Sunday, June 27, 2010

Judging history

By Bill Kraus

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.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Not seen and not heard

isconsin Political Fix
not just another blog
July 6, 2010

By Bill Kraus

As far as the mass media knows--or says--there are three candidates for governor of Wisconsin this year.

There are actually many more of them. All are invisible. This is due in part to the diminished press corps. There is a kind of coverage triage in journalism these days. There are many more stories than there are reporters to cover them. Some of them might have been about the invisibles. Since none are, the invisibles stay invisible.

A longtime observer of politics once said about a government hearing, about any political event for that matter, that “if the press isn’t there, it didn’t happen.”

It did, of course, but only those few who were there knew about it.

The invisible gubernatorial candidates do exist of course, but they are not “happening” because nobody is watching them and reporting what they are doing or saying.

At least one of the invisibles who I know about, has made a strenuous effort to become visible by calling on newspapers, offering himself up to TV and radio station interviewers. He is giving speeches to groups where there might be a reporter in the room. No dice.

Another thing the invisibles have in common is that they are unpolitical. This seems to be a virtue this year. The GOP candidate for the US Senate is spending a lot of money to tell voters what he is not. Other “un” candidates are springing up in hopes that elections this year will turn on something as incongruous as “no experience.”

They could.

Another one of the invisibles says that his greatest virtue is that he is not a demonizing partisan. He reports that people can’t sign his nomination papers fast enough once they learn that he is not “one of them.”

The three invisables I know, and who I have chosen not to name, are not capable of or interested in stooping to the meanness, to politics by character assassination, that is in favor these days.

Good for him and for them. It is high time those who have been trashing everyone who doesn’t agree wholeheartedly with them get trashed themselves.

Another invisible has a well thought out way to pay for K-12 education. He believes that education is the central responsibility of the state government and points out that the state constitution writers said so. Can a one-trick pony campaign prevail in these complex times even when the pony is as consequential as providing and paying for this essential service and responsibility? Could be.

The third invisible I know about is still on the fence. His campaign, if there is one, would be built around the idea that it is high time for the state government to quit playing games and dissembling and come clean with the people. He wants the governor and the government to grow up, to tell the truth and to face up to the things it can and should be doing and isn’t. If he does take the plunge, he would be a latter day Adlai Stevenson whose admirable 1952 blunt truth campaign did this. Unfortunately Adlai was up against the iconic and worthy Ike. No chance. So this idea was not widely copied.

None of the invisibles may go anywhere, which is too bad. That seems to be the conclusion of a feature article in the State Journal which lumps all 18 of them as fringe candidates.

What is worse is that there is a shortcut to visibility to notoriety to legitimacy. All they would have to do is make it clear to what remains of the political media that they have a way to fund a multi-million dollar campaign.

Bought and paid for notoriety might not convert into votes, but we would know who they are and why they think we should elect them.

Is this what selecting our political leaders has come to?

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Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Preview of coming distractions

isconsin Political Fix
not just another blog
June 22, 2010

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.”

“Are not.”

“Are too.”

Your candidates are liars.”

“Are not.”

“Are too.”

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.

For shame.

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Monday, June 14, 2010

Another kind of spill

isconsin Political Fix
not just another blog
June 13, 2010

By Bill Kraus

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.

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