The Texas governor says interest in the case of Gary Graham, who wasexecuted Thursday, and the state's accelerated capitalpunishment is the result of the "emotionality" of the death penaltydebate. He has shrugged off doubts about the fairness of the justicesystem, saying he knows of no innocent man or woman executed in thestate.
Bush's handling of the furor over how the death penalty is meted out inTexas is a window into his personality, giving voters a preview of theway he might deal with the nation's weightiest public policy decisionsif he wins the White House, political analysts say.
"Someday, he might have to push a button that doesn't just fry anindividual but says, 'We are at war,'" said Marc Landy, chairman ofBoston College's political science department. "The issue with Bush isnot does he have the guts to do it, but is he a judicious, thoughtful,mature leader?"
Bush's body language, rhetoric, and demeanor in the highly controversial Graham case gives voters a glimpse of his personality andcharacter, adds Benjamin Page of Northwestern University. Bush wascriticized during the primary campaign for laughing during a televiseddebate when asked about one pending execution.
"It's the question of basic brainpower but also the question of basichumanity and depth of feeling," said Page, a political scienceprofessor. "This issue is a keyhole into his character."
During a three-day swing through Washington state and California thisweek, Bush was dogged by death penalty protesters but didn't flinch.
"I think it's important that they know that I'm going to make decisionsbased on the law and justice and fairness," he said aboard his campaignplane. "And stand my ground in the face of pretty significant movementto try to undermine the credibility of the death penalty in the state ofTexas."
His state has put more people to death in the last two decades than anyother. This year alone, Texas has executed 22 inmates; there have been134 executions during Bush's five years in office.
Including Graham, 15 more are scheduled before Election Day on November 7--an average of almost one a week.
The governor said several times recently that he believes none of thoseput to death on his watch were executed in error.
But most Texans believe their state has put an innocent person to death,according to a media poll published on Thursday.
The Scripps Howard Texas Poll found that 57% believe someone hasbeen executed by mistake. Also, 87% said death-row inmates shouldhave access to free DNA tests to try to prove their innocence.
Despite such doubts, Texans continue to strongly support capitalpunishment, with 73% of those surveyed favoring the deathpenalty. A recent Gallup Poll showed that support nationally for capitalpunishment has fallen to 66%, its lowest level since 1981.
"I understand the emotionality of the death penalty," Bush saidWednesday. "I expect it."
He has signaled an open-mindedness to reforms, such as DNA testing thatmight clear death row inmates.
Earlier this month, Bush authorized a reprieve for inmate Ricky McGinnpending DNA tests.
Two years ago, Bush told the parole board to review the case of serialkiller Henry Lee Lucas because of questions about the slaying for whichLucas was about to die. Lucas' death sentence eventually was commuted tolife.
But it is Graham's case that has sparked the most protests and focusedthe issue on Bush this election year.
The governor appoints the parole board but is barred by law fromhalting the execution without a majority vote from the panel. The panelon Thursday voted not to stop Graham's execution.
The governor has the power to grant a one-time 30-day reprieve in deathpenalty cases. But not for Graham: He already received his one reprievein 1993 from Bush's predecessor, Democrat Ann Richards.
Graham was 17 when Bobby Lambert, 53, was slain on May 13, 1981.
Graham pleaded guilty to 10 aggravated robberies during the crime spreebut argued that the sole eyewitness at his trial was mistaken when sheidentified him as the gunman who shot Lambert.