WOODBURY—State Sen. Andrew Roraback’s position on the repeal of Connecticut’s death penalty has become a high-profile issue in the five-way race for the Republican nomination in the Fifth Congressional District.
Businesswoman Lisa Wilson-Foley of Simsbury, one of the other contenders, aired radio commercials criticizing “soft on crime liberals” for opposing the death penalty and accused Roraback of “death penalty double talk.”
Roraback, Wilson-Foley, and the other candidates, including Mike Clark of Farmington, Justin Bernier of Plainville, and Mark Greenberg of Litchfield – all spoke Saturday at a forum sponsored by the Minortown Firearms Enthusiast Group.
The Fifth District covers 41 municipalities in the western part of the state and became an open seat early last year when U.S. Rep. Chris Murphy, D-Cheshire, announced that he would run for the U.S. Senate.
Wilson-Foley said that Roraback recently voted to raise a bill to repeal the death penalty, but also told the Cheshire Republican Town Committee that he would consider opposing efforts to repeal it, if state lawmakers don’t repeal a law that allows convicted felons to reduce their jail time for good behavior.
The issue is of great importance in Cheshire, where Jennifer Hawke-Petit and her two daughters Hayley, 17, and Michaela, 11, were killed in July 2007. The two men convicted for their deaths are currently on death row and proponents of the death penalty believe if repeal passes, even if it’s prospective, it will likely help the two escape execution.
The change in Roraback’s position has given his opponents something to talk about even though it’s not something they would have any control over as members of Congress.
“The people who serve in elective office should have principles and not bargain them away for political ends,” Wilson-Foley said in a news release. “Keeping the death penalty is a serious matter and shouldn’t become a political trading card.”
“People who say that aren’t paying attention to what my position is,” Roraback said Saturday. “I still strongly believe that the state should not be in the business of taking life.”
However, “I feel equally that the state should not be in the business of lying to victims of crimes and to their families,” Roraback said. “I think what has been done is unconscionable because it creates a breach of faith with crime victims and with their families.”
“We have gone back on our word,” he added. ”This is my opportunity to restore faith in our system.”
Under the early release program passed last year by the General Assembly inmates can shave up to five days a month off their prison sentences by participating in programs.
Wilson-Foley, who lost the Republican nomination for lieutenant governor two years ago, said she “was making the point that maybe he should look at it again, and maybe he should change his vote.”
“I would hate to have the repeal of the death penalty based on one individual’s vote as a Republican when 85 percent of the Republicans in our state would like to see the death penalty stay,” Wilson-Foley said.
Wilson-Foley said she is “not sure it has been a deterrent to heinous crimes, and I’ve read the research. But I do believe that it is just punishment for very heinous crimes.”
Clark, who worked as an FBI agent in New York and Connecticut, said he believes it does deter major crimes.
“I don’t base that on statistical analysis,” he said. “I base that on my interaction with real criminals that committed crimes like that when I as an FBI agent have interviewed them. I’ve seen the look in their eyes and their face and what they will do to avoid [the death penalty].”
Greenberg said he also believes the death penalty is a “deterrent.”
Roraback, who seems to be the frontrunner in the Congressional race on the Republican side, has been heavily lobbied by both supporters and opponents of repealing the death penalty. Click here to read our report on the latest from the Capitol.
“I think the Republican primary voters are concerned about Andrew’s position on the issue,” Greenberg, who supports the death penalty, said.
“I do think it will be an issue in the primary,” Clark, who also supports the death penalty, said. “If you speak to the Cheshire Republican Town Committee you can see how important the issue is and I think it also resonates in other towns in the district.”
“I don’t think it’s an issue in the congressional race,” Roraback said. “People are mostly concerned about our economy, national security and energy issues.”
Regardless, it will remain an issue at the state Capitol.
“It’s going to bring attention and awareness,” Woodbury First Selectman Gerald Stomski, the moderator at the forum, said of the death penalty.
“But I think the major issues are jobs, our economy and energy in the congressional race,” he said.