This is an interview with Heather Beaudoin, a national advocacy coordinator for Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty. Beaudoin lives in Michigan with her husband and infant daughter.
LMJ: Tell us a little about yourself, your involvement in conservative politics, and your involvement in Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty.
Heather: My involvement in conservative politics began during my college years. During that time I worked for the Republican senate majority leader in Michigan and the National Republican Congressional Committee, along with numerous GOP campaigns in Michigan and Montana. I also helped to start the Helena, Montana, Pregnancy Resource Center and served as its assistant director.
My involvement with Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty started several years ago in Montana. I was working with the Montana Abolition Coalition when conservative Republican members of the legislature and other state conservative leaders started to discover they opposed capital punishment. That revelation caused them to form Montana Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty on the statewide level, and I was privileged to help coordinate their efforts. When the national group was being formed I was recruited to help.
LMJ: What does Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty do?
Heather: Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty is a national group of people who question whether capital punishment is in sync with their conservative principles. Our mission is to end the myth that all conservatives support the death penalty and to let other conservatives know that they are not alone in raising questions about the system. Our group provides a forum for conservatives to discuss and reexamine the death penalty from a conservative perspective. We can be found exhibiting and networking at many national and state-level conservative and religious gatherings, sharing our information, and gaining converts. For example, we will have a booth at Life/Peace/Justice: A Conference on Life Issues next March in Philadelphia.
LMJ: How does conservatism shape your views against the death penalty?
Heather: My pro-life views have had the greatest impact on my position regarding the death penalty. Like so many conservatives, I believe in the sanctity of life from conception to natural death and I do not believe mankind should ever interfere with God’s intent.
I am also a fiscal conservative who fervently believes our government should be fiscally responsible and not waste my tax dollars on expensive programs that accomplish little or nothing. The death penalty system fits the bill because it costs far more than the alternatives. Not only that, we have more than three thousand people on death rows in the United States – costing us billions of dollars – but last year only 43 were executed. To me, and the other conservatives who are joining us, this represents a stunningly inefficient government program.
Predictably, I believe in limited government power, and the fact that so many people have been released from death rows due to innocence issues is profoundly disturbing to me. Giving the government the power to kill our own citizens makes me very uncomfortable, especially given the real risk of executing innocent people with the death penalty.
I’m also concerned about the impact the system has on murder victims’ families, as well as the racial and wealth disparities in terms of how cases are chosen to be death penalty prosecutions.
LMJ: What's your typical reaction from conservatives when they hear about your group?
Heather: The typical reaction I get from most conservatives is, “where have you been? I thought I was the only one.” For example, when our group made its debut at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in March our booth was overrun with people saying exactly that and signing up to lend their names to the cause. The conservative reaction has been the same everywhere we go. Interestingly, even those who support the death penalty are moved by the facts about cost, innocence, the impacts on families, and the racial disparities in its application. We actually have supporters who still believe capital punishment is morally and constitutionally acceptable but believe the system cannot be fixed and should be ended, with the money returned to the taxpayers.
LMJ: Why do you think conservatives have traditionally supported the death penalty and why are they wrong?
Heather: In recent times many conservatives embraced tough-on-crime policies with the goal of ensuring public safety. However, today, many of those same conservatives are re-thinking their views about criminal justice with new concerns about over-criminalization and new approaches for reforming the system. Re-assessing the death penalty is a part of that movement. Tough on crime conservatives are now acknowledging the death penalty does not make us safer and that it is not a deterrent--and these same people who love liberty find the possibility of killing innocents to be unacceptable.
LMJ: Is there an ethical link between being anti-death penalty and being pro-life?
Heather: Many of our supporters believe there is an ethical link between being pro-life and against the death penalty. For myself, I believe that God calls on me to value all life, not just innocent life, which I believe is clear throughout the Gospels. The inconsistency of being pro-life and pro-death penalty has troubled many of the conservatives who have joined our ranks. They, like me, ask themselves the following question: If all life is valuable, how can we justify taking life through executions when other means can protect society?
LMJ: Is there a contradiction with some more liberal anti-death penalty people opposing the death penalty but supporting legal abortion?
Heather: Everyone must answer to his or her own conscience and follow their beliefs. I can only speak for myself and the other conservatives who are expressing their concerns about the death penalty that we – in ever increasing numbers – are putting an end to the contradictions in our beliefs.
LMJ: Do any members of Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty advocate a consistent life ethic?
Heather: Yes, many of us do advocate for a consistent life ethic. In fact, some of our supporters are pro-life activists in their own states.
LMJ: Do you see yourselves as parallel to groups like Feminists for Life? Breaking an ideological stereotype?
Heather: As I previously mentioned, our goal is to shatter the fiction that conservatives supposedly have one monolithic position on capital punishment, so we are most definitely trying to break an ideological stereotype. Conservatives and our positions are constantly evolving, as well they should in our ever-changing society. What we know about the death penalty today is different from the available information of times past. It’s human nature to try and pigeonhole groups, but as times change, our preconceptions and notions must also change. Conservatives are changing and they are increasingly concerned about the death penalty. That’s a fact.
LMJ: The national Republican Party platform states that “Courts should have the option of imposing the death penalty in capital murder cases.” Does Conservatives Concerned think that plank of the platform should change?
Heather: We believe the evidence is clear about the death penalty – it costs too much, it puts innocent lives at risk, it abuses murder victims’ families, it’s applied unfairly – and we are learning that conservative Republicans are incredibly open and responsive to what we are sharing with them. We are confident that national GOP leaders will be the same once they take another look and reflect upon the realities.
LMJ: Who are some famous conservatives that oppose the death penalty?
Heather: We are incredibly proud of the support our group is receiving from some of the true icons of the national conservative movement. They include Richard A. Viguerie, who was an advisor to President Reagan, Media Research Center founder and Fox News commentator Brent Bozell III, and Jay Sekulow, Chief Counsel for the American Center for Law and Justice who also is a contributor to Fox News. Other famous conservatives who have expressed their concerns about the death penalty include Fox News host Bill O’Reilly, Whitewater prosecutor Kenneth Starr, Fox News’ Tucker Carlson, Senator Rand Paul, columnist George Will, and the Rev. Pat Robertson.
LMJ: Are you optimistic about other conservatives coming around to your position?
Heather: We are more than optimistic. Every day, since the start, the feedback has been remarkable. In a scant few months our social media has hundreds upon hundreds of conservative followers, and our fact sheets, lists and articles are being shared with thousands of people through the Internet. Every day more conservatives are coming to us seeking information. We are being invited to meet with the leaders of the conservative movement. So, yes, we have plenty of reasons for being optimistic because conservatives are, in fact, coming around to our position. For them it just makes sense. They want to limit the size of government, reduce waste in government, and protect liberty. The death penalty does none of those things and is inconsistent with our conservative values.