Remember, remember the Fifteenth of November
The big news from over the weekend was, of course, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett's decision to run for the Democratic nomination for governor of our great state. The announcement came after a great deal of hand wringing from the blue side of the political aisle over whether or not they'd have a serious candidate to pit against Republicans Scott Walker and Mark Neumann after Barbara Lawton made her sudden exit from contention.
I'm sure many Democrats are breathing a sigh of relief at Barrett's final decision. Had he opted to sit this one out the scramble to find another winning candidate would have been pretty intense; it would have taken a significant chunk out of the time that might be better spent on the campaign trail. Barrett, too, looks like a pretty shiny choice. If nothing else, he's got statewide name recognition after his run-in with the business end of a metal pipe while saving a woman and her granddaughter from attack.
But what about his politics and his leadership? As far as I can tell, it's a mixed bag. Barrett has some solid progressive bona fides, like backing domestic partnership benefits for city employees, but he's also managed to anger many on the left with his current bid to have the mayor's office take over the Milwaukee Public School District.
Folkbum, a prominent Milwaukee-area blogger, has been on Barrett's case about this move-and a perceived tendency to dump on the city in general-for quite some time. He writes:
So who's going to challenge Barrett from the left? Who's going to run a progressive, pro-Milwaukee, pro-public education, pro-urban renewal campaign that will force Barrett (and, I would hope, by extension the Republican candidates) to pay attention to progressive issues and stay honest about the needs of Milwaukee's largest city and most desperate economic disaster-in-waiting?
Regardless of how you feel about Barrett, or any one candidate, you must admit that having actual competition in a primary is good for everyone. Like preventing monopolies in the business world tends to lead to higher quality products and lower costs, having more than one candidate gunning for the nomination forces all involved to better articulate their records and future plans. It can also help to make sure that the more serious questions of the day don't go dodged and unanswered.
There had been some talk-both joking and somewhat serious-that former Madison mayor Paul Soglin might throw his hat in the ring. But even Soglin said that the decision was based entirely on whether or not Barrett decided to run. Now that that's the case, it looks like ol' "Havana Paul" (you have to hand it to Blaska on these wonderfully catchy nicknames-especially since that seems to be his only talent outside of gardening) is out of the running.
Barrett has an edge over Walker and Neumann, who are both of the "government and those who govern suck so please won't you pay me to be one of the people who sucks?" camp. But that's not to say I wouldn't like to see another candidate emerge to challenge him in the primary. Even if they couldn't pose a serious threat at the polls, I'd settle for someone who would make Barrett answer the hard questions and prove his progressive qualities.
How about that merit selection?
Justice Michael Gableman, who unseated Louis Butler for a seat on the Wisconsin Supreme Court in a nasty, slimy campaign last year, apparently has a fairy godfather who's just as driven and dirty as he is. In a decision issued just last week, a three judge panel recommended that the court dismiss an ethics complaint lodged against Gableman by the Wisconsin Judicial Commission.
The hubbub was over an advertisement placed by the Gableman campaign that made blatantly false accusations about Butler's time as a public defender, claiming the then incumbent had gone out of his way to find a loophole that led to the release of a man who went on to sexually assault a child.
The irony of all this is that while the loophole arguments made by Gableman against Butler were dang near slanderous, the actual loophole he's enjoying via the panel's recommendation is very real.
Tireless legal blogger Illusory Tenant laid out the ridiculousness of the situation in a recent post:
What's missing from the panel's opinions is any discussion of Gableman's - who was not only a candidate but a sitting judge at the time - professional obligation to adhere to the code of ethics in spite of his desire to behave outside its restrictions, yet still within the broader protections guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.
So, why exactly does the Supreme Court of Wisconsin require lawyers to complete biennial training in ethics to maintain their licenses? I mean, by what authority does Michael Gableman get to mandate that I complete biennial training in ethics? Also the First Amendment?Because it's clearly not a moral authority.
Pile that on top of a recent Supreme Court decision (albeit a heavily split one) that "endorsements, campaign contributions and independently run ads in themselves are not enough to force a judge off of a case," and it becomes all the more apparent that the system is broken.
We punish just about everyone else for knowingly misrepresenting (i.e.: lying) the facts of a case. Why not candidates for the highest court in the land?
This whole episode strikes me as being an incredibly good argument for instituting merit-based selection of Supreme Court Justices. Campaign cash, donor influence, and downright dishonest advertising should not go unpunished, but they just shouldn't be a factor in the first place. And that this panel of judges has decided that a small slap on the wrist is enough accountability for what Gableman did to get elected? It is, quite frankly, what you might call bull crap.
Edgewater, Oh Edgewater
Props must be given to intrepid local reporter Dusty Weis, who called out the inability of certain area media outlets to report correctly on the recent vote to set aside future funds for the Edgewater Hotel development.
Weis has been covering the story for months, including an excellent, three-part series that explained the entire proposal process-controversy and all-in straight forward terms. He was there, then, when the City Council voted on various measures to do with the 2010 budget, and when several city officials went to great lengths to explain that the Edgewater story was not that they were approving the funds outright, but rather simply to set aside the funds for a future debate and eventual vote on whether or not they should go toward the project.
Despite that, several outlets went to digital print with headlines touting the supposed approval, further muddying the waters of a debate that's already pretty murky.
The decision on whether the city should fork over taxpayers' money in order to provide TIF funds to the folks behind the proposed Edgewater redevelopment is too important to become the victim of sloppy journalism or underhanded lobbying efforts. In order to reach the best possible decision for the city-in terms of job creation, tax revenues, environmental responsibility and historical preservation-everyone needs to work together to make sure the issues are aired clearly and concisely. Doing less will mean that, regardless of the outcome of the initial project, we'll probably all be left with a bad taste in our mouths.
- The various battles, both large and small, over next year's city and county budgets are just heating up. It's no easy task to balance terrible economic numbers with the continued (and growing) need for human services. Surely, though, there are better ways to save and even earn money without cutting off some of the most vital services for some of the most at-risk citizens.
- My venerable colleague in blogging here at The Daily Page is in an absolute tizzy over a proposal by the Dane County Board to extend shore land zoning regulations from their current 75 feet to an absolutely galling 1000 feet. This apparently includes Blaska's bomb shelter, which is near to a retention pond.
That Blaska should have to go through a slightly more environmentally responsible process before doing any construction on his home is apparently about as bad as being forced to board British soldiers. What he and those behind the current move to stop the new rules seem to entirely fail to grasp is that watersheds extend well beyond the immediate shore of a body of water-or even places where run-off water collects. Keeping these sources of fresh water as free and clear of pollutants and erosion is a crucial part of keeping our ecosystem-and therefore our homes and bomb shelters-truly healthy.