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Courageous Action

November 30, 1986

Every once in a while, usually just as we're about to throw up our hands in despair, a politician does something wonderful, something motivated by the desire to do the right thing regardless of the politics. Gov. Toney Anaya of New Mexico wards off despair this year by commuting the death sentences of the five convicted murders in the state awaiting execution.

"Capital punishment is inhumane, immoral, anti-God and incompatible with an enlightened society," Anaya said in announcing his action, which comes a month before Anaya is to leave office at the end of the year. He was barred by state law from seeking a second four-year term. Could he have taken this courageous step if he still had to face the voters? This is one of democracy's enduring tensions.

But the key feature of Anaya's action is its wisdom. Capital punishment, he says, is wrong. And while he has the power to do something about it, he will. His argument is not about legal technicalities or rules of evidence. He's opposed to capital punishment because the state shouldn't be murdering people. If it's wrong for an individual to commit murder, it's wrong for the state to commit murder, too.

The world needs more politicians like Toney Anaya of New Mexico.

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