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2000-08-03

Gov. George Ryan of Illinois Speaks on his Moratorium on Death Penalty

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After we left the convention center, we headed over to the press tents, where Ralph Nader made the rounds on TV and radio shows. As Nader was being interviewed on NBC, we bumped into Illinois Governor George Ryan. Ryan, of course, imposed a moratorium on the death penalty in Illinois a few months ago after more than a dozen people on death row there were proved innocent. He set up a blue ribbon panel to look at the issue. Just yesterday it held its first hearing. [includes rush transcript]

Tape:

  • Gov. George Ryan. Note: Interestingly, Ryan is the chair of George W. Bush’s campaign in Illinois, interesting because Bush has put more than 130 people to death in Texas, some of them with serious questions of innocence. The Republicans who have come to this convention are generally more conservative than mainstream Republicans on the issue of the death penalty, as well as on abortion and many other issues.

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: as we left the Republican National Convention, we headed over to the press tents, where Nader made his way through the rounds of TV and radio shows. And as he was being interviewed on NBC, we bumped into Illinois Governor George Ryan, who had just been interviewed on ABC.com.

George Ryan is an interesting governor from Illinois, a conservative Republican who imposed a moratorium on the death penalty in Illinois a few months ago after more than a dozen people on death row were proved to be innocent. He set up a blue ribbon panel to look at the issue. Just yesterday it held its first hearing, and I had a chance to speak with him.

    AMY GOODMAN:

    So how do you feel being the campaign chair for George Bush, who has presided over more executions than any governor in the history of the US?

    GOV. GEORGE RYAN:

    Well, I want to tell you something. Each governor has got to be comfortable with what they do in their own state. Probably one of the toughest jobs about being governor is that you have to make that decision about who’s going to live or die. And you have to be comfortable, and you have to make sure that your system works. My system didn’t work. I can’t tell you about Texas. George Bush evidently is very comfortable with his position there, as he should be, and feels that the courts have given every opportunity to these defendants, and he’s even, I think, given some time now for some DNA testing. So, each governor has to do their own thing. And I don’t criticize any governor for what they do.

    AMY GOODMAN:

    And yet, he’s presided over more executions than any governor in the history of the United States.

    GOV. GEORGE RYAN:

    Well, he’s got a big state.

    AMY GOODMAN:

    What about your stance on Cuba? You’ve taken a very interesting position: you actually went to Cuba. Why?

    GOV. GEORGE RYAN:

    Well, we took a humanitarian group down there. They donated some medical supplies and things that they needed, but — because I think Cuba ought to be opened up for trade, frankly. And I think it would help free the Cuban people and be good for the Cuban people and would certainly be good for those of us in Illinois that have got a lot of things we’d like to sell them.

    AMY GOODMAN:

    Like what?

    GOV. GEORGE RYAN:

    Well, we’ve got the Caterpillar, John Deere, we got a lot of farm products; we’ve got pharmaceuticals; we got a lot of things we could sell them that they need very badly.

    AMY GOODMAN:

    Do you think that the embargo should end?

    GOV. GEORGE RYAN:

    I think the embargo should end. We’re the only country in the world that’s not doing business with Cuba.

    AMY GOODMAN:

    And yet, has George W. Bush recommended this? He’s still —

    GOV. GEORGE RYAN:

    Well, I haven’t even talked to him about it, frankly. I don’t know. I think that there has been some movement. As you know, the Congress okayed the lifting of the embargo on food and drug. And so that’s a start.

    AMY GOODMAN:

    Back on the death penalty, you’ve now set up this blue ribbon commission. Where do you go from here?

    GOV. GEORGE RYAN:

    Today was their first meeting, and I haven’t had a chance to get a report on what they did. But they had public hearings today. I understand about forty people showed up to testify, and I just haven’t had a chance to get a report on it.

    AMY GOODMAN:

    Would you like to see the death penalty overturned in this country?

    GOV. GEORGE RYAN:

    Well, look, I’m a proponent of the death penalty. I think there’s probably times when it ought to be used. But you have to make sure that it’s right and that it’s perfect. You can’t take the chance of executing an innocent person. And I think that’s what we’re all concerned about, certainly what I was concerned about.

    AMY GOODMAN:

    Are you concerned about the studies that show that the court system is racially discriminatory?

    GOV. GEORGE RYAN:

    Sure. That was part of the reason that we went into this thing, with this moratorium. We had, I think, thirty-three prisoners that had been convicted, African Americans that had been convicted by all-white juries. We’ve had — I don’t remember the number, but I think well over thirty that were convicted and sent to death row when they were represented by attorneys that had been either disbarred or suspended from the practice of law or showed up in the courtroom drunk or fell asleep. Now, that just shouldn’t happen. Those are things that can be fixed, and that’s what we’re trying to do.

    AMY GOODMAN:

    So, why is it, you think, that so many Republican delegates are so pro-death penalty, do not have the same observations that you do, do not come to the —

    GOV. GEORGE RYAN:

    Well, I — I mean, I don’t — did you survey the delegates? Do you know that to be a fact?

    AMY GOODMAN:

    I think the survey showed that the delegates to the convention are far more conservative than mainstream Republicans in the United States.

    GOV. GEORGE RYAN:

    Oh, that’s probably true. But I can’t answer that. I would guess most of them haven’t had to go through the decision of whether they want to execute somebody or not.

    AMY GOODMAN:

    Have you had a conversation with George Bush about the death penalty? He presided over one of the more controversial ones on June 22, Gary Graham, Shaka Sankofa, where he had appeals from all over the United States and the world not to execute him, to put off that execution. Yet he moved forward.

    GOV. GEORGE RYAN:

    Well, he felt — from what I understand —- that they had all of the access to the courts. What was he on death row twenty-some years? Eighteen years? Twenty years? I don’t remember, but that he was guilty and found guilty. And -—

    AMY GOODMAN:

    Did you raise —

    GOV. GEORGE RYAN:

    — he did what he thought was right, I’m sure.

    AMY GOODMAN:

    Did you raise the death penalty at the Republican Governors’ Convention? Do you feel it’s an issue that Republicans should take on?

    GOV. GEORGE RYAN:

    Well, as I said, I think it’s an issue for each governor to make his own mind up and decide what they have to do. If they want to change their laws in their state, they should do that. The ultimate obligation falls on the governor, and they have to be comfortable with the decision they make.

    AMY GOODMAN:

    The studies of the delegates here at the convention, more than 2,000 delegates, I believe more than 83 percent of them white, four percent African American, three percent Latino. What’s the problem here?

    GOV. GEORGE RYAN:

    Well, I think that the Republicans have reached out and will continue to reach out to bring more minorities into the party. I think this convention, they tried to do that. And then, the leadership of George Bush, they’ll do that as he campaigns and works this country. You’ll probably see more attempts to do that. And I think they’ll be successful. I think he’s got the right message.

    AMY GOODMAN:

    And your view of Dick Cheney, who spoke tonight?

    GOV. GEORGE RYAN:

    I thought it was the right pick for George Bush to make. I think he’s the right man for the international experience, the foreign experience that he’s got, and the experience he’s got in Washington, D.C. I think he’s a good match for George Bush.

    AMY GOODMAN:

    And finally, your comment on the cynicism around these conventions, Republican and the Democratic, that we’re talking about huge sums of money poured into these conventions that make everyday Americans feel like this has nothing to do with them or democracy?

    GOV. GEORGE RYAN:

    Well, that’s unfortunate, because this system is what we do to elect the most powerful person in the world, you know, the president of the United States. And the Democrats will go through the same process in a couple of weeks, maybe in a little different fashion, but it’ll be the same process. And I think it’s up to the media, frankly, to do their best, to showcase each one of these conventions, to let the American public see their candidates and know who they are and know what they stand for. And it takes money to do those things.

    AMY GOODMAN:

    What about two-thirds of the $130 million in soft money raised by the Republicans, raised by some minute fraction, something like 700 donors to the Republican party?

    GOV. GEORGE RYAN:

    You’ve got me at a disadvantage, because I don’t know about all those numbers.

    AMY GOODMAN:

    But small number of large-money donors to the Republican Party, people feeling like the party is just bought and paid for.

    GOV. GEORGE RYAN:

    Well, you know, I’m not going to comment on all those things. That’s — those are issues that you folks like to talk about.

    AMY GOODMAN:

    Do you think they’re worthwhile issues? The corporate —

    GOV. GEORGE RYAN:

    Well, I think it costs far too much money to run for public office. I don’t think there’s any question about it. At any level, it costs too much. But television is expensive, and radio and newspaper ads are expensive, and —

    AMY GOODMAN:

    Would you support campaign finance reform?

    GOV. GEORGE RYAN:

    Here’s what I think ought to be done. If you want to give me a million dollars, you ought to be able to do that. You ought to be able to give me a million dollars, or ten million, or whatever you want to give. As long as everybody knows who you are, what you do, what your connection is, and it’s public knowledge. Everybody knows it.

    And if they want to criticize or condemn or not vote for me for taking that $10 million, then that’s what the system’s about. But the problem is, are we talking about campaign finance reform? When we talk about reform, we always end up with a lot of loopholes. And no matter what kind of reform you got, there’s always loopholes. So it ought to be a very simple plan, kind of like the income tax. They ought to make it a lot simpler. So when somebody said, “Where did you get all that money,” I can say, “I got it from you, and this is how much I got, and this is what she does.” And they can then make the decision.

    AMY GOODMAN:

    Ralph Nader went on the convention floor today —

    GOV. GEORGE RYAN:

    I heard about that today.

    AMY GOODMAN:

    What do you think of that?

    GOV. GEORGE RYAN:

    Well, I think — you know, I think Ralph Nader is going to help George Bush, frankly, being on the ticket.

    AMY GOODMAN:

    Why?

    GOV. GEORGE RYAN:

    Because I think he’s going to pull votes from Al Gore.

    AMY GOODMAN:

    What do you think of his politics?

    GOV. GEORGE RYAN:

    Of his what?

    AMY GOODMAN:

    Politics. What do you think of his criticism of the two-party system? And do you think he should be included in the debate as a third-party candidate?

    GOV. GEORGE RYAN:

    Well, yeah, sure! That’s fine with me. I think everybody that’s a candidate, as I said, I think they ought to showcase these folks. Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN:

Illinois Governor George Ryan, speaking inside the media tent at the Republican National Convention last night. When we return, a short dialogue between the conservative Republican governor and presidential candidate Ralph Nader.

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