Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Unfinished Business 3: Law Enforcement Elections

By Bill Kraus

Judges are elected in non-partisan [in quotes] spring elections in Wisconsin. As partisan organizations and their money made an appearance in these contests on the indisputable premise that it is cheaper to buy influence with four Supreme Court justices than with 50 members of the state assembly, a law was passed to fully fund those elections with public money [inadequately but admirably] which was important and to provide public money to offset and discourage campaign spending by third party organizations of all stripes and colors, which was essential. This innovation got its inaugural run in a campaign which coincided with the winter of riotous Wisconsin which was set off by Act 10. It’s inaugural run turned into a referendum on Act 10 instead of a contest between judicial candidates. Everything and everyone was demonized in that tumultuous moment, including the fledgling Impartial Justice law. The governor and the legislature offhandedly cut off the crucial public money in the wake of that election and the law died in the delivery room so to speak.

Another Supreme Court election looms. There is no Act 10 hanging in the balance, but the possibility that this election will be less about the candidates and more about a philosophical fight between a couple of monied outsiders with a score to settle looms.

If the race is about causes instead of candidates, whichever interloper has the most money and the best tv ads will be favored to win.

One way to stop this distortion is to go to appointments instead of elections for the court.

Wisconsin voters, who elect coroners for heaven's sake, are unlikely to buy that idea.

What they might buy is a rearrangement of the entire law enforcement process. This would start with symbolic de-partisanization. Choosing district attorney's, sheriffs, even the state attorney general by political party is somewhere between irrational and absurd.

So let's move those elections to the spring where they belong, and make a statement about those jobs being non-partisan and above politics.

Once that is accepted, restoring full public funding to candidates for law enforcement offices would be a logical next step.

To complete the de-partisanization there should be provision to provide matching money to discourage the monied special interests from turning law enforcement at all levels into referenda on their concerns instead of the credentials and quality of those elected to uphold and enforce the law.

I would be surprised if there wasn’t widespread support for getting the whole law enforcement and judicial business out of partisan politics and beyond the influence of people with interests and money who are almost by definition looking for something other than justice for all.

We have repeatedly demonstrated that there is no appetite for an appointed judiciary [or an appointed anything for that matter] in Wisconsin.

De-partisanizing the elections of sheriffs, district attorneys, the attorney general by moving those elections to the spring when judicial elections are now held, however, might be something that would draw wind in this increasingly windy state.

It would be nice to add the provisions of the casually dismissed “impartial justice” legislation which was passed with, maybe because of, a letter from all the sitting justices of the supreme court, to this idea. Departisanizing can be done without the protections of the “impartial justice” provided against domination by 3rd party interests and money if frugality and other considerations might undermine a complete package. Wisdom suggests that we should take what we can get and finish the job as, if, and when it becomes necessary and acceptable.

Move all law enforcement and judicial elections to the non-partisan spring, and, if that doesn’t shake the influence of 3rd party money, go for public financing.

Bill Kraus lives in Madison, is the former press secretary for Governor Lee Dreyfus, and is the Chair of the State Governing Board of Common Cause of Wisconsin.

Follow Bill Kraus on:

twitter / wmkraus

No comments:

Post a Comment