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Dianne Feinstein Now Opposed to the Death Penalty

Senator’s election-year conversion is convenient but probably not decisive

By Evan Gahr

If Senator Feinstein wins re-election and serves a full term, she will be 90 by the time she faces re-election.

Senator Dianne Feinstein has abruptly abandoned her long standing support for the death penalty–just in time for the June 5 primary in which she faces an increasingly leftward electorate. The Senator’s aides insisted to the Los Angeles Times that she simply evolved on this issue, though they couldn’t say when exactly she finally changed her mind.

Feinstein, who famously got booed at the Democratic state convention when she voiced support for the death penalty as a gubernatorial candidate,  said in a statement to the Los Angeles Times that, “Several years ago I changed my view of the death penalty. It became crystal clear to me that the risk of unequal application is high and its effect on deterrence is low.”

Unequal application is apparently a reference to claims that the death penalty is racially discriminatory because it is applied disproportionately to African Americans.

But when precisely did Feinstein reverse course?

LA Times reporter Sarah Wire wrote that, “her staff said the change of heart on capital punishment went largely unnoticed because Feinstein was rarely asked about it. They could not pinpoint exactly when the shift occurred.”

But numerous “media reports, including some in the last year, have continued to mention Feinstein’s support for the death penalty. Her office acknowledged that it never sought to correct the record.”

In October 2017, SF Weekly, noting she would seek a fifth term referred to Feinstein as “pro-death penalty.”

But Sonoma State University professor David McCuan says her reversal on capital punishment is more about “convenient” politics than some kind of kowtowing to the left, as the Los Angeles Times made it sound.

“She is somebody who understands the changing nature of public opinion” and the public is growing increasingly disenchanted with the death penalty, he told CaliforniaGlobe.com. “She doesn’t have to worry about” State Senator Kevin de León, her prime challenger, “because he has not waged a strong candidacy.”

At the state Democratic convention in February, de León got 54% of the delegates’ votes and Feinstein garnered 37%, thereby denying her the party endorsement, which requires 60% of votes.

But his campaign has faltered since then. In a new poll released Tuesday, Feinstein got 31% and de León just 7%.

Although de León has attacked Feinstein from the left on many issues–for example, upbraiding her for supporting the Bush tax cuts–he has not made her support of the death penalty a campaign issue.

So that makes quite plausible Professor McCuan’s contention that Feinstein’s new position on the death penalty doesn’t represent some kind of left-wing slumming.

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