Checks, Balances, and The Oshkosh Northwestern

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The Oshkosh Northwestern, a middle-of-the-road newspaper in a politically purple region, wrote a brief editorial yesterday advocating against voting for Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice David Prosser in the upcoming election April 5th. I think it’s noteworthy enough to reprint it here in its entirety-

One of the disturbing sidelights of the current political upheaval in Wisconsin is the erosion of the separation of powers doctrine that is occurring. It will be complete if voters re-elect Justice David Prosser to the state Supreme Court on April 5.

There can be no question that the majority of voters were demanding budget and tax reform when they elected a Republican, Scott Walker, as governor in November. Voters emphasized their demand for change by giving Republicans majorities in both houses of the legislature. And a victory by Prosser would maintain a 4-3 advantage held by judicial conservatives on the Supreme Court, giving Walker a clean sweep of all three branches of government.

If there is any doubt about the impending collapse of the “checks and balances” that three independent branches of government represent, consider this statement from Prosser’s campaign manager. “Our campaign efforts will include building an organization that will return Justice Prosser to the bench, protecting the conservative judicial majority and acting as a common sense complement to both the new (Republican) administration and legislature.

Prosser tried to new back away from that statement but cannot undo the very clear message his campaign was sending to voters. Nor can he hide is background as a Republican Speaker of the Assembly when Walker was also in the assembly.

In the legislature the budget repair bill demonstrated that the legislature had become a wholly owned subsidiary of the governor’s office. Sen. Scott Fitzgerald, the majority leader of the Senate, and his brother, Rep. Jeff Fitzgerald, speaker of the Assembly, have been unapologetic about serving as Walker’s minions to get the bill passed.

At one point, Scott Fitzgerald actually sought Walker’s permission to talk to the 14 Democratic senators who fled the state to block passage of the bill. Fitzgerald then acted as Walker’s personal valet in the strategy to pass the collective bargaining provisions of the bill separately. So much for the concept that the legislative branch acts independently of the executive branch.

It will be left to researchers and pollsters to determine if voters intended to eviscerate the separation of powers at the ballot box in Wisconsin. But recent history tells us that it was not healthy for the nation when President Obama and the U.S. Congress did it from 2009-2010 and it is not healthy for the state now. Nationally, voters recalibrated the scales of power in 2010 by electing a Republican majority in the House of Representatives. If will interesting to see if Wisconsin voters do the same thing in 2012 or if they are OK with a monopolistic state government with no checks and balances.

Note that while this editorial advocates against voting for Prosser, it falls well short of endorsing his opponent, JoAnne Kloppenburg; indeed, it doesn’t even mention her name. I suppose that’s not particularly objectionable, given the editorial’s implication that any competent alternative leftward of Prosser would do. However, it’s a mark of the paper’s recognition that its readership is evenly divided ideologically that it goes out of its way to draw a very weak analogy between the current condition of the Wisconsin State government and the first two years of the Obama administration. After all, no objective observer would say that the Roberts Supreme Court has been ideologically in tune with Obama’s views (recall the flap over the President’s remark about the Citizens United decision at his 2010 State of The Union address). I respect the position that the Oshkosh Northwestern has taken in this editorial; I could respect it more if it didn’t rely on fallacious reasoning to suggest “balance”.