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Most governor candidates favor death penalty, oppose abortion and gay marriage

May 01, 2012 12:00 am  • 

HELENA -- All seven Republican candidates for governor are opposed to and most want to restrict abortion, while the two Democrats support a woman's right to have an abortion.

On the death penalty, six Republican candidates and Democratic Attorney General Steve Bullock support it. Opposing capital punishment were Republican Bob Fanning of Pray and Democrat Heather Margolis of Helena.

Margolis is the lone candidate from either party to favor changing Montana's Constitution to allow gay or lesbian couples to marry or form civil unions.

Here is a look at their comments to a questionnaire from the Gazette State Bureau on these issues:

Abortion: The candidates were asked whether Montana should change its laws or constitution to ban abortion, and if so, how.

"Forty-two abortions are performed every week in Montana," said former Sen. Corey Stapleton, R-Billings. "I would support legislation -- from Democrats or Republicans -- which would tackle this uncompromising tragedy."

Former U.S. Rep. Rick Hill, a Helena Republican, said he opposes abortion "because I believe it represents the destruction of an innocent human life. I support measures that discourage or limit abortions such as parental notification (when minors are seeking abortions), informed consent, waiting periods and the ban on partial-birth abortions."

Neil Livingstone, a national security consultant from Helena, said he would sign into law anti-abortion legislation that Democratic Gov. Brian Schweitzer vetoed, such as the parental notification requirement when a minor is seeking an abortion.

Fanning, a retired businessman who has a ranch near Pray, said he supports a proposed "personhood" constitutional amendment, which says life begins at conception and would essentially ban abortion.

Former state Sen. Ken Miller, R-Laurel, said he opposes abortion. 

"I believe that the sanctity of human life is not simply a slogan, but an extraordinarily important moral conviction," Miller said. "The belief that each and every human being has an inviolable dignity and immeasurable worth is one of the most precious legacies of our culture. ... It provides the bedrock upon which the moral and legal codes of our culture and much of the world have been built."

Former state Transportation Director Jim Lynch of Kalispell said his administration "would respect life from conception to natural death of all innocent residents. A society that respects defense of life in the womb is a great society."

Chouteau County Commissioner Jim O'Hara, R-Fort Benton, said, "I am pro-life, and I think the best way to prevent abortion is counseling and education. I don't think banning abortion is realistic."

Bullock, however, said current laws that have legalized abortion in certain circumstances should remain in place.

"Complicated, difficult and incredibly personal decisions like this should not be made by the government," Bullock said. "They should be made by a woman, in consultation with her family, her doctor and her faith. Montanans recognize and cherish an individual right of privacy -- a change recognized under the U.S. Constitution and explicitly enshrined in Montana's Constitution."

Margolis, who works in the area of community services and volunteerism, said the state should pass a law guaranteeing access to health care for all Montanans.

"Montanans should reject proposed laws or initiatives that limit access to women specific reproductive health services, information or referrals," she said. "We need to protect Montanans' right to determine how best to care for themselves and their families without the intervention of government."

Death penalty: The candidates for governor were asked for their personal view on capital punishment.

Bullock, who is the state's chief legal official as attorney general and whose office represents the state in death penalty appeals, said, "In limited circumstances, I personally support the death penalty."

Hill and Stapleton said they support the death penalty but didn't elaborate.

In expressing his support for the death penalty, Miller quoted Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, who said, "The death penalty is intended to affirm the value (and) sanctity of every single human life, and thus by the extremity of the penalty to make that visible and apparent to all."

Added Miller: "If no crime is considered serious enough to warrant capital punishment, then the gravity of the most atrocious crime is diminished accordingly."

Livingstone said he supports the death penalty because "it brings needed closure to many of the families of murder victims." He favors limiting the number of appeals in death penalty cases.

If elected, Lynch said, "I will uphold all laws of the state of Montana, which include capital punishment."

O'Hara said he believes the death penalty "should be used only in especially violent murder crimes, whether there is no doubt about the guilt of the accused, like the (U.S. Rep.) Gabby Giffords shootings." 

Fanning was the lone Republican candidate to oppose the death penalty.

"I don't believe the federal or state government should be allowed to take the life of anyone at either end of the actuarial bell curve or any one of its prisoners," Fanning said. "Citizens do have the right to use lethal force." 

Margolis argued that Montana should repeal the death penalty, as some have tried but failed to do in the Legislature, quoting the Montana Abolition Coalition as saying, "We cannot release an innocent person from the grave."

She added, "Our justice system makes mistakes, and our resources are too thin. We have to be a better society than turning to killing people in order to protect ourselves."

Gay marriage or civil unions: The nine candidates were asked whether they favored changing Montana's constitution to allow gay couples and lesbian couples to marry.

Miller opposed such a change, noting that 67 percent of Montanans voted in 2004 to say that "only a marriage between one man and one woman shall be valid or recognized as a marriage in this state."

Hill, Livingston and Lynch, all Republicans, said, "I believe marriage is between one man and one woman."

Bullock said, "I do not favor changing the constitution but would support legislative measures giving committed same-sex couples the opportunity to be together, free from discrimination." This would include allowing a person to visit his or her partner in the hospital, he said.

Stapleton said he would oppose amending the constitution for that purpose, adding, "I think it's healthy we support and cherish the traditional family."

O'Hara said he would not change the constitution, adding: "I think our constitution adequately protects the lives of Montanans."

Fanning said the ban on gay marriage should stand: "I believe that the sanctity of the family is the core of our society."

Standing alone among all candidates, Margolis said it makes simple common sense for change the Montana Constitution to allow gay or lesbian couples to marry or form civil unions.

"The Montana Constitution guarantees fair and equal treatment to all people," she said. "People should not be discriminated against, including gay and lesbian couples."

On the issues

Editor's note: As the June 5 primary nears, the Gazette State Bureau asked the seven Republican and two Democratic candidates for governor their position on key issues. Beginning Sunday and continuing through Tuesday, we'll present their answers on these topics:

Sunday: Natural resources, tax reform, pensions, bonding and pay increases.

Monday: Health care, medical marijuana, education.

Tuesday: Social issues, right to work, nullification of federal laws