After a 45-minute meeting Thursday morning with Gov. Martin O'Malley, NAACP national President Ben Jealous said the governor “supports repeal of the death penalty but wants the civil rights organization to line up support before he decides whether to make the effort an administration priority.
Jealous also told reporters after the State House meeting that he plans to meet next week with Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, who could be the pivotal figure in deciding whether a repeal bill gets a floor vote during the General Assembly session that starts next month.
The NAACP leader said the meeting with O'Malley, a longtime opponent of capital punishment, went very well.
“This governor gets it,” Jealous said. “He is clearly more eager to get the job done than he has ever been before.”
Jealous stopped short of claiming a commitment from O'Malley to make repeal a part of his own legislative agenda and to make an all-out effort for repeal. The NAACP chief expressed confidence that by the time the legislature convenes Jan. 9, the organization will have lined up enough votes to show O'Malley the effort can succeed.
“He is asking us to show we still have the support,” Jealous said.
Raquel Guillory, a spokeswoman for O'Malley, agreed that the meeting went well and confirmed Jealous' account.
“The governor would like to gauge the support for a potential ban and would like to take this information into account as to whether to move forward,” she said. Guillory said the question of whether to incorporate repeal into his 2013 agenda is “still under discussion.”
O'Malley previously made a strong push for repeal in 2009, but the effort fell short when senators substituted a compromise measure that kept the death penalty but narrowed the circumstances under which it can be used. Since then repeal bills have been bottled up in the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, where there has been a 6-5 majority in favor of keeping the death penalty on the books.
Jealous acknowledged that there is no sign that count has changed, but he said that with Miller's support, a bill could be brought to the floor without winning a committee vote.
Miller, a Calvert County Democrat, has in the past expressed personal support for retaining capital punishment. But in some cases, as in last year's vote in favor of same-sex marriage, he has given the governor an opportunity for a floor vote on legislation he has voted against.
Jealous expressed hope that Miller may be reconsidering his past support for the death penalty.