes the DOMA. He says state law should protect gays from employment discrimination and state government should take the lead by de-linking employee benefits from marriage and offering them to couples in "committed relationships," including straights and gays.
Besse's against DOMA. Asked about civil unions, he says he "would support a civil union-domestic partnership" approach but thinks it's a generation away from public acceptance. In the meantime, he would urge the state to enact laws protecting gays against workplace discrimination. He adds that, in family law, the state should "legislate protection against the use of sexual orientation as a decision-making factor" in adoptions and custody disputes.
While opposing DOMA, Smathers doesn't support gay marriage in North Carolina, either. "I'm open-minded as to civil unions, depending on what that means and how it's defined," he adds. But as a lawyer who's counseled gay clients, he urges them not to forget the legal tools already available to them, including powers of attorney, deed conveyances and wills.