Wisconsin’s Best & Brightest Vie for Office

Molly Beck reports that two of the three candidates for state superintendent discussed an arrangement – not illegal yet astonishingly cynical –  about one of them dropping out in exchange for a state job:

A candidate for state superintendent offered an opponent a taxpayer-funded $150,000 job if he dropped out of the race and sought the same for himself if he were the one to drop out, his challenger alleged Wednesday.

Candidate John Humphries said in an interview with the Wisconsin State Journal that during discussions between him and opponent Lowell Holtz, Holtz proposed in writing that either he or Humphries should drop out in exchange for the guaranteed three-year job with the Department of Public Instruction should one of them defeat incumbent Tony Evers in the general election.

But Holtz said in an interview with the State Journal that the proposal — including a driver, benefits and sweeping control over several urban school districts, including Madison — was a “rough draft” of ideas assembled at the request of business leaders he declined to name of how the two conservative candidates could work together instead of running against each other. Both candidates said the proposal went nowhere.

Holtz said the proposal was intended for consideration after the primary, but Humphries said Holtz meant for it to be weighed before the race even began and contemplated scenarios under which one or the other candidate would drop out.

Each sought to make his case with dueling documents released Wednesday, although it was impossible to ascertain whether either had been altered.

Via State superintendent candidate: Challenger offered 6-figure job to drop out of race @ Wisconsin State Journal.

Credit where credit is due: this is industrial-grade jackassery.

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Garry Kasparov on Vladimir Putin’s Election Interference and America’s Response

Garry Kasparov‘s a great hero of mine (and of many millions across the world), not simply for his unquestioned understanding of chess, but even more for his commitment to human freedom and democratic institutions. In the audio interview below, Kasparov speaks about Putin’s manipulation of our recent election.

(By the way, Kasparov’s excellent book, Winter is Coming: Why Vladimir Putin and the Enemies of the Free World Must Be Stopped, is now out in paperback, and is also available @ Amazon in hardcover, Kindle, Audible, or mp3 CD format.)


Putin Revels in Victory Over America

A man wants to read a woman’s diary, so he breaks into her house, steals it, and publishes it to all the world. When confronted, he denies he’s done anything wrong, and instead revels in his act, on the theory that it’s more important for others to know the woman’s private thoughts.

It should come as no surprise that a dictator, having eviscerated private life in his own country, would see no wrong in transgressing the distinction between public and private in a foreign, still-free society.  There is no freedom if there is no private space,  such as that of a private political party, beyond others’ reach.

Here’s Putin, crowing over Russian hacking and Trump’s victory:

“Democrats are losing on every front and looking for people to blame everywhere,” Putin said in answer to a Russian TV host, one of 1,400 journalists accredited to the marathon session. “They need to learn to lose with dignity.”

The Kremlin leader pointed out Republicans had won the House and Senate, remarking “Did we do that, too?” [N.B.: Yes, Russians interfered in legislative elections, too.  See Democratic House Candidates Were Also Targets of Russian Hacking.]

“Trump understood the mood of the people and kept going until the end, when nobody believed in him,” Putin said, adding with a grin. “Except for you and me.”

Putin has repeatedly denied involvement despite the accusations coming from the White House, and the Kremlin has repeatedly questioned the evidence for the U.S. claims. On Friday he borrowed from Trump’s dismissal of the accusations, remarking “maybe it was someone lying on the couch who did it.”

“And it’s not important who did the hacking, it’s important that the information that was revealed was true, that is important,” Putin said, referring to the emails that showed that party leaders had favored Hillary Clinton.

Getting Protest Hashtags (#NotMyPresident) Half Right

Columnist Paula Dvorak, writing at the Washington Post, contends that saying “saying #notmypresident is the same as saying #notmyconstitution or #notmycountry or #notmyAmerica.” See, Stop protesting democracy. Saying #notmypresident is the same as saying #notmyconstitution.

Dvorak is only right about the first two hashtag phrases – she overreaches on the others. It’s true that #notmypresident is like saying #notmyconstitution, as the first depends on the constitutional order of the second.  That’s the reason that I have not, and will not, use #notmypresident: Trump was elected lawfully the 45th president of the United States on November 8, 2016.  Defending the constitutional order is a worthy defense (and a needful defense as Trump is likely to threaten constitutional norms many times while in office).  That defense begins with a fair acknowledgment of who has been elected.

Dvorak’s wrong, however, to think that #notmycountry or #notmyAmerica are somehow impermissible: those terms describe what someone thinks of the society more broadly, apart from a legal or political understanding.

She’s also wrong to think protests against Trump are undemocratic.  In fact, they’re democratic both broadly and narrowly.  Broadly, one should be able to protest lawfully as one wishes.  Narrowly, Trump wasn’t elected by a majority of voters, or even a plurality of them.  A plurality went to Clinton, and a majority went to all the alternatives to Trump.  If one thinks that democracy – rule of the demos – is what should matter, then one would be protesting for democracy by protesting against Trump.

One may accurately say that Trump’s election was constitutionally permissible at the expense of both the majority’s wishes and those of a plurality.  Lawful, to be sure, but by design with a limitation on majoritarian wishes.

This might all be a mere exercise in terms, were the consequences not so large: hundreds of millions, across a vast continent.  Define legitimate protest as narrowly as Dvorak does (so that it’s somehow out of bounds to say #notmycountry or #notmyAmerica) and one denies those millions something more meaningful than a single, lawful election’s result.

Unexpected and Expected

Last night’s election results are both unexpected (nationally) and expected (locally), I’d say.  Few thought that Trump would win the presidency, but many of the other results for Wisconsin or Whitewater were easier to predict.

Trump’s victory nationally will be the big topic for years, first about its cause and then about its effects.  Because I believe that national shapes local (and that purely hyper-local assessments are short-sighted), Trump’s win (coupled with a Republican Congress and a conservative Supreme Court) will transform this city as it will much larger places.

The local results were unsurprising.  There are no data like election data, and locally the results from Whitewater’s school construction referendum belie the notion that this was ever going to be a close vote.  A favorable local turnout was almost certain to support the referendum, by a large majority.  This was a (1) November general election (2) in a presidential year (3) where the last referendum won (4) even in a gubernatorial year.

Honest to goodness, there was no reason to pay for a survey company (School Perceptions) whose results were uncertain when anyone who has lived in this town for more than two hours, twenty-seven minutes, four seconds would have known as much.  It tells a lot that the survey’s author, Bill Foster of School Perceptions, “felt the chances for a successful referendum were within the margin of error, adding that, of course, he could not guarantee success.”

One should be able to assess a probability in a small town without the need for an outside poll. (This, it seems, just isn’t a good year for polls in any event.)

Many local elections went as expected: nearby Elkhorn’s school referendum questions won, Milton’s school larger referendum question lost (the capital one with a huge asking price), and in the 43rd Assembly District Vruwink won.  Not everything was unexpected: residents would have could have predicted these outcomes easily. (Updated paragraph to reflect split in Milton between capital and operational referenda.)

Finally, there will be residents variously worried or celebrating over the national results today.

And yet – and yet – here we are.

One awakes and begins each day whether favorable or unfavorable, whether bright or dark.  There’s much to be said for a long view.  Those of clear convictions are likely to weather the unexpected well, knowing that there are no permanent victories and no permanent defeats.

Marquette Law Poll Results (Final 2016 Election Edition)

The final 2016 Marquette Law School poll results are out, and here key findings from the 10.26.16 to 10.31.16 poll (the full results are available online).

Clinton-Trump, Among LV:

Johnson-Stein, Among LV:

Feingold-Johnson, Among LV:

Anderson for Senate, Among LV:

Pres. Obama Approval:

Gov. Walker Approval:

Key Takeaway:

A few quick points:

  • The Marquette Poll has been reliable these last few elections.
  • The key takeaways seem reasonable to me (regarding Wisconsin).
  • Third party candidates typically fade, and this poll reflects that development.
  • Finally, the presidential race is so divisive, and coverage of it so impossible to avoid, that one finds local matters (even important ones) relatively unnoticed by comparison.
  • There are important local races, including a school referendum for Whitewater, but I’ve come to think that in this presidential year, downballot contests will be a matter of (1) level turnout driven by the national race, and (2) the particular composition of that turnout.   That’s caused me to put off until after the election some discussions that I wanted (and originally planned) to post before November 8th.
  • Intense national coverage seems, to me, to obsure everything else.  Better an extended analysis in a quieter time.  One can be patient; there’s all the time in the world.

Needless Election Anxiety

There’s a story over at Vox, from Brian Resnick, reporting that ‘Election anxiety is real. A majority of Americans report “significant stress” due to 2016.’

Resnick writes that

[t]he American Psychological Association has released some preliminary data from its upcoming annual “Stress in America” report, on the nation’s level of anxiety specifically around this election.

Around half of people surveyed (52 percent) say the election “is a very or somewhat significant” source of stress in their lives. The breakdown by party is about even: 59 percent of Republicans and 55 percent of Democrats say this election is causing them stress.

There’s much at stake, but nationally, statewide, or locally there’s no reason for anxiety over November 8th’s results. We’re a resilient people, having been through conditions far more difficult than those we face today. We’ve come through a revolution, a civil war, two world wars, a cold war, a depression, a great recession, and significant periods of protest until legal reform. We’re more than able to manage the current elections, whatever their results.

Far from being a source of anxiety, our exercise of fundamental rights should be a source of confidence for us.

Think too much about today, and the sky might seem to be falling. Look back even briefly at our history, and one has cause for equanimity.

Absentee Voting in the Whitewater Area

One often hears that a given election is important, and that each person’s vote matters.  That’s been true so many times in our history, and it seems particularly so this year.

Absentee voting – by mail or in person – is a part of our law, and the window for in-person voting will open soon. Immediately below readers will find information on absentee voting in the City of Whitewater and for nearby communities.

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Implications from the August 9th Wisconsin Primary

There were no surprises in any of the races in or near Whitewater last night. They all went as one might reasonably have predicted.

One area race (and only one), however, might have national implications.

Paul Ryan easily won his first congressional district primary over Paul Nehlen. See, Despite late drama, Ryan easily beats Nehlen @ JSOnline.  The incumbent, establishment candidate decisively defeated his opponent. 

Does that win portend the direction of the GOP (internally) and by consequence its future?  

Molly Ball at The Atlantic suggests that it does.  See, Maybe Trumpism Doesn’t Work Without Trump

Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo, writing a few hours before the results, posed the question whether the GOP is inexorably moving in Trump’s, and an alt-right, direction. (Marshall answered his own question in the affirmative.) See, Will There Be Trumpism After Trump?  Under Marshall’s analysis, the results of the 8.9.16 primary will not alter meaningfully the path the Republican party is taking. 

I’m not sure about the direction of the GOP, but it’s a significant question, to say the least, for America.  Even for this proud libertarian voter (Johnson-Weld 2016), the future of a major party matters and is of interest and concern. 

Ryan-Nehlen is the one nearby race with, plausibly, wide implications.  If you’re following politics, its outcome is the one worth pondering.  

About a Survey 

I promised last week that I would write about a recent survey that seemed to rely on a skewed, unrepresentative sample. The survey and some printed accounts of it have been available, but the recording of the 6.6.16 meeting at which the results were initially presented does not seem to be available online for readers. 

I’ll say now that the conclusions of the survey seem to be right (that a school referendum would likely pass) but that the sample the survey uses to reach that conclusion is strangely unrepresentative of the community it purports to describe. That matters because the right conclusion with the wrong data is little more than guesswork.  Surveys are not meant to be paid guesswork.

It also matters because although the primary conclusion may be right despite a weak sampling of the community, other inferences drawn from the survey may not be similarly accurate. 

Looking at actual election data, actual demographic data, and past referendum results will produce a better assessment than relying on the recent community survey’s data sample.  

It seems fair to the survey authors (an outside vendor), however, to include for readers their full, 6.6.16 meeting remarks.  If they’re published online soon I’ll include them when publishing my assessment; if they’re not available I’ll go ahead with the post with the published information that is available.

(News accounts of the survey only reveal that those accounts’ authors either don’t understand or don’t care how unrepresentative the survey sample is of the electorate that would be considering a referendum, or even the community as it is now.)

It’s worth coming to the right conclusion with the right data; anything less is less than this community deserves. 

More to come.

Local Election Recap

Local elections affecting Whitewater went about as one might have expected.  I’d guess there were, in the end, no surprises.

There were three uncontested races for Common Council (Allen, Binnie, Langness), and two for the Whitewater Unified School District (Brunner, Stewart).

That leaves two contested races in the immediate area: a Common Council race between Patrick Wellnitz and Ken Kienbaum, and a Walworth County Circuit Court race between Dan Johnson and Dan Necci.  Wellnitz won over Kienbaum with a vote (unofficial results, of course) of 405 to 237, about 63% to  37%.

In the one contested race that was heated, Family Court Commissioner Dan Johnson defeated District Attorney Dan Necci, 16380 to 13360, about 55% to 45%.  In the end, opinion from local officials undoubtedly had a big impact on the outcome.  I’d guess that after a brief time, the tensions of this race will evaporate, particularly as Johnson had bipartisan support from numerous officials.


The Walworth County Circuit Court Race (Final Thoughts)

I posted in February on the Walworth County Circuit court race between Family Court Commissioner Dan Johnson and District Attorney Dan Necci.

A month and a half later, there’s no change in the dynamic of the race: Johnson has widespread support from officials in the county, across party lines, and Necci is relying significantly on prominent out-of-county endorsements.

Since both Johnson and Necci are officeholders now, that’s an odd situation for Necci: after years in office, the clear majority of officeholders – including leading conservatives – support Johnson, not Necci.

The most typical sort of race would be one in which local officeholders split more evenly than has happened here. It would probably also be true that even if officeholders opposed a candidate, they would do do passively (by saying nothing or not endorsing) rather than actively (by writing and speaking in opposition).

In this race, judges, law enforcement leaders, court personnel, former members of the district attorney’s office, and many other local leaders have actively supported Johnson, and opposed Necci.

It’s hard to get over how odd that is. It suggests strongly that after working with both men, local officials have formed a clear preference, based not on partisanship, but on actual experience.

In a judicial race like this, typically far removed from statewide issues or controversies, one would expect that actual experience of the two candidates should be decisive.

Respect for that experience would impel one toward supporting Dan Johnson. Residents are about to find out, one way or another, how much that actual experience of the two candidates matters to Walworth County’s voters.

It’s been an odd race, in this way, soon to conclude, one hopes, with regard for that experience.

On Wisconsin’s 2.16.16 Primary

Results are in from yesterday’s February primary, and there are a few clues about the April 5th election, with one big uncertainty.

First, the obvious uncertainty.  The Republican and Democratic presidential races have offered surprises, and will likely offer more.  One or both major-party contests may still be raging by 4.5.16.  Ongoing interest in either, or both, of those races will affect turnout for Wisconsin contests, including of course the Supreme Court race between Justice Bradley and Judge Kloppenberg.

Second, of the Supreme Court race results from yesterday, there were no surprises: Bradley and Kloppenberg finished close together, with Judge Donald far back.  They were better funded and better known; he was at a significant disadvantage throughout.  (Unofficial results: Rebecca G. Bradley (inc) 251,826 45%, Joanne F. Kloppenburg 243,190 43 %, Joe Donald 68,373 12 %.)

Third, the Walworth County Circuit Court race results were revealing.  Commissioner Dan Johnson finished first, with D.A. Dan Necci and Attorney Shannon Wynn farther back, but close to each other.  (Unofficial results: Daniel S. Johnson 3,356 37 %, Dan Necci 2,922 32 %, and Shannon Wynn 2,799 31 %.) (Disclaimer: I don’t support Necci.)

Necci has been District Attorney for over three years, with all the publicity that affords, and he could only garner 32% of the vote.  This was not an ordinary three-person contest: it was a notable incumbent facing two less-known opponents.  Along with the Walworth County sheriff, the Walworth County district attorney is the only well-known position in the entire county.  (By comparison, about twelve people in Walworth County know who County Administrator David Bretl is, and that’s including his family members.)  I can’t think of a recent county race where an existing officeholder did this poorly.

Attorney Shannon Wynn, who has never held office, came within just 1% (122 votes out of 9,102 cast, including 25 write-ins, of sending Necci home.)

Neeci claimed the support of Supreme County Justice Rebecca Bradley, but he ran far below her vote total in the county.  Out of 9,246 votes for in the county for our high court, Justice Bradley received 5,303.  In his race, Necci received just 2,922.

Necci ran 2,381 votes behind the top-of-the-ticket candidate whose support he trumpeted.  Thousands of Bradley supporters voted for either Johnson or Wynn.

The press won’t cover this race insightfully.  Already, news about the race is how Candidate A and Candidate B are happy to move on to April, from those who must know that a huge issue here is how officials and law enforcement personnel who have dealt with Necci truly don’t want him around.   Huge numbers of Walworth County’s Rebecca Bradley supporters didn’t want him – that’s how odd this situation is.

For the press, including a reporter who certainly knows better, it’s safer to cover this as A v. B heading into April.  No advertisers will be offended while shying from the implications of one’s own past stories.  Presenting this as list of candidates, pictures, and website links doesn’t begin to explain how odd Necci’s position is.

Necci could win in April, but he’ll need lots of unaware voters, lots of money, and probably a hyper-ideological tone that brands everyone else – including obviously conservative officials who work in Elkhorn – as insufficiently zealous.

Interesting times ahead.


The Walworth County Circuit Court Race (Preliminaries)

One may say two things, preliminarily, about the Walworth County Circuit Court race:

  • It’s a race between generally conservative candidates; there are no left-right differences of significance.
  • Incumbent District Attorney Dan Necci, after only briefly serving in that role, is running with almost no local, official support for his candidacy from among those with whom he has worked or would have to work.

That’s a huge tell, and reason to write again about this race at length: Necci’s been district attorney only for a short while, and now wants to be a judge, but cannot serve effectively in that role without significant, positive collaborative relationships.

He has few, if any, such relationships in Elkhorn. That seldom happens – most officials will accept one local candidate or another.

It’s more than unusual – it’s a practical disqualification. Necci’s not running as an editorialist, a blogger, an activist – he’s serving as a district attorney, and is running to be a circuit judge. Those roles require cooperation with other officeholders, and their support going forward – but Necci has almost none of that.

He’s had to rely on support from out-of-county officeholders, or state politicians with no day-to-day role in Elkhorn.

Needless to say, I’m not disposed to the political culture in Elkhorn, but then that’s why I am not – and never will – run for office there. Necci is running there, but he’s so alienated other officeholders that his support among them is almost non-existent.

Even former members of his own district attorney’s office are supporting one or another of his opponents.  Local lawyers, local law enforcement, local court personnel, etc., are all lined up with his opponents. 

Honest to goodness, that doesn’t happen unless one has made an utter hash of his or her time in office.

And that, dear readers, is a subject worth pursing as the general election in April draws closer.

The April 7th Election Results

A quick summary of results across the state and near Whitewater suggests that while voters may be concerned, or even worried, they’re not angry.  If voters were angry, more incumbents would have been defeated.  That didn’t happen.

The same state that re-elected Gov. Walker last year re-elected Justice Bradley last night.  Those two have little in common, except perhaps an ability to win a clear majority in support of their continued service.  If voters were significantly angry, or motivated only one way ideologically, they wouldn’t, both of them, have won. 

That was true locally, too.  (All of the results that I cite are, as yet, unofficial.)

Common Council.  Patrick Singer and Stephanie Abbott were returned to office (At-Large and District 5, respectively).  Neither was opposed; both won comfortably.  In particular, Patrick Singer’s 903 votes citywide was a solid showing.  (Mr. Singer ran ahead of the leading, contested judicial candidate on the local ballot.  A significant number of voters in that race re-elected him regardless of their ideological differences over the candidates for high-court justice.)

The other two races followed a predictable result: Patrick Wellnitz ran as a write-in for District 1, but it’s hard for write-ins to do well against an on-ballot candidate, as winning candidate Craig Stauffer was.  (The race went 210-54 for Mr. Stauffer.) 

In the Third District, Chris Grady easily defeated Ken Kienbaum, 166-74.  I’d guess there’s almost no one in the city who saw that result as a surprise. 

Whitewater Schools.  I’ll preface these remarks with the disclaimer that I supported Kelly Davis and Dan McCrea. 

Last night’s overall results were Davis 1498, McCrea 1061, and Stewart 1038.  Specific results from the City of Whitewater & the Town of Whitewater reflected this same order among the candidates.

Having worked hard to visit and speak widely across the district, and demonstrating a diligent and stylish campaign, Mrs. Davis won a seat on the school board easily.  With a much lower campaign profile, Mr. McCrea was re-elected to his current position. 

Kelly Davis replaces Thayer Coburn, who chose not to run again.  She had his endorsement in the race, and likely represents a general agreement with much of his perspective, and all of his solid role on the board.  Having listened to her speak more than once, I’ve no doubt that she will set her own course, based on her judgment of the issues before the district.  She’s personable, but forthright and clear in her own views.         

The race illustrates something about these April 7th elections: voters will favor energetic newcomers, but also be unwilling to unseat capable incumbents.  Mrs. Davis was the former, Mr. McCrea the latter.  It’s hard to break past that combination.

There’s also something funny, really, about calling Mrs. Davis a newcomer; she’s been here for years, after all, and is known to many for her community and charitable work.  It’s only from a lingering, but fading, view of community life that she would be called a newcomer.    

Institutional Support.  There’s a significant benefit of having individual supporters who will help knock on doors, place signs, talk to friends, etc.  I doubt, though, that there’s much value for local candidates in support from bigger groups, such as the landlords’ and realtors’ lobby, for example. Yard signs on their properties may have had value years ago, but for city races now they probably hurt as much, or more, than they help. 

I don’t think this contention is clear among some town notables yet, but after a couple of local elections to come, I think it will be better understood. 

It’s probably better to run with a cross-section of residents as supporters than with larger businessmen’s support.  Those sort of larger groups can pressure local government (often quite effectively), but they’ve far less clout with the overall electorate.  Their support is closer to a net loss than a net gain, even now. 

Change comes slowly, but Whitewater’s politics is different now from what it was like a decade ago.  It seems probable to me that it’s not done changing.

We’ve challenging, different, and altogether interesting times ahead. 

The Day After Today

It’s Tuesday, April 7th, an election day across Wisconsin. 

The day after today is Wednesday, April 8th, a work day across America. 

That’s as it should be: the day after today’s election, and for so many days thereafter, there will be work to do.