Saturday, October 30, 2004

Burke, Baker and Bush


Kerry and Burke signs go together. (click to enlarge) Posted by Hello

There is something going on in the race for the open judicial seat in Hennepin (Minneapolis) County, Minnesota. There is no party designation allowed on the ballot for judicial elections in Minnesota, and the current rules do not allow candidates to mention their party affiliation or speak to party gatherings. This prohibition is being challenged on constitutional grounds because, among other reasons, state judge candidates can legally speak to single-issue special interest groups, which would seem to undercut the rationale that the current rules preserve an appearance of impartiality.

Within this framework, we have a rare open seat election for district court in Minnesota’s largest county. Susan Burke and Stephen Baker emerged from a primary battle in which little was known about the candidates and few people voted. Beyond the fact that both had served as prosecutors, I knew little about their positions on issues, and certainly not their political party affiliations. Then I started noticing lawn signs. When a sign for the judicial race is accompanied by a sign for the presidential race, Burke always accompanies Kerry and Baker always accompanies Bush. In general, there sometimes is a mixture of parties in down-ballot and presidential races, and not every lawn has a sign for both president and district court. In my observation, however, the rule is never broken for the judicial race – no lawn has both a Kerry and Baker sign; no lawn mixes Burke and Bush.

None of this is to suggest that there is any corruption involved. But it does point out the silliness of the judicial campaign rules when supposedly non-partisan lawn signs can be placed in proximity to partisan signs. Whether the campaign is approaching the homeowner, or vice versa, the message is being communicated.

After I noticed the lawn sign correlation, I received a fundraising letter for one of the candidates signed by people whom I know to be active in one of the political parties. Then I saw the Minneapolis Star Tribune endorsement of Burke over Baker. Here’s the newspaper’s criticism of Baker:

Baker, who prosecutes misdemeanors for a variety of nearby suburbs, is a clever
enough fellow. But he's also coy about the backing he enjoys from anti-abortion
activists. He exemplifies the drift from independence that the judiciary can so
ill afford -- and which could ultimately deprive citizens of candidates like the
brilliant Burke.

Until recently, judicial candidates were legally mandated to remain “coy” about such issues. The Star Tribune is inconsistent about whether candidates should speak out on controversial issues. The only thing consistent at the newspaper is a liberal, pro-democrat bias.

Bush and Baker signs go together Posted by Hello

Sunday, October 24, 2004

Don't Ask, Don't Tell, and Irresistibility

As long as we are discussing the military during this presidential contest, it is fair to discuss Senator Kerry's position on gays in the military. The Center for Military Readiness has a transcript of Kerry's 1993 Senate hearing testimony here. The following portion of the testimony deserves further analysis:

Now, take the issue of living in close quarters and communal showers. Some folks say they do not mind living or showering with someone who is gay as long as the fact is not explicit. Only once it becomes explicit, somehow the world is going to end. Now, I do not know exactly what those who express those kinds of fears are thinking. I mean are they that irresistible? I suspect some of the guys who most fear being approached by gay men also consider themselves irresistible to heterosexual women, and they are probably sadly mistaken on both counts, Mr. Chairman.

First of all, Senator Kerry is apparently making reference to the confirmation hearings of then-Judge Clarence Thomas to the U.S. Supreme Court. A witness for Thomas, John Doggett, was portrayed by Senator Patrick Leahy as believing himself to be "irresistible" to women. (Check out the transcript here to see if that is a fair representation of Doggett's testimony.) It was a cheap shot by Senator Kerry to insert a reference to another contentious set of Senate hearings into the 1993 hearings.

Second, Senator Kerry ignores the fact that the concerns are not just about unwanted sexual advances, but also wanted sexual advances. The military enforces strict physical separation between the living quarters of men and women, not because the men find themselves "irresistible," but because doing otherwise would have predictable results.

Segregation by sex stands in stark contrast to racial integration in the military. The military has full integration in terms of race, partial integration of the two sexes, and a complete ban on physical handicaps. Although the junior senator from Massachusetts can find nuance in the War on Terror, he seems unable to grasp that the military does not follow the equal opportunity rules of the society at large.

Sunday, October 17, 2004

Moore, Wilson, and SMMASH

On Friday, I attended the local premiere of Michael Moore Hates America at the SMMASH film festival. The film festival continues through Thursday at the Excelsior Dock theaters. I intend to return to the festival to watch a couple more films, including A Real Genius, about a guy who synchronizes the lights of every building in Minneapolis to Beethoven's Ninth Symphony.

Michael Moore Hates America is a very satisfying film, but not for the reasons that the title would suggest. Having Michael Wilson pursue Michael Moore in the same way Moore pursued Roger Smith is an intriguing means to get one to see the film, but the satisfaction comes from other things. Sergeant Peter Damon, a double-amputee veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom is given a chance to rebut his portrayal in Fahrenheit 9/11. The employees of North Country Bank and Trust get a chance to rebut their portrayal in Bowling for Columbine. These rebuttals are nice, but the most satisfying thing is to see that Sergeant Damon is not bitter, either about his war injury or his portrayal in the Moore film. A short clip near the end of the film shows Damon pushing his daughter on a swing set. Not only is this a powerful cinematic moment, but it has the added value of being true. What a perfect counter to the tactics of Michael Moore.

The film opens in local Twin Cities Mann theaters this coming Friday.

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Windage, Place, or Show

"Kentucky Windage" or "windage" is a method of target shooting where the shooter deliberately aims off-target. This is to compensate for a moving target, weather conditions, or just a bad sight on the rifle. The new Star Tribune poll shows (surprise!) John Kerry with a slight lead. In order to properly interpret the Strib poll, one must use windage and add five to seven points to the Republican percentage. Scott Johnson of Powerline has a standing dinner bet with the Strib pollster that the Republican results on election day will be at least five points better than the final poll. As usual, the Powerline shot is right on target. This consistent polling error compounds the problems I wrote about with regard to the Strib endorsements.

Sunday, October 10, 2004

Electoral, Popular, and Fun Votes

Hey, a couple friends of mine invented a board game where players compete to win electoral votes. I have tried this game and it is a blast. I spent a great deal of political capital to win California, but ran short in other regions of the country. As the "banker" I did get to swear in the eventual winner. Each game card has a picture and historical note. It's education and fun. You can even make your own game card on their website. I hope you win in a Landslide!
Star Tribune, Endorsements, and Bias

Scott Johnson and John Hinderaker of Powerline have written extensively on problems with the Minneapolis Star Tribune poll data. In fact, one of Scott's articles in Minnesota Law and Politics was part of a group that won an award from the Minnesota Society of Professional Journalists. The Minnesota News Council recently held a forum on the topic of problems with the poll. The topic of Star Tribune endorsements receives less discussion. The Star Tribune is careful to point out that its news division is separate from the editorial board, but to the extent one can make generalizations about print media, cable news, and talk radio, it is possible to discuss a general bias at the Star Tribune.

In a Spring 2002 article on judicial campaign speech, Plymouth Nelson, a former editor of William Mitchell Law Review, wrote a footnote about Star Tribune endorsements in Minnesota:

For example, a review of the editorial endorsements of the Minneapolis
Star Tribune from election years 1988 through 2000 reveals the tilt
these endorsements have taken. The following results are listed in order of
Democrat, Republican, and Independent (if present) candidate percentages
taken as a whole from that 12 year time period: U.S. President, 100-0; U.S
House, 73-25-2; U.S. Senate, 75-25; Governor, 33-67; Minnesota Legislature,
70-29-1. The results are on file with author. The extremely partisan
commentary within these endorsements is typified with remarks such as those
against the Republican challenger of Kathleen Sekhon, the Star Tribune’s
endorsee. “Those ideas – cutting taxes, restricting abortion, relaxing laws
against carrying concealed weapons – won’t contribute much to bettering life
in Minnesota.” Editorial, MPLS. STAR TRIB., Oct. 27, 1998, at A13.

Plymouth has since graduated and is currently serving his country as a JAG officer in the U.S. Army. He generously shared his research with me on the Star Tribune endorsements from 1988-2000. With the assistance of political analyst Orlando Ochoada, I took another look at the figures.

In addition to endorsing Democrats more frequently than Republicans, the Strib rarely endorses a Republican in a close race. Looking at U.S. House endorsements, almost all of the Republican endorsements are in safe Republican or safe Democrat districts. When considering endorsement in, say, the Third District, the Republican candidate is going to win anyway, so it is safe to endorse him. In districts safe for Democrats, an endorsement of a Republican here or there gives the appearance of being even-handed without risking an effect on the outcome.

With one exception, the margin of victory in U.S. House districts where the Star Tribune endorsed a Republican ranged from 20,385 to 124,352 votes. In these races, either the Republican or Democrat won handily, so the endorsement probably did not affect the outcome. Of this group, the smallest margins were for Republican incumbents Vin Weber (35,623) and Arlan Stangeland (20,385), both in 1988. All of the rest were easily double-digit percentage margins of victory.

The lone exception to the only-endorse-Republicans-if-it-won’t-affect-the-outcome rule is the race for Minnesota’s Seventh Congressional District in 1994. The incumbent Democrat won by only 5,400 votes against a Republican whom the Strib endorsed. The endorsement language gives a hint as to the reason:

IR challenger Bernie Omann tells of a time during this year's campaign when a
moderator got mixed up about which candidate was in which party. That's not
surprising. This race pits an incumbent Democrat who opposes abortion and
voted against President Clinton's budget bill and NAFTA against a Republican
who vigorously supports NAFTA and GATT and says it isn't in any American's
interest for the president to fail. Issues alone are not the reason to replace Collin
Peterson, however. His self-described cynicism about government, along with a
decided negativity and low energy level, combine to make one wonder why this
incumbent wants to go back.

Omann is young, enthusiastic and optimistic. His approach to social problems is
frequently nuanced and subtle. The question becomes: Why send a cynical man back to the fray he so dislikes when a bipartisan, energetic challenger is itching to go?

The Strib is willing to endorse a Republican in a close race if that Republican sounds more like a Democrat than his opponent. Whew! For a second there I was worried that the newspaper would undermine my argument about bias in its endorsements.

Thursday, October 07, 2004

Media Alert, "Racial Profiling," and Murderapolis

Media Alert! Twin Cities residents should mark their calendars for this Sunday, October 10, at 7:30 p.m. One of the local PBS affiliates (Channel 17) will be showing a recent debate between Scott "Big Trunk" Johnson of the Powerline weblog and former Hennepin County Attorney Tom Johnson. Current Hennepin County Attorney Amy Klobuchar also makes a speech. Scott does a better job of defending the Minneapolis Police Department than either of the prosecutors. Scott skillfully deconstructs the weak allegations of racial profiling, while explaining the very real impact of the allegations on crime prevention and the murder rate in the City of Lakes.

Those of you who have met Scott know that he is an extremely mild-mannered and gracious person. For this debate, however, the seriousness of the subject matter turns Clark Kent into Superman. Regardless if the Twins and Yankees reach Game 5, you must watch this program!

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Wonkette, Swift Boats, and Split Screens

Wonkette and Rocket Man from powerline were interviewed by NBC after tonight's vice presidential debate. If I'm not mistaken, a Swift Boat Veterans for Truth ad was running on the TV behind Wonkette.

Monday, October 04, 2004

Political Correctness, Public Fora & Round One

The U.S. Supreme Court has denied certiorari to Elliot Rothenberg in his case against mandatory sensitivity training for lawyers. Is it over? No. The Minnesota Supreme Court did not address the public forum First Amendment rights of course presenters. For further information, visit our sister site, 599 to 1 CLE.