Jim Beam column: Landry doesn’t like to comment

Published 6:24 am Wednesday, January 31, 2024

Louisiana Gov. Jeff Landry has only been in office since Jan. 8, but he is already running his gubernatorial office much like he did his election campaign. Landry, like his mentor former President Donald Trump, avoided all but one of the campaign forums and debates.

Now that he is in office, Landry refuses most of the time to respond to requests for comment on major issues. The latest came when he was asked about his plan to push for new death penalty methods.

The Advocate in its death penalty story said, “Sources said it was not yet clear exactly which methods Landry will pursue making law during the special (crime) legislative session from Feb. 10 to March 6. A spokesman for Landry’s office declined to comment.

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Bob Marshall, a Pulitzer Prize-winning Louisiana environmental journalist, in a recent column wanted some environmental answers from the governor’s office.

“So far, there has been no response,” Marshall said.

In its “Capitol Buzz” column, The Advocate said in 2020 its investigation found that businesses with ties to Landry made a deal to import hundreds of skilled Mexican construction workers to help build a natural gas terminal in Cameron Parish.

That news came after Landry issued a mandate for state agencies to collect and publish data on immigrants. Landry said illegal immigration causes substantial economic and societal harm to Louisiana and its citizens.

An immigrant rights advocate said, “Immigrants weren’t a burden to Jeff Landry’s personal business. They were an asset.”

When asked, a spokesperson for Landry declined to comment.

Landry is planning to ask legislators at the special crime session to expand methods the state can use to carry out the death penalty, according to four sources quoted by The Advocate.

If he is successful, the newspaper said it would be Louisiana’s first execution since 2010 — and the state’s first in decades using a method other than lethal injection, which has been the most common execution tool in the U.S. since its introduction in 1982.

Those sources said it wasn’t clear exactly which methods Landry will pursue during the session. However, when he was state attorney general for eight years, Landry suggested switching to gas, hangings, firing squads, and electrocutions.

Alabama prison officials last week used nitrogen gas to execute a man convicted of murder. It was the first in the U.S. this year. The state called it humane but critics said it was potentially cruel and unconstitutional.

A New Orleans attorney who represents some Louisiana death row prisoners in an interview urged Landry not to take Louisiana down the path of Alabama.

“I don’t think we in Louisiana want to be seen in the same light that Alabama is,” the attorney said. “We don’t want to become China, Iraq. We need to pause and consider whether we’re going to proceed with the death penalty and the best way to do it.”

Louisiana’s last execution was in 2010 when a murder defendant was voluntarily put to death. Before that execution, the state had not put anyone to death since 2002.

The Advocate said a number of recent Louisiana death row cases have featured men who were sentenced to death but were later found innocent and ordered freed. That is why some death sentences are risky.

The Louisiana Supreme Court on Friday took a 1996 Rapides Parish quadruple murder defendant off death row and granted him a new trial. The newspaper said the divided decision was a rare instance of the state’s highest court overturning a conviction based on a prosecutor’s failure to turn over evidence to the defense. In several Louisiana cases, federal courts have ordered new trials for long-serving prisoners over withheld evidence, after denials in state courts.

Executions have been on hold for a long time in Louisiana because pharmacies and drug companies that supplied lethal injection drugs didn’t like the unfavorable publicity they were getting.

In 2018, Landry, as attorney general, advocated that state law be changed to let the names of those companies be kept secret. Now that he is governor, he is expected to push that idea again in the Legislature. But don’t expect to get any comments from the governor.

Other states like Alabama, Florida, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Texas have been approving new execution methods in recent years, including natural gas and firing squads.

Let’s hope our legislators are better than that. Most people shudder at the mere mention of possibly returning to hangings, firing squads, and electrocutions. All of those are definitely “cruel and unusual punishments”  mentioned in the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.


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