California Gov. Gavin Newsom, who this week halted state executions in California, told BuzzFeed News on Friday that he believes Democratic presidential candidates should commit to taking federal prisoners off death row should they become president.
"Yeah, I think it's the right thing to do. It's the moral thing to do," the governor told BuzzFeed editor-in-chief Ben Smith for BuzzFeed News' Profile. "It would send a powerful message that we don't just pay lip service to the issue of implicit overt bias. The issues of deescalation, all these issues in our criminal justice system that we're finally coming to grips with, including the presidential candidates, ... with respect to cannabis legalization, which is long overdue, to the issues of disparities and race-based disparities in terms of sentences."
"But the ultimate manifestation of all that," he added, "is the death penalty."
Newsom said the death penalty issue should be at the forefront of the 2020 policy debates.
"That should be part of the conversation of a presidential damn campaign, not some of these sideshows, tweet by tweet, as we're going this zigzag to all these things that, frankly, are a little more trivial to me than the issues of life and death," he said.
In talking about the Democrats' 2020 field, the governor, who has endorsed Sen. Kamala Harris for president, did say that he thinks new entrant Beto O'Rourke seems like a "special" candidate.
"I think what Beto is expressing is a sense of authenticity that people are embracing and celebrating. If he can keep that, he seems like a special candidate. And that's a special place to be," he said. "As long as it's actually real, and authentic, and it's not about you. And that's I think where you have to be cautious. Those bright lights can drive you off a cliff."