Friday, July 25, 2014

The debate about debates

By Bill Kraus

A very long time ago a wacky guy ran for District Attorney in Wisconsin promising he would only enforce good laws. Everybody laughed, and he lost.

Not so long ago a public official who was under investigation for behavior which had led to the imprisonment of some of his peers got the prosecution of his case moved to a more politically friendly part of the state. The District Attorney there said his caseload was full to overflowing and declined to prosecute the case.

A few sighs of relief may have been heard, but no laughter.

In the current four-person race for Attorney General of Wisconsin there have been some disturbing suggestions that candidates for that office may opt in or out of cases based on what they consider the virtue of the laws on which the cases are based.

And the ongoing tainted John Doe controversy is partisan infected at the very least.

This isn’t the kind of partisanism and ideological bias that dominates the first and second estates, but it seems to me to be headed in that direction.

Contests in judicial elections elsewhere have been influenced, even decided, by something that looks like prejudging based on something other than the facts or the interpretation of legislation which are supposed to be the main or even the only criteria in play in these quarters.

A partial remedy or at least a treatment for these deleterious trends has been suggested for those members of the third estate who gain office through elections.

Their elections can, and I think should, be moved from the partisan fall to the non-partisan spring.

Judicial elections are already there in Wisconsin.

The rest of the offices whose reason for being is law enforcement should be as well.

Sheriffs, district attorneys, and even attorneys general are not in the policy business. They enforce laws others write, keep the peace, and punish the miscreants among us.

Politics is not a part of their jobs. Political affiliation is irrelevant to their job performance.

Moving them to the non-partisan election spring date would make that distinction more evident to the voters.

This is not to suggest that the candidates cannot have a political history or political preferences.

Electing novices and eunuchs is not what we are after.

A way to emphasize what we are after is to change the way we fund the election of candidates in the law interpretation and enforcement sector.

Wisconsin went a small step in that direction a few years ago by fully funding the election of Supreme Court justices.

Events and over-reaching and other unanticipated and unwelcome developments wiped out that worthy idea.

It can and should be reinstated, adequately funded, and expanded to include all the elected members of the the third estate.

Justices, judges, district attorneys, and sheriffs need to be insulated from partisanship in every way including the fiscal one.

There was a candidate for the 2014 Attorney General election who would have recommended this. He dropped out. That idea is lying there to be picked by some or all of the remaining contenders.

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