"We have a system that is dysfunctional," George answered. It was George who once famously said, "The leading cause of death on death row in California is old age."
Oddly, at Tuesday night's gubernatorial debate, neither Democrat Attorney General Jerry Brown nor Republican former eBay CEO Meg Whitman seemed particularly exercised about the delays.
Jerry Brown posited that the delays are "too lengthy." He then cited George's past calls to hire more personnel to handle the backlog, "because under the Constitution, these men who are condemned have a right to first-class representation." (Actually, George told me, "The operative word is effective representation, not first-class.")
Criminal Justice Legal Foundation legal director Kent Scheidegger blogged that Brown "seems to have swallowed the defense spin on the issue, hook, line, and sinker."
Whitman promised to be "a tough-on-crime governor." But she seemed most concerned about the money issues, when she said that if the state can't speed up the process, "we are going to be on the brink of building another death row facility."
This isn't an issue of prison construction costs. The anti-death penalty lobby is committed to burning through so much time and taxpayer money that voters cry uncle and give up on the death penalty because they're sick of bankrolling frivolous appeals that successfully thwart capital punishment even though the U.S. and California Supreme Courts have ruled it to be constitutional.
When they've won on the death penalty, they'll start trying to shave time from life-without-parole sentences, which they also consider to be inhumane -- on your dime as well.
The next governor needs to understand these forces and not give in to the siren song of inertia. But I don't think either Jerry Brown or Meg Whitman understands what is at stake.