Today Mother Jones highlights an unusual dynamic at work in the closely contested race for Colorado’s governorship: The state’s vote is also a referendum on whether or not a specific individual should live or die. Last year, Democratic incumbent John Hickenlooper granted a temporary stay of execution to Nathan Dunlap, who murdered four coworkers in Aurora, Colo. in 1993—but did not permanently commute Dunlap’s sentence to life in prison, which means Republican challenger Bob Beauprez could carry out the execution if he’s elected. Beauprez says he will do so, and has made Dunlap an issue in the campaign. Writes MoJo:
Hickenlooper, a once-popular mayor of Denver, is now running about even in the polls with Beauprez. And although it’s unclear exactly how much Hickenlooper’s death penalty stance plays into his struggles, a poll last year found that 67 percent of Coloradans disapproved of his decision in the Dunlap case.
“It was handled very clumsily,” says Kyle Saunders, a political scientist at Colorado State University. “It was a very nuanced decision in his head, but it came off being very wishy-washy and weak.”
Dunlap’s attorneys argue that he does not deserve execution because he was abused physically and sexually as a child and was suffering a bipolar episode when he killed his coworkers. Colorado hasn’t put an inmate to death since 1997, though prosecutors are seeking the death penalty against Aurora mass shooter James Holmes.
Hickenlooper, should he lose the election, could still commute Dunlap’s sentence before Beauprez took office.