Astle on death penalty: 'Don't take me for granted'

Sen. John C. Astle, considered one of the swing votes on a possible repeal of the death penalty, said Thursday that some opponents of capital punishment are jumping the gun in counting him as an ally.

Astle, an Anne Arundel County Democrat, said he has an open mind on the issue but wants to hear the arguments on both sides. He said backers of repeal have yet to lobby him.

Gov. Martin O'Malley, a supporter of repeal, has weighed in, Astle said. The senator said the governor raised the issue when Astle came to O'Malley's office to ask for his help with an event on women's cardiac health.

"He said keep an open mind and I said: 'Yes, sir,'"  Astle said.

One argument in favor of repeal -- that life without parole makes capital punishment unnecessary -- seems to be resonating with Astle.

"If you want to really punish someone, if you want to really hurt them, then you lock 'em up in a SuperMax for the rest of their lives," he said.

But that line of thinking doesn't mean death penalty foes can count him in the yes column, Astle said.

"I want someone to come talk to me," he said. "Don't take me for granted."

Meanwhile, another senator regarded as a swing vote also said he hasn't been contacted by repeal supporters, whose help O'Malley has sought in lining up the 24 votes that would make up a majority in the Senate. Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, who supports retention of the death penalty, has said he find a way to allow an up-or-down floor vote on the issue if O'Malley can show he has the votes to pass such a bill.

Sen. Ronald N. Young, a Frederick County Democrat, said he remains undecided on the issue but hasn't been lobbied by advocates on the issue. Nor has O'Malley weighed in with him, Young said.


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