ANNAPOLIS, Md. (CBSDC/AP) — Opponents of capital punishment marked a milestone Thursday as Maryland became the first state south of the Mason-Dixon line to abolish the death penalty in nearly 50 years, joining only West Virginia.
The passage was a significant victory for Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Roman Catholic who opposes capital punishment and is considering seeking the 2016 presidential nomination. Death penalty opponents said the governor helped maintain the national momentum of repeal efforts by making Maryland the sixth state in as many years to abolish capital punishment.
“I don’t know exactly what the timing is, but over the longer arc of history I think you’ll see more and more states repeal the death penalty,” O’Malley said in a brief interview after the bill signing. “It’s wasteful. It’s ineffective. It doesn’t work to reduce violent crime.”
NAACP President and CEO Ben Jealous, who worked to get the repeal bill passed, noted the significance of a Democratic governor south of the Mason-Dixon line with presidential aspirations leading an effort to ban capital punishment. Jealous noted that in 1992, then-Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton left the presidential campaign trail to oversee the execution of a man who had killed a police officer, a move widely viewed as an effort to shed the Democratic Party’s image as soft on crime.
Supporters of the death penalty could still try to petition the bill to the ballot.