Wednesday, April 08, 2009

My own election reflections

I understand that, during an on-air conversation with my wife, Charlie Sykes called out my recent lack of blogging. I may not follow his orders, but Karen's are another matter. So here I am.

I have a little time today to reflect upon the election post-mortems. I was struck by the cluelessness (which I suspect, at least in the first case, is strategic rather than actual) of Paul Soglin and Ed Garvey.

Soglin says that the Abrahamson campaign proved that you "do not have to run from your core beliefs to win a state wide election to the court." He contrasts this with the campaigns of former Justice Louis Butler and Linda Clifford who did not run from their core beliefs and lost.

Really? What does it mean to run from your core beliefs? The Abrahamson campaign portrayed the Chief Justice as an "ally of law enforcement." It argued that her job was to "stand up" for Wisconsin families. Shirley Abrahamson is far too smart to believe that either claim accurately describes the role of a Supreme Court justice.

I would not go so far to claim that the campaign constituted "running from" the candidate's core beliefs, but neither did it reflect their embrace. To the extent that there was a substantive message that focused on issues (which are the things that implicate "core beliefs")rather than qualifications, it was that she is a "tough on crime" justice as opposed to some other candidates or jurists who may not be. No one who knows anything about the Wisconsin Supreme Court could say, with a straight face, that this reflects reality. The Chief Justice's views on criminal justice may be the correct ones but, as an empirical matter, there is no one on that Court who is less "tough on crime", i.e., more likely to support the claims of criminal defendants, than she is.

In fact, the Chief Justice is a nationally famous proponent of New Federalism, including the idea that state courts ought to, from time to time, read state constitutional protections for criminal defendants more generously than the United States Supreme Court reads cognate provisions in the United States Constitution. That may or may not be a good idea (it is certainly within the Court's power), but I failed to notice celebration of that core belief. I do not recall that the campaign applauded her application of the state's concealed carry law over its constitutional amendment guaranteeing the right to keep and bear arms. I missed the ad emphasizing the attempt to save Wisconsin's families by voting to invalidate the school choice program. I didn't catch the law enforcement officers explaining why they are so glad that they may no longer use show-ups.

There's nothing unique about this. All candidates deemphasize the less popular aspects of their record, i.e., they run away from those core beliefs that will not help them win. But Soglin should not be so quick to had out laurels. The Chief Justice is a good candidate but has not managed to transcend the laws of nature by which almost all candidates must live.

What the election proved is that, when you have a national reputation, decades of incumbency and outspend your opponent by, I don't know, twenty to one, you will win.

Soglin is also wrong, I think, about Randy Koschnick. He claims that "WMC and the Americans for Prosperity left him out on a limb, having encouraged him to run, promising money, and then sitting out the election." I have some personal knowledge of the matter and am confident that they did no such thing. He believes that they will "repay" Koshnick in a future race. I think that is highly unlikely. Judge Koschnick was a good candidate who did not get the public exposure that he deserved, but he was not sandbagged and 41% statewide does not normally get you a second chance.

Soglin says that Koschnick's defeat shows that "the WMC, All Children Matter crowd, those who called for a full all-out negative television campaign against Abrahamson ... were vindicated." But these groups did not call for such a campaign. Indeed, for reasons of their own, they declined to do so.

I appreciate that Mayor Soglin is a political operative in whose interest it is to project on the WMC and other conservative groups whatever serves his purpose. But,if he really believes the things he wrote here, I'm thinking that the sixties are alive in Madison in more ways than one.

Ed Garvey, on the other hand, has, at best, a tenuous connection to reality - at least in the post-Wobblies era. In his view, WMC sat out the race to avoid the plague of public financing. Although I am still in the process of determining where it will appear, I have a paper forthcoming called The Lonely Death of Public Campaign Financing. In all likelihood, public financing of elections would enhance the influence of groups like WMC and the Greater Wisconsin Committee who cannot be prevented from running election cycle issue ads. I think they would love to be tossed into that briar patch. Face it, Ed, the dream is over. Moby Dick has eluded you. Sail the Pequod back to your proletarian mansion on the lake before he carries you away. Or call me Ishmael.


Daniel Suhr said...

If I may add a few additional thoughts...

First, Koschnick received 41% of the vote, which is better than Sharren Rose did against the Chief in 1999. This even though the Chief raised $1.3M to K's $200k, whereas in '99 Rose invested $600,000 of her own money in a race where the two campaigns spent a combined total of $1.3M. Along similar lines, Koschnick only did 2 points worse than conservative DPI candidate Rose Fernandez, even though the funding disparity was less in her race and it was an open seat rather than a 30-year incumbent. Both these facts lead me to conclude that the number of hard-conservative April voters has increased in the past decade.

Second, the Chief brought important attention to the Court's role as the administrator of the state's judiciary, for instance by emphasizing a pilot ADR program for mortgage foreclosures. In doing so, though, she wayyy overemphasized the role and power of the Chief Justice. The CJ is not "CEO of the state's court system" as the MJS said this morning (this is a phrase that has popped up in other news reports throughout the campaign as well). The CJ is more accurately analogized to the chairman of the board of directors, as it is the whole Court sitting together that has the administrative authority over the system.

Third, I am disappointed that several aspects of the Chief's jurisprudence did not get discussed. The conversation did include references to new federalism and judicial activism and their implications for the state's crime and economic climates. However, the Chief's past record also offered at least three other major avenues for discussion: her past decisions on marriage & family (I think especially of Holtzmann), her past decisions on the religion clauses (incl. school choice), and her past writings on the role of international law in American courts. None of these topics, which the Butler-Gableman race never offered us, received any coverage and that's unfortunate.

xoff said...

Daniel Suhr: Forty-one per cent was no reason for optimism when Tom Loftus got it against Tommy T in 1990, and it is no reason for optimism for Koschnick's allies in 2009. Forty-one per cent is an old-fashioned butt whipping.

Fifty-five per cent has always been the definition of a landslide. The chief and Evers both topped that.

Whistle past the graveyard if you must, but engaging in self-delusion can only disappoint you further in the future.

Acrux Toliman said...

One of the reasons Koschnick lost -- in addition to the fact he followed in the footsteps of the now-disgraced Michael Gableman -- is that he is a right-wing religious wingnut who believes the Earth is 6000 years old, is openly biased against homosexuals, and thinks women are inferior to men. Not great material for a judge, let alone a justice. He is intellectually unqualified for the court, and the voters recognized that. Would you vote for someone if he earnestly believed fairies danced on his lawn at midnight, or that Santa Claus and the tooth fairy are real? I wouldn't, but you probably would.

Anonymous said...

Garvey's house is quite nice -- even Republican-looking, I daresay -- but it's not right on Lake Mendota. Whoa Nelly!

Anonymous said...

Face it -- Koschnick wasn't up to the task. You folks have to find a conservative candidate with a brain if you hope to do toe-to-toe with Shirley. Another dummy from Hambone wasn't going to cut it. There are smart conservatives out there; see Prosser and Sykes. An intellectual cipher like Koschnick can't cut it.