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.

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