April 6, 2007
Democracy in bottles
By Bill Kraus
Supreme Court elections are now being subsumed by “politics as marketing.”
The campaigns will now be subject to infiltration at best, hijacking at worst, by organizations with money and agendas.
The recent Supreme Court election was not just a contest between Annette Ziegler and Linda Clifford; it was also a below the radar battle about limiting the size of product liability and pain and suffering jury verdicts...or not.
As far as I can determine, this issue was never referred to overtly by the adherents of either side. They spent their considerable money trashing the candidate they thought was less likely to favor their position.
What future candidates for judicial office can look forward to is campaigns like the one state Senator Dale Schultz waged where he spent all his time and money trying to convince the voters that he wasn’t the tool of the National Rifle Association nor the demon he was portrayed as by the teachers’ union, or the one where state Senator Jon Erpenbach and his opponent sort of watched as they were outspent, outshouted, and pushed aside early on by the massive battle being waged by the manufacturers’ association and the teachers’ union over the seat the candidates had hoped to contest on the issues they thought were important. Not a chance.
Can this genie be put back in the bottle?
Surprisingly, it may be more possible in the judicial arena than the legislative and gubernatorial ones.
There are three possibilities:
The first is to turn to full public funding. The people who are squeamish about “welfare for politicians” are less vehement about judicial “politicians”; they do not like the odor of lawyers putting up the money to elect judges.
The second is to go to the federal system where judges are appointed by the governor and approved by the Senate. To a very large extent, this is the system that is already in place. Most judges get the job by appointment first; then they stand for elections which they usually win.
And the third is a proposal that was developed at Governor Lucey’s request some 35 years ago which was a creative combination of appointment with validation. The commission that made the recommendation proposed creating a dispassionate panel of experts to screen and nominate supplicants and then present several qualified people to the governor for him to select from. The governor would present a selection to the Senate. After serving a term, the person who got the appointment would be subject to ratification by a popular vote.
This idea was opposed by newspapers and labor unions at the time. Both cited lofty objections having to do with their affection for the peoples’ right to vote, but were probably more influenced by considerations having to do with money and/or power.
In this new era of politics as marketing a new set of opponents’ interests would be jeopardized. TV stations and special interests are the main beneficiaries of the reigning genies.
But it is nice to know that in the case of this one kind of election it would be possible to re-bottle them.
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