February 21, 2008

Charlie's Club For Mirth

Another brouhaha has broken out in the election campaign pitting incumbent Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Louis Butler against challenger Burnett County Judge Michael Gableman. Some Republicans calling themselves the Club For Growth got their hands on a series of e-mails among some members of the WJCIC, a watchdog committee set up by the president of the State Bar of Wisconsin to monitor campaign materials and statements.

One supposedly "influential" local blogger describes the e-mails as "breathtaking" and claims the WJCIC has been "Caught In Blatant Lying." He also obsequiously credits right-wing Milwaukee radio and teevee shouting head Charlie Sykes with "tak[ing] the trouble to excerpt some of the more troubling bits" (in fact all Sykes did was copy and paste material from the Republican outfit's webpage. Sykes can't even be troubled to spell Justice Butler's name correctly).

Some of the more entertaining portions of the e-mails concern Sykes himself. The committee briefly discusses, for example, an earlier Sykes cut-and-paste job from the Club For Growth's website alleging the committee's supposed "direct ties" to Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle and wonders whether it should formulate a response. Committee member Bill Kraus observes, "Replying to Charlie is the equivalent of getting into a pissing contest with a skunk."

Interestingly, in the same Sykes blog entry of January 3, which described the WJCIC as "a scam," longtime Republican Kraus is portrayed as the only committee member without a tie to Doyle.

In another instance of Sykes and his fellow GOP hatchet-persons wanting it both ways, the Club For Growth's initial complaints centered on the WJCIC's lack of ideological, gender, and "minority" diversity. Since then, committee chairman Tom Basting has apparently sought (and implemented) ways to increase both the size of the committee and its diversity, citing recommendations made by similar judicial watchdog groups in other States.

But since many of the e-mail messages also express concerns about the committee's perception among the public, Club For Growth cherry picks through these to portray Basting as a liar — a liar for making moves to rectify complaints the Club For Growth made in the first place. Or, as the blogger in the funny pants puts it, "Blatant lying."

Last I checked, that's a pretty serious charge.

For a crowd that has devoted so much time and energy to dissecting the WJCIC and pooh-poohing its power, mandate, influence, legitimacy, etc., they sure do seem to take it pretty seriously nonetheless, don't they.

If the WJCIC ever desired a higher media profile — and there is considerable evidence in the e-mails that it does — this gang of Republican hucksters is sure handing it over on a silver platter.

Meanwhile, Basting and Gableman lieutenant Darrin Schmitz continue their war of words, in a pair of letters available via WisPolitics.com, here (.pdf) and here. And the ever dependable young GOP operative Daniel Suhr proves once again that he's incapable of reading a Louis Butler opinion by wondering why the Butler campaign describes its principal as a scholar, preferring instead a definition that includes 'student editor of the law review and writer of magazine articles.'

Doubtless there will be much more to come in the days hence. Grumps of the Happy Circumstance fortuitously provides the appropriate words of wisdom, from the desk of H.L. Mencken:
Has the art of politics no apparent utility? Does it appear to be unqualifiedly ratty, raffish, sordid, obscene, and low down, and its salient virtuosi a gang of unmitigated scoundrels? Then let us not forget its high capacity to soothe and tickle the midriff, its incomparable services as a maker of entertainment.
Finally, One Wisconsin Now reveals its own rummaging into the circumstances of Michael Gableman's current employment:

Gableman's Suspicious Appointment


Anonymous said...

Forgot how others would characterize the email exchanges between members of the WJCIC. What is your assessment of the content of the e-mails and the resulting inferences that can be drawn from them?

illusory tenant said...

Like I said, my assessment so far is that they're entertaining. And I expect some of the commentary to be even more so.

As for inferences, there's no question they're a treasure trove of potential inferences, depending on one's perspective.

"Blatant lying," however? No, not quite. That's just over-the-top irresponsible.

I don't exactly see them as the "bombshell" others will try to make them out to be, either. I've never really seen this committee as the big deal it seems to be to them.

And, for the moment at least, the e-mail messages have nothing to do with Butler's campaign directly. So I don't think he or it has anything to worry about.

Anonymous said...

But you don't see the email contents as a bit disruptive to the mission and goals of the WJCIC?

Some of us do see the committee as a "big deal." When we have elected judges, we would like them to be able to give their views without having to check with an external keeper, public or private, first. If a particular view is out of accord with the Supreme Court Rules, or indeed, if it does not resonate with the public at large, will that not be reflected by either disciplinary action by the appropriate body or the votes of the public at large? Some of us become very afraid when suddenly a candidate's speech may become subject to "reprimands" that, while not violating any established rule and carrying no official sanction, nonetheless may deprive the public of crucial information in a judicial election for the state's highest court.

In my view, almost every charge (but not all) leveled against the committee by the conservative element in the legal sphere has been vindicated by the contents of these emails. And one of those charges was that the committee has never been a good idea because there is no way to impartially arbitrate the speech of judicial candidates constitutionally.

illusory tenant said...

Disruptive ... yes, I agree they are. From a political perspective, I'm not sure it serves the Gableman campaign well to make such a fuss over them. He never signed the pledge anyway and frankly, I don't believe that that should be held against him.

Making a huge issue out of these messages distracts from getting out whatever positive message he has -- if he has one at all.

My own "hope" for the WJCIC, I suppose, is that it might serve as an effective vehicle to educate voters on the distinction between the judiciary and the other branches of government when it comes to elections.

In that respect the judiciary is indeed separate and distinct, and there must be different rules governing political campaigning for judicial positions.

Contrary to the often deliberately facetious tone of this blog, I do have a great respect for the system, the legal profession, and especially the American constitutional scheme, which I consider a work of genius.

My own limited and largely unknown purpose has been to criticize the critiques of Butler which, with a few exceptions, have been largely fatuous, simplistic, and uninformed.

Keep reading, and thanks for your well considered and legitimate observations.