DEATH IN TEXAS: The same week George W. Bush released a memoir rationalizing his murderous wars, the Texas Observer broke a story that could prove he has more innocent blood on his hands. Claude Jones died in the Texas death chamber in 2000, the final prisoner executed while Bush was governor. Jones’s conviction rested on a single piece of forensic evidence—a hair he swore belonged to someone else. Jones sought a stay of execution to get DNA testing, but he was denied by the courts and Bush. A decade later, DNA has proved what Jones always claimed: the hair was not his. Instead, it matched the victim. Not only was Jones convicted on false evidence; it’s possible Texas executed an innocent man.
The discovery is part of a sickening trend that should have enormous implications but has done little to slow state executions. Last year, an investigation by The New Yorker thor- oughly debunked the evidence used to execute Cameron Todd Willingham in 2004 for killing his daughters. Governor Rick Perry, who maintains that Willingham was a “monster,” has tried to quash a probe into the case. But even he can’t cover up the fact that the state has condemned innocent men to die. In October Anthony Graves became the twelfth Texas prisoner exonerated from death row.
Meanwhile, Hank Skinner, who got a stay from the Supreme Court as he ate his last meal, is fighting to test DNA evidence many believe could exonerate him. Whether this happens while he’s still alive remains to be seen. As one activist says, “In Texas, it doesn’t matter if you’re innocent. They’ll kill you anyway.” LILIANA SEGURA
PULLING RANK: Newly elected Oakland Mayor Jean Quan ran as a candidate with deep roots in the Bay Area, where her great-grandfather and grandfather settled in 1906. As a veteran community activist, former school board member and current City Council member, she brought experience and smart progressive proposals to the race. What she lacked was big money and the big-time connections of the more conservative front-runner, former California State Senate president pro tempore Don Perata. In a traditional election, Perata would almost certainly have won, but Oakland has a ranked-choice voting system, which lets voters rank their top three choices.
Under ranked-choice, if no candidate wins a majority, candidates who receive the fewest first-place votes are eliminated and second and third choices are added to the existing tally and counted to determine a winner. As the votes are reassigned, a consensus candidate with broad appeal is more likely to emerge as the winner than a candidate with narrower appeal. Quan positioned herself as the broad-appeal contender, respecting that people might back other candidates in the ten-way race but urging everyone to make her their second choice. Voters did just that. Though she was outspent roughly four to one by Perata, she prevailed after accumulating the second-choice votes of Oakland residents who had backed other progressives.
Instead of rewarding candidates who run “polarizing” campaigns, notes FairVote’s Steven Hill, a ranked-choice system helps ensure that “candidates who can build a coalition using those ranked ballots are going to do well.”
“This is going to be a race that people are going to be studying for a long time,” says Quan. “It gives hope to people who are outspent. It gives hope to people, as long as you can organize your neighborhoods and you get volunteers, that you can win.” JOHN NICHOLS