Eau Claire Leader-Telegram. August 1, 2021.
Editorial: Give us a break
In shifting to an endless campaign, where one election campaign begins nearly as soon as the previous one ends, Wisconsin politicians seem to have taken a page from a neighboring state in their approach to campaigning. We’re not fans.
Gaps between campaigns are diminishing everywhere, but it’s particularly noticeable just to Wisconsin’s southwest. Campaigning never really ends in Iowa, where wannabe presidential candidates start feeling out support within a week or two of a presidential election. The leadoff Iowa Caucuses, which we’ve heavily criticized as being a poor way to start the nominating process, ensure that almost every politician with ambitions will wind up traipsing across the state at some point.
Wisconsin doesn’t need to import the headaches the caucuses cause. Aside from problems with the process itself and with the failure of Iowa’s Republican and Democratic parties to avoid massive embarrassment over the past couple caucuses, there’s another effect that we don’t think Wisconsin needs. When there’s no end to the campaigning, there’s also no end to the partisanship. There’s no break in which elected officials can represent the people rather than prepare for the next electoral fight.
American political campaigns rely at least as much on telling people why your opponent is the wrong choice as they do why you’re the right one. Calling it organized character assassination is probably too clean. And campaigns do it because it works.
When there’s a break from the campaigns, people have some time to get a breath without getting hit by all the mud being slung. People have the opportunity to remember that, on most of what matters, we’re not usually that different from our neighbors. Most of us want the same basic things: the opportunity to work and raise our families in reasonable comfort, with better opportunities for our children than we had.
When there’s a break from campaigning, politicians have to find something different to fill their time. Once in a while it’s actually doing their jobs. When neither the officeholders nor the voters are actively focusing on the next election, there’s a window in which bipartisanship doesn’t carry the same cost. It may be a slim opportunity, but it’s a chance for things to get done.
When those breaks disappear, when everyone is focused on the next election as soon as the previous one ends, there’s no benefit to being anything other than hyper-partisan. Compromise becomes weakness and personal attacks become the default.
That’s part of the reason we have not been putting much focus on some of the early 2022 jockeying. We’ve run a few pieces when major names have announced plans, but we don’t see much gain in the breathless, minute by minute analysis you so often get from cable’s talking heads.
While things didn’t used to be quite this intense, we’re not going to pretend that there was ever an era in which politics was genteel outside of election-year spasms. It has always been based on ego and ambition, and that has always been a recipe for harsh words and bruised egos.
We’re also not going to pretend that it’s likely things will calm down anytime soon. The ease of communication and the volume of press releases from political groups (many of whom seem to exist for the sole purpose of filling people’s email inboxes) argue against that probability.
But containing things, putting politics back in its season, might just be possible. It’s up to us, though. If politicians and political groups quit seeing a benefit to the continual campaign, they’re unlikely to continue making it a priority. They might just scale back a bit.
At its base, our criticism here isn’t really all that different from the holiday creep that seems to see decorations set out earlier and earlier each year. We’ve already seen some places putting Halloween items on display, a solid three months before the holiday. That’s a quarter of a year in advance. It wouldn’t surprise us if Christmas and New Year’s items were hot on the heels of the haunted houses.
Can it be done? Sure. Is it likely? We’re less confident in that.
Racine Journal Times. August 4, 2021.
Editorial: Caledonia incident illustrates value of body cameras
We’ve been advocates of body cameras for law enforcement officers for many years. They give validity to two adages:
— The camera doesn’t lie.
— A picture is worth a thousand words.
An illustration of the value of body cameras came late last month, when a viral video of a traffic stop gave the initial appearance of a Caledonia police officer acting less than honorably.
During the July 21 traffic stop, a passenger in the front seat of the vehicle recorded a Caledonia officer as he walked toward the vehicle. The officer is seen tossing a tiny white object into the back seat of the vehicle.
If you’ve read our reports on criminal complaints, you know that corners of plastic sandwich bags are used to package illegal drugs.
From the perspective of the front-seat passenger, it looked bad. It did appear as though the officer was tossing something into the back seat that didn’t belong there. It seemed entirely possible that the officer was planting evidence.
But the officers’ body cameras gave us a 360-degree view, a broader perspective.
Caledonia Police Chief Christopher Botsch pledged a full, transparent investigation. Which he delivered.
The body-cam footage, combined with Chief Botsch’s Facebook post regarding his investigation, bore out why only a speeding ticket — the speeding vehicle was the probable cause for the stop — was issued and no occupant of the vehicle was taken into custody: The baggie corner was found on one of the passengers, inspected and found to contain no illegal substances, the chief said.
The viral video of the officer tossing the tiny baggie into the back seat was not the planting of evidence, but the return of a legal item to the car. Chief Botsch conceded that the officer’s judgement in taking that action wasn’t the best: “We would discourage officers from discarding items into a citizen’s vehicle,” he wrote. But neither was it nefarious.
The totality of the incident — the initial viral video, followed by the release of the body-camera footage — is a ringing endorsement of body cameras, and illustrates a point we have made many times in the space:
Body cameras provide proof when officers are acting in accordance with the law, and give visual evidence of what an officer is dealing with in a given situation.
Only those acting outside the law, whether officer or civilian, have anything to fear from an officer’s body camera.
Wisconsin State Journal. July 29, 2021.
Editorial: Why significant voter fraud doesn’t occur in Wisconsin
The reason significant voter fraud doesn’t occur in Wisconsin is pretty simple: The potential cost of trying to dupe our democracy is much greater than any potential gain.
Just ask Michael Ray Overall, who contends he unintentionally voted twice in last fall’s election. Prosecutors don’t believe him, saying he registered to vote with a Beloit address just one day after he signed an absentee ballot that was sent to St. Croix County, where he hadn’t lived since 2019.
The 64-year-old, who isn’t saying who he voted for in last fall’s presidential election, faces four felonies in St. Croix County for voting as a disqualified person, providing false information to an election official, registering to vote in more than one place and voting more than once. Each charge comes with a maximum $10,000 fine and 3½ years in prison.
The man’s mountain of legal trouble serves as a stark warning to anyone reckless enough to seek an unfair advantage at the polls. It also should reassure the rest of us that our system of fair elections is being protected.
Even if the courts find Overall suffers from a bad memory, as he claims, and didn’t vote twice on purpose, this much is clear: An extra vote isn’t worth potential prosecution.
Overall’s case is one of 27 possible voting violations that Wisconsin election officials referred to local district attorneys from the Nov. 3 election. That might sound like a lot. But it’s only 27 out of nearly 3.3 million cast for president — a race decided by more than 20,000 votes.
Moreover, in 18 of those 27 cases, prosecutors are not pursuing charges, suggesting intent to commit fraud wasn’t clear.
All of this adds up to a well-run election, despite the conspiracy theories and long-disproven lies that former President Donald Trump and his kowtowing minions in Wisconsin continue to shop.
Rep. Janel Brandtjen, R-Menomonee Falls, called again this week for a “comprehensive forensic examination” of ballots cast in last fall’s presidential election. Brandtjen traveled to Arizona last month to witness the circus of bogus election claims going on there, such as whether bamboo fibers can be found in the paper of ballots to supposedly prove they came from Asia. Even Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, has joked about that ridiculous notion.
Brandtjen needs to get past Trump’s failed bid for reelection nine months ago and stop wasting taxpayer money on redundant reviews. The votes were carefully counted. Then they were recounted in the Democratic strongholds of Dane and Milwaukee counties and found — again — to be accurate.
Brandtjen’s latest conspiracy theory is that something might have been wrong with election equipment. But state officials already audited election machines following the 2020 vote — as required by a Republican-approved law — and found no significant issues that could have changed the result.
Brandtjen claims “liberal partisan clerks” repeatedly failed to follow state elections laws, but that’s not what our court system — including judges appointed by Republicans — determined. They carefully and repeatedly determined the election was conducted properly.
Here’s another “recent revelation” that Brandtjen sensationally claimed this week is “simply outrageous”: Tens of thousands of new registrations and votes contained a name, driver’s license number or other data that didn’t match the information found in some other government database. She claims they “were subsequently removed from the state system after their votes were recorded.”
The Wisconsin Elections Commission quickly corrected Brandtjen in a statement. Voter data mismatches occur about 5% of the time and are easy to explain. About two-thirds, for example, occur because a name such as “Robert” doesn’t match the shorter variation of “Bob.” Nearly a quarter of the time, the letter or one of the 13 digits in a driver’s license number is entered wrong. Then there are typos.
The nonpartisan Audit Bureau is already reviewing the election. At the same time, Vos is wasting $72,800 of taxpayer money on a superfluous probe while wondering aloud what Brandtjen’s investigation could possibly prove. It’s long past time for state Republican leaders to move on, even if their stubborn and juvenile former president never will.
Wisconsin has a long and proud history of clean elections, and voters take their right and responsibility to vote seriously. Few people would be reckless enough to try to get away with voter fraud in Wisconsin, where elaborate safeguards and stiff punishment serve as effective deterrents.