By Katie McKeown and Steve Dogiakos, Montana Abolition Coalition
August 16, 2012
We have a history of small but important victories in the abolition movement here in Montana. The Montana Senate has now passed a bill to replace the death penalty with life without parole for three sessions in a row. In 2007, the Senate was controlled by Democrats, while in 2009 and 2011; Republicans held the majority. We continue to make concerted efforts to reach out to conservatives, liberals and everyone in between. We believe that a true, lasting victory is one that has widespread, bipartisan support, based on sound public policy decisions that appeal to the broadest possible spectrum of Montana citizens. Those of us in the Montana Abolition Coalition come to the table for a variety of reasons, and our supporters reflect the strong diversity of our coalition.
The Montana Abolition Coalition is a nonprofit coordinating a statewide effort to replace the death penalty with life without parole. The Coalition works with religious groups, human and civil rights groups, victims’ organizations, conservatives and others to educate and mobilize Montanans on the death penalty issue. We also coordinate a victim support and advocacy group called Montana Family and Friends of Homicide Victims, which does not take a position on the death penalty, as well as an organization called Conservatives Concerned about the Death Penalty. We attend conferences for Montana’s law enforcement and corrections personnel in order to learn more from members of these communities about helping to formulate strong public policies that support their efforts and allocate resources wisely, rather than wasting time and money on death penalty cases.
Montana is geographically the fourth-largest state in the union, but we only have one million people living here. Those of us lucky enough to live in Montana love our wide open spaces and big sky, but the long drives between communities can cause difficulties for statewide campaigns. As a result, we have staff based across the state of Montana, from Missoula in the Southwest to Billings in the East, from a little town called Choteau on the Rocky Mountain Front to Helena, our state’s capital. Our team’s geographic diversity helps us reach a larger audience and allows for authenticity in reaching out to community members – we are a part of these communities, and we share a common background and common concerns with the people who learn about our public events or hear about our efforts in the media.
Our coalition has a strong history of collaboration with numerous groups, but one group in particular worth mentioning in this forum is our relationship with the Montana Catholic Conference. As the public policy branch of the Catholic Church in Montana, the Montana Catholic Conference works under the direction of the Roman Catholic bishops. Both bishops’ leadership and support have been invaluable in our work to achieve abolition of the death penalty. In the course of the past several years, Catholic parishes and individuals have hosted, organized, and attended many death penalty educational events. Film screenings, discussion groups, and letter-writing parties have all helped educate and spread the word about this important issue. Most notably, numerous Catholic parishes and organizations across the state over the past several years have hosted speaking events featuring death row exonerees, murder victim family members, and death row family members.
In early 2013, the Montana legislature will again consider a bill to abolish Montana’s death penalty and replace it with a sentence of life without parole. As in the past, Montana’s Catholics will raise their voices with Protestants and Evangelicals, human and civil rights groups, conservatives and liberals, Eastern and Western Montanans, victims groups and law enforcement advocates, in the call to end capital punishment. Together, we will end the death penalty in Montana once and for all.
For more information about Montana’s efforts to replace the death penalty with life without parole, visit our website or call the Montana Catholic Conference at (406) 442-5761.
This article first appeared in CMN’s August 2012 newsletter.