John Kitzhaber has actually done something pretty exciting! This afternoon, our governor he sent out a bold and lengthy statement about how he would refuse to sign the execution order for Gary Haugen, the Oregon prisoner sentenced to die on December 6th. And, says Kitzhaber, he will refuse to sign any other execution orders while in office.

Gary Haugen represented many of the problems of Oregon's relationship with the death penalty: He would have been the third inmate to be executed since Oregon reinstated the death penalty in 1984, and the third who had essentially volunteered to die. While the rest of Oregon's death row inmates are bogged down in apparently endless appeals, Haugen overrode his lawyers and waived all right to appeals. Asked about Haugen's case over the summer, capital punishment author and expert Bill Long noted, "I don't think we, as a state, have a stomach for lots of executions. My read of Oregon's character is that Oregon likes the death penalty, but it doesn't like the notion of actually putting people to death."

Kitzhaber okayed the execution of two inmates during his previous tenure as governor and says he regretted those decisions ever since. Now it's clear, he wrote in his statement, that Oregon has an "expensive and unworkable system that fails to meet the basic standard of justice." He argues for replacing the death penalty in Oregon with a sentence of life in prison without parole.

"I do not believe those executions made us safer, and certainly they did not make us nobler as a society. And I simply cannot participate once again in something I believe is morally wrong... The death penalty as practiced in Oregon is neither swift nor just; it is not fair or certain. It is not equally applied to all. It is a perversion of justice that the single best indicator of who will and will not be executed has nothing to do with the circumstances of a crime or the findings of a jury. The only factor that determines whether someone sentenced to death in Oregon is actually executed is that they volunteer."

it's important to note that this isn't an official state ban on the death penalty—if Kitz doesn't pass a ban while he's in office, the governor after him could begin executing people again.