U.S. News

New Oregon Governor Kate Brown to extend death penalty moratorium

SALEM, Ore. (Reuters) - Oregon’s new Democratic Governor Kate Brown said on Friday she planned to extend a moratorium on executions that her predecessor enacted in 2011, well before an influence-peddling scandal forced him from office earlier this week.

Oregon Governor Kate Brown speaks at the state capital building in Salem, Oregon, February 20, 2015. REUTERS/Steve Dipaola

But like fellow Democrat John Kitzhaber, Brown stopped short of formally commuting death sentences for the 34 inmates currently awaiting execution in the state, which has executed only two people in the past half century, both in the 1990s.

“There needs to be a broader discussion about fixing the system,” Brown said in her first press briefing since she took Oregon’s helm on Wednesday. “Until that discussion, I’m upholding the moratorium imposed by Kitzhaber.”

In a major salvo in the nation’s long-running battle over capital punishment, Kitzhaber imposed a blanket reprieve on all Oregon death row inmates in 2011, saying he believed the death penalty was morally wrong.

He had faced growing calls in the waning days of his administration to commute all Oregon death sentences to life in prison before leaving office following an ethics scandal over accusations his fiancée used her role in his office for personal gain.

But Kitzhaber, who has not been seen publicly since announcing his resignation last week, remained silent on that issue, although he did commute the prison sentence of a young man serving time for attempted murder in a non-capital case.

Brown, who had been Oregon’s secretary of state before this week, said she met with Kitzhaber on Monday and he advised her of his legislative priorities and recommendations. In addition to her death penalty plans, Brown told reporters she supports raising the minimum wage, increasing transparency and improving access to public records.

She pledged a bipartisan effort at ethics reform, which has been a hot topic since the Kitzhaber scandal.

Republicans are pushing their own ethics package, which would allow the legislature to compel the state attorney general to investigate the governor’s office for wrongdoing. Power to compel a probe currently rests with the governor, who also appoints all members of the state’s ethics commission.

“The deck’s sort of stacked for the governor,” said state Representative Julie Parrish, who drafted the bills in collaboration with fellow Republicans.

The only bill Brown would commit to signing was a so-called “motor voter” bill to register people to vote using DMV data. Automatic voter registration has been been a long-fought priority for Brown. The House passed the bill Friday and it now moves to the Senate.

Editing by Cynthia Johnston