Gregory G. H. Rihn (milwaukeesfs) wrote,
Gregory G. H. Rihn

Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce must be destroyed.

This morning, we woke up to the unwelcome news that the voters of Wisconsin, had, by a 51-49% majority, elected Circuit Judge Michael Gableman to a ten-year term on the Wisconsin State Supreme Court in place of incumbent Justice Louis Butler. The winner's dirty campaign was heavily butressed by "issue ads" by Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce and allied "conservative" groups. These were against Justice Butler not because he was "soft on crime" as portrayed, but because he dared to take part in ruling against business interests in types of cases such as products liability. This is the second time in two years that WMC has suceeded in foisting poorly qualified and ethically challenged candidates for the states high court on the electorate in preference for better qualified, upstanding, but possibly more liberal candidates.

I first became aware of WMC as a pernicious and amoral force twenty years ago with their first negative campaign against progressive property tax reform. Wisconsin's Constitution provides that all real property in the state must be assessed at the same rate in each community. That is, residential, commercial, and industrial property all has to be taxed at the same number of cents per thousand, regardless of whether it is income-earning property or not. A Constitutional amendment was introduced to change this, allowing for different classes of valuation, and sailed through both required legislative sessions before coming to the required referendum vote. Enter WMC, who hired two former governors, Democrat Patrick Lucey and Republican Lee Dreyfus, to shill for them, and proceeded to stampede elderly and fixed-income voters with TV ads alleging that this reform was aimed at allowing higher taxes on residential property. In fact, this was a direct inversion of the true purpose of the legislation, but no one was prepared with any counter-campaign, so the "big lie" prevailed at the ballot box, and Wisconsin businesses have been holding homeowners hostage against property taxes ever since.

WMC's narrowminded focus on taxation has made them a major proponent of the so-called "Taxpayer's Bill of Rights", which was a financial disaster for the one state it was actually tried in, which has not prevented them from continuing to push its adoption here.

Now they have successfully manipulated two Supreme Court races, in the last one electing a candidate so ignorant of judicial propiety that she did not recuse herself from sitting on cases to which her own husband's bank was a party, which resulted in the newly elected Justice's first act in office was receiving a reprimand from the Court of which she had just become a member.

Judge Gableman was minimally qualified when he wangled himself an appointment to the county bench in a far northern county with a low-volume circuit court. He had not distinquished himself either on the bench, or in his career as a Distict Attorney, having tried only on major felony case to a jury (which he lost) and leaving responsibility for a homicide investigation open more than three years to his successor as DA. However, the north of the state is a very conservative bastion, and being "tough on crime" is a necessary qualification for judicial office.

Frankly, I am fed up with this idea that being "tough on crime" is the only qualification to be a judge, and that only DA's and former DA's are eligible. Any fool can claim they are "tough on crime," and most do. However, in most counties in Wisconsin, there are one or two circuit judges, who sit on all cases from felonies to probates. They try civil cases, divorce cases, will disputes, child custody, commitments, small claims, and everything that comes in the courthouse door. Even in the larger counties which have purely criminal courts, judicial assignments are rotated so judges eventually serve in all branches if they last long enough. Why, then, should a prosecutor who has very likely never handled anything BUT criminal cases be well qualified to sit in judgment over all the other cases that may come before him or her, just by virtue of that experience.

Supreme Court Justices likewise have a mixed bag of work, and major criminal case rulings are in the minority. It is far more likely that the court will rule on some civil matter, such as, for example, whether or not children damaged by exposure to lead paint can sue the makers, which will have a profound effect on the lives of thousands of citizens, as opposed to a criminal case involving one defendant having any broad effect.

So, how can WMC and its ilk be stopped? It is to be hoped that the ugliness of this current race will spark significant reform in the way judges and justices are elected, but I don't hold out much hope. Industry lobbyists work hard to prevent any kind of election reform that will hold them accountable for their soft-money "issue" advertising. Wisconsin has been talking for decades about adopting some alternative system such as appointment, but that will take major Consitutional revision, and the forces of reaction will be out against that as well, as long as they can continue to purchase the kind of judges they want.
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