DENVER – Colorado Republicans are unleashing another round of criticism against Gov. John Hickenlooper and his stance against capital punishment, hoping to paint the Democrat as indecisive on the issue in the months leading up to November.
The latest attacks come after a weekend interview with KDVR-TV during which Hickenlooper outlined his reasons for opposing the death penalty. Last year, he upset many by granting an indefinite stay of execution to Nathan Dunlap, who was convicted of murder for the 1993 deaths of four people at an Aurora Chuck E. Cheese.
Hickenlooper said in the interview he’s been a lifelong supporter of the death penalty, but he’s changed his mind recently, noting it costs “10 times, maybe 15 times more money to execute someone than it does just to put them in life in prison without parole.”
“But once they go into life in prison without parole, they’re there forever,” he continued. “There’s no deterrence to having capital punishment.”
In 2013, Democrats in the Colorado Legislature proposed repealing the death penalty, but they shelved their bill, saying Hickenlooper had indicated he might veto it.
Hickenlooper’s stay for Dunlap will be in effect while he’s governor, but a subsequent governor can still order Dunlap’s execution.
Republican gubernatorial challenger Bob Beauprez said the way Hickenlooper stayed Dunlap’s execution leaves the issue unresolved.
“The issue of capital punishment is a difficult one that we wrestle with as a society. That’s why it’s hard to understand John Hickenlooper’s actions in light of these new statements,” Beauprez said in a statement. “If he truly does oppose the death penalty, he should have commuted Nathan Dunlap’s sentence instead of leaving the decision to the next governor. As Colorado’s next governor, I will see that justice is served.”
On Tuesday, the Republican Governors Association launched a television ad in Colorado hammering Hickenlooper on the death penalty. The ad says that “when it comes to making the tough decisions, Hickenlooper won’t step up to the table.”
In response, Hickenlooper has continued with his pledge to run a positive campaign and not engage with opponents’ attacks. His campaign released a statement countering the Republican Governors Association’s ad by saying Colorado’s unemployment rate is now at 5.3 percent, compared with just over 9 percent when Hickenlooper took office four years ago.
Recent polls have shown the race to be tied, adding more weight to issues that come up on the campaign.
“In a race that is viewed as being competitive, anything can matter,” said Norman Provizer, a professor of political science at Metropolitan State University of Denver. But, he said, he’s skeptical the death penalty is at the forefront of voters’ minds.