Former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor is stumping the country urging those states that elect judges to switch to an appointed judiciary with a merit nomination process that limits the elected executives‘ choices to names provided by a dispassionate group of outside experts.
What we have in Wisconsin is a cobbled together judicial election system where, even though over half of the judges get their first jobs by appointment, the election process itself is shaped (or twisted) to favor candidates who are or aspire to be non-partisan at best and bi-partisan at the very least including those who got their jobs originally by partisan appointment.
Federal Judge Barbara Crabb has unfortunately made a ruling in favor of outright partisanization of the process which both former Justice O’Connor and the Wisconsin system are trying to minimize.
If I had to bet, I would wager that Judge Crabb is going to prevail. Certainly in the short run, because the current Supreme Court is not likely to share the Wisconsin objective, and even if Justice O’Connor’s campaign does succeed, it won’t be anytime soon.
It seems to me that it is foolish to think that in Wisconsin, where we are addicted to electing everybody including coroners, we are going to succumb to Justice O’Connor’s blandishments. Unless. Unless Judge Crabb’s decision stands and we are faced with the prospect of picking judges on their political affliations instead of their ability to be fair and dispassionate and not beholden to preconceived notions or philosophies.
I think we want a non-partisan judiciary. We want to be judged by people whose decisions are based on the facts and the law of the cases before them. Period.
This is hard to achieve and easy to aspire to.
What, then, to do about the prospect that partisanship and the kind of predictability that is its handmaiden will infect our judiciary system?
For openers let me suggest that it is possible to protest the Crabb decision on the theory that any judges who rule on these matters who became a judges via a partisan appointive system should recuse themselves from these cases on the assumption that they are naturally biased in favor of a partisan judiciary.
This recusal would take every federal judge off the Wisconsin case.
Failing that, the only recourse is Justice O’Connor’s proposal.
As, if, and when the federal courts tell us to abandon our principles and our history the federal appointment system should take a dose of the same medicine.
The O’Connor appointment system is pure merit at the core. The federal appointment system is not.
Those federal judges who favor Judge Crabb’s idea might take judicial notice of the fact that the law of unintended consequences might come into play if the Crabb decision prevails. To wit: If the federal judiciary is going to mess with Wisconsin and other states that have a non-partisan elected system, they are flirting with a kickback that could set off a movement leading to the adoption of the O’Connor merit appointment proposal everywhere.
Afghanistan has a long history of being a burial ground for failing empires. General Stanley McChrystal's insurgency plan for Afghanistan has been going poorly and he probably realized that the plan was doomed to failure. The insults he and his staff flung at the Obama administration and the civilian chain of command in the now-infamous interview with Rolling Stone magazine are the beginning of the finger pointing to fix blame for the failed Afghanistan policy. It is clear to many Americans that we should bring our troops home and end this insane adventure. McChrystal has a history of excessive drinking, insubordination, and deception (see the cover-up of the death of Pat Tillman).
McChrystal's firing should the catalyst for our withdrawal from Afghanistan. We have to rethink our destructive role of military empire that is fueled by the congressional-military-industrial complex and its private arms manufacturers that exist to extract huge profits from a government that has been captured by those who themselves need strict oversight. We then need to cut at least 50 percent of the bloated military budget and rethink why we have more than 800 military bases scattered throughout the world.
June 20, 2010 Preview of coming distractions By Bill Kraus
A recent WisPolitics luncheon featuring the chairs of the state’s two main political parties quickly sank into yet another juvenile, schoolyard shouting contest:
“My candidates are better.”
Your candidates are liars.”
After an hour or more of this, the audience was most likely to conclude that these candidates should not be running for important political offices; they should be run out of town on a rail instead.
I was probably the only one in the room who came hoping to learn about the state of the parties. How many members? How much money? What affect is the Tea Party movement having on either of the above? Are they worried that California’s anti-party proposition could spread to Wisconsin?
None of these subjects came up.
It’s possible that some members of this politically sophisticated, browbeaten audience were inspired or pleased by this exercise in mutual self destruction, but the comments that I overheard were more along the lines of, “If this is what we get in June, what will be hearing in October?”
The audience was, in a word, mostly disgusted.
Is there any hope that these campaigns will turn away from personality attacks, from demonization, and toward new ideas and positive proposals to save our sinking ship of state?
Not if party leaders Mike Tate and Reince Prebius have anything to say about them.
Before BP came along I used to refer to our campaign system as a train wreck. The analogy to the oil spill is imperfect but more current and more dramatic as well.
What BP is doing to the Gulf of Mexico and the planet our flawed campaign system is doing to our democracy.
And like the BP disaster, the fixes for the campaign system are not available or not working very well.
The reading I get from the reform pros and that small segment of our population that attends presentations by the reform pros is that there are seven things that are screwing up campaigning in this country.
Campaigns are too long. Actually they are more like endless. What we seem to want is the British system. Unfortunately the British system only works when no one knows when the next election will be.
Campaigns are too costly. Millions of dollars are poured into short, often superficial appeals for votes through whatever are the media of the moment. This is probably per se bad. Worse yet it adds a new criterion for candidacy. “How much money have you got?” is the first question asked by the mercenaries who run campaigns and the reporters who cover them. Attempts to limit campaign spending are routinely overturned by the free-market minded Supreme Court.
Campaigns are rigged. Because the need for campaign money is so great even in a state like Wisconsin, the legislative leaders have gerrymandered the legislative districts to reduce the number of places where races are competitive and expensive. The result is that candidates pick their voters rather than vice versa in an overwhelming number of legislative races.
Campaigns are too easily hijacked. In the few districts where there are competitive races and where those races determine which party will have a legislative majority, the flow of money from rich outsiders will usually overwhelm the campaign treasuries of the candidates themselves. Too often the campaign for a legislative seat turns out to be a battle between the business organization and the teachers’ union at which the candidates’ spending and agendas are only a sideshow.
Campaigns are too negative. The reigning wisdom is that a soporific public can only be motivated to get out and vote if they are given reasons to vote against instead of for candidates. The money backs up the reigning wisdom. The voters too often confirm it.
Campaigns offer too few ideas. Outside money from interest groups mostly goes to keep the status quo intact. Attack campaigns are about personality shortcomings and dirt. Ideas get pushed aside or belittled at best, attacked at worst. Campaigns are weighted toward bland generalities which sound good and are attack proof. Specific ideas are too dangerous.
Campaigns are unfair. Candidates must make regular filings which tell the public who, specifically, is supporting their campaigns with contributions. The outside interest groups that are active in campaigns are not required to make these kinds of disclosures.
And in the end...The prospects of BP cleaning up the Gulf don’t look very good at this writing. The prospects of cleaning up the election system look worse.
June 6, 2010 Strong tea By Bill Kraus
I get more than enough opportunities to talk to audiences throughout the state about the train wreck that used to be called representative government.
These patient audiences get as much or more of the full story of what has caused this sad state of affairs and who the culprits are who have made it happen and/or let it happen.
At the end of these often tiresome tirades I usually conclude by saying that Pogo was right when he said, “We have found the enemy, and it is us.” Politics could not have become a spectator sport without our letting it happen.
My plea takes whatever form is appropriate to the victims in the hall. What I want them to do is take back their government.
I ask those with a fire in the belly to run for office.
I ask others to help the aforementioned by taking over their campaigns and running the hired guns and their campaign management businesses out of Dodge.
I ask business leaders to dirty their hands and quit outsourcing political participation to their subordinates or hired hands.
I ask those who feel connected to a party to go back to their party caucuses and take over their parties from the extremists and the cultural warriors who think their thing is the whole thing.
I tell them to give more than money.
I have no way to measure the impact all these pleas have on anyone, but I fear only the tea party people have taken me to heart in the unlikely event that any of them were in any of the rooms I spoke in.
The tea party movement is enigmatic.
They are angry.
They are vocal.
They are mostly parades and protests.
They have no identifiable leaders or programs.
They may simply be mad at their world. They certainly show signs of the great American spectator syndrome of forgetting the problems when the solutions are proposed and turning the solutions into the problems.
They may be more anarchists than activists.
All of this is troubling.
They are no longer spectators.
They aren’t taking over the system, at least not yet. But clearly they aren’t outsourcing politics.
For better or worse they are in the game.
It does not behoove those who prefer watching TV commercials and sending money to demean them.