Sunday, October 25, 2009

Partial for nonpartisanship

isconsin Political Fix
not just another blog
October 25, 2009

By Bill Kraus

In my positions of more or less importance in over 30 political campaigns of more or less importance I have learned many things. One of the most important is that judicial campaigns are and should be different from campaigns for partisan offices.

Both campaigns are about the candidates, their character and their credentials.

Partisan campaigns are also about positions and promises and proposals as well.

Judicial campaigns are not and should not be.

The only issue in judicial campaigns should be solely about the candidates’ ability to at the very least aspire to dispassion, disinterest, open-mindedness on the people and the questions that are in the courtroom.

The answer I want to hear from a judicial candidate who is asked how he or she would rule on any matter brought before the court is, “I don’t know, and I won’t know until I see the facts and read the law.”

I know the press hates this. The special interests hate it even more.

Too bad.

Another major difference between these campaigns is that the judicial candidates are elected in “nonpartisan” elections and strive to be perceived as having achieved that state or a close approximation.

If not all, certainly a great majority of candidates for judicial office come with a political history. Those who have been appointed were picked by a partisan politician for political reasons. Even those who run for open seats bring, with rare exceptions, some political baggage with them. Some bring steamer trunks.

Nonpartisanship is elusive but bipartisanship or departisanizating is possible.

Historically judicial candidates have asked partisans from both parties to serve in their campaigns as antidotes to accusations of partisanship. Former Democratic governor Pat Lucey and former Republican Governor Lee Dreyfus served as campaign co-chairs for a long series of worthy Supreme Court candidates who expected nothing more from them than the de-toxification that their presence implied. The desirable side effect of putting these names on the campaign letterheads is that it affected the candidates behavior and the kinds of campaigns they ran.

This remedy disappeared for a couple of recent Supreme Court campaigns. It can and should be reapplied. It works.

The need for money to run for office is a bone in the throat of candidates’ attempts to establish that they will be even-handed, fair, and not beholden to those who fund their increasingly expensive campaigns.

Most judicial campaign contributions come from lawyers. A bad idea. Lately, money from interest groups or activists with an issue or an agenda has been flowing into judicial elections. An even worse idea.

There is a way to fund these campaigns without giving the impression that the candidates are in the pockets of someone who practices before them or who wants a specific ruling on an issue that might be adjudicated.

It’s called public money. It’s what the Impartial Justice Bill is all about.

It is a small price to pay for an unfettered, unbiased, independent judiciary.

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