Montana’s GOP Just Nominated an Anti-Death Penalty Candidate

Rosendale wins in a state where Republicans overwhelmingly support capital punishment.

Thom Bridge/Independent Record/AP

Winning 34 percent of the vote in a four-way race, state Auditor Matt Rosendale will be the Republican nominee facing Montana’s Democratic senator, John Tester, this fall. In the waning days of the campaign, one of Rosedale’s rivals, former judge Russ Fagg, attacked him for not supporting the death penalty. In a state where the overwhelming majority of Republican voters support capital punishment, Rosendale’s win is notable.

Rosendale, who is Catholic, is one of a growing number of conservative leaders calling for an end to the death penalty. “Those who support the death penalty usually use the same, tired arguments: It saves money. It deters crime. Everyone who gets the death penalty is guilty and deserves to die,” he co-wrote in an 2013 op-ed in the Billings Gazette. “We’re here to say those arguments are wrong, wrong and wrong.” 

Heather Beaudoin, the national coordinator for Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty notes that his position, “is absolutely consistent with what we’re seeing across the country with conservative leaders taking a stand and being able to withstand the pressure.” 

A 2017 CCATDP report found that Republican legislators were warming up to the idea of repealing the death penalty in their states. In 2000, only four Republican lawmakers introduced death penalty repeal bills in their states. By 2016, 40 conservative lawmakers had introduced such bills. 

Conservatives against the death penalty consider their religious beliefs, the importance of consistency in championing pro-life principles, and the high financial cost of putting someone to death as their main arguments in favor of death penalty repeal. “More conservatives are willing to stand on those principles,” Beaudoin said.

Despite his long history of opposition to the death penalty, Rosendale never directly responded to the attacks against him.