The big Politico/MSNBC debate Wednesday was not a good night for death penalty opponents. Texas Gov. Rick Perry — who has overseen more executions than any other governor during his three terms in office — stood firmly behind his state’s vision of justice.
And the crowd was with him.
Here’s how it looked in the transcript:
[Moderator BRIAN] WILLIAMS: Governor Perry, a question about Texas. Your state has executed 234 death row inmates, more than any other governor in modern times. Have you…
It was probably the largest applause of the night, swelling in the Regan Library’s now-familiar pavilion featuring the Gipper’s Air Force One.
Texas’ death penalty may not have been an issue among the assembled crowd in the debate hall, but it has haunted Perry somewhat back in the Lone Star State. The case of Cameron Willingham, who was executed on Perry’s watch in 2004 and many experts believe was an innocent man, got Perry into trouble in 2009 after allegations mounted that Perry stifled a state government probe looking into Willingham’s conviction.
Asked in the debate tonight if the final say over 234 lives on death row had ever given him pause, Perry was unequivocal.
“No, sir. I’ve never struggled with that at all,” he said. “The state of Texas has a very thoughtful, a very clear process in place of which — when someone commits the most heinous of crimes against our citizens, they get a fair hearing, they go through an appellate process, they go up to the Supreme Court of the United States, if that’s required.”
Texas justice is certainly popular among the GOP electorate, and the idea of the least squeamish governor of them all most likely turns on more Republicans than it turns off. Perry sure seems to think so.
“What do you make of that dynamic that just happened here?” Williams asked. “The mention of the execution of 234 people drew applause?”
“I think Americans understand justice,” Perry replied.
I think Americans are clearly, in the vast majority of — of cases, supportive of capital punishment. When you have committed heinous crimes against our citizens — and it’s a state-by-state issue, but in the state of Texas, our citizens have made that decision, and they made it clear, and they don’t want you to commit those crimes against our citizens. And if you do, you will face the ultimate justice.
Watch the exchange: