Oklahoma’s latest execution, its first in six years, has put the death penalty squarely under the political spotlight once again.

John Marion Grant, 60, who was strapped to a gurney inside the execution chamber, began convulsing and vomiting after the first drug, the sedative midazolam, was administered on Thursday, Sean Murphy with the Associated Press, reported.

A spokesman with the Oklahoma Department of Correction later claimed that the execution went forward “without complication.” But it appears this is the latest in a string of botched, or at least, incident-free executions that led to the previous pause in executions.

There will surely be more details and debate on what happened Thursday. But with another inmate, Julius Jones, scheduled to be put to death on Nov. 18, Oklahoma politicians are already weighing in on the future of the death penalty in Oklahoma.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister, who announced she has switched parties and will challenge Gov. Kevin Stitt next year as a Democrat, called on Stitt to immediately halt all executions until he can guarantee the people of Oklahoma that his administration can “properly carry out the sentence.”

“This latest example of a botched execution should give all Oklahomans serious concerns about the State’s ability to properly administer the death penalty,” she said in a statement.

But she stopped short of calling for a permanent ban on executions.

Minority Leader Rep. Emily Virgin, D-Norman, also criticized the state for not delaying the execution.

“This is what cruel and unusual punishment looks like,” she tweeted Thursday. “I am deeply saddened by Oklahoma’s commitment to the death penalty and its rush to execute people while legal challenges are pending.

Stitt didn’t offer too many comments after the execution. But in a statement, he said, “When I took the oath of office as governor, I swore to support, obey and defend the laws and Constitution of the State of Oklahoma, including Section 9A of Article 2 which was added in 2016 by the people of Oklahoma. (Thursday), the Department of Corrections carried out the law of the State of Oklahoma and delivered justice to Gay Carter’s family.”

The governor was referring to 2016’s State Question 776. The ballot measure, which was approved with 66.3% of the vote, affirmed the state’s right to perform executions. It also gives the Legislature the power to designate any method of execution.

Supporters of the death penalty have pointed to the high approval rate of the state question to argue this is an issue that Oklahomans support.

Pat McFerron, a Republican strategist and president of Cole Hargrave Snodgrass & Associate, released a poll last week, showing 64% of those surveyed support the death penalty while 23% opposed it.

Credit: Cole Hargrave Snodgrass & Associate.

Even among Democrats, 44% supported it while 40% opposed it.

During the 2018 gubernatorial debate, this was one issue that divided the two Democrats seeking the governor’s office. Drew Edmondson, who went on to win the nomination but lost to Stitt in the general election, said he supported “the death penalty in the most heinous cases when proof of guilt is absolute” in an interview with The Oklahoman.

But Connie Johnson, who lost to Edmondson and is seeking the Democratic nomination again in 2022, favors doing away with the death penalty. She served as a past president of the Oklahoma Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty.

What do you think? Do you favor or oppose the death penalty? And how important is it that a candidate for governor holds your views? Email me your thoughts at tbrown@oklahomawatch.org or find me on Twitter at @tbrownokc and we might use them for a future story.

The Top Story

Andy Moore, executive director of People Not Politicians, discussed his proposed congressional redistricting map Tuesday at the Capitol during a meeting of the Legislature’s joint Select Committee on Redistricting. (Whitney Bryen/Oklahoma Watch)

Redistricting Proposals That Could Overhaul Oklahoma Politics

Oklahoma (as of Friday) is now one of just 18 states that have yet to unveil their proposed redistricting maps.

That will change when legislative leaders unveil the proposal during a press conference at 11 a.m. Monday at the State Capitol. You can watch the meeting live or see the maps afterward at the House or Senate redistricting pages.

In my newsletter last week, I looked at the 10 public map submissions that lawmakers reviewed last month. And if you want a primer on what comes next, I talked to Michael Crespin, director of the University of Oklahoma’s Carl Albert Congressional Research and Studies Center, about what’s at stake and what lawmakers might be looking at when they return to the Capitol for a special session on Nov. 15. [Read More …]

Tweet Watch

There will be some Oklahoma Senate leadership changes when lawmakers return to the Capitol.

Oklahoma Senate President Pro Tempore Greg Treat announced Wednesday that Sen. Greg McCortney, R-Ada, will take over the duties of majority floor leader from Sen. Kim David, R-Porter. McCortney, who was elected in 2016, had been serving as chair of the Senate’s Health and Human Services Committee.

Other changes include:

  • Sen. Paul Rosino, R-Oklahoma City, will take over as chair of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee. Sen. John Haste, R-Broken Arrow, will be vice chair.
  • Sen. Tom Dugger, R-Stillwater, will take over as chair of the General Government Committee. Sen. Darrell Weaver, R-Moore, will be vice chair.
  • Sen. Brent Howard, R-Altus, will take over as chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Sen. Julie Daniels, R-Bartlesville, will serve as vice chair.

What I’m Reading This Week

  • Oklahoma public schools’ reliance on filling teaching vacancies with teachers who are not accredited for the position has reached a record high and is likely to continue climbing during the current academic year. [Tulsa World]
  • As thousands of Oklahomans battled COVID-19 in ICUs earlier this year, hospitals’ demand for liquid oxygen skyrocketed. [StateImpact Oklahoma]
  • In Oklahoma, several high-profile lawsuits have been working their way through district and appellate courts at both the state and federal level. [NonDoc]
  • Oklahoma’s Supreme Court on Monday blocked three anti-abortion laws that were scheduled to take effect Nov. 1 that abortion rights supporters say would have devastated abortion access in the state. [The Associated Press]
  • More than 350 new Oklahoma laws take effect Nov. 1. From education changes to medical marijuana reforms and naming a state highway after a controversial former president, Oklahoma’s new laws run the gamut. [The Oklahoman]

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