While partisan nastiness thrives elsewhere, the rejection in Ozaukee County of an attempt to politicize a nonpartisan judical election is heartening
To paraphrase Mark Twain, reports of the death of political rancor are exaggerations, at least in Washington and Madison, seats of federal and state government where partisan bloodletting goes on unabated.
But lo and behold, in Ozaukee County there are signs of a principled uprising against the political nastiness that has contaminated government institutions at various levels.
It is fitting that this ray of sunshine falls on the spring election for Ozaukee County circuit judge, for that trial court position is, by law in Wisconsin, nonpartisan. It was an attempt to politicize this election that moved a number of officials in the county to issue a high-minded appeal to voters to judge the candidates on their qualifications and not on any perceived political attitudes.
The candidates are Tom Wolfgram, the incumbent who has served for 18 years as circuit judge in Ozaukee County’s Branch II court, and Joseph Voiland, a lawyer who lives in the Town of Grafton. Voiland has inserted a toxic political element into the election by telling voters Wolfgram is unfit to be re-elected because he signed a petition calling for the recall of Gov. Scott Walker.
As a campaign issue, Voiland’s claim is irrelevant. He has presented no evidence that Wolfgram’s political beliefs, whatever they may be, have in any way influenced his courtroom decisions. As a political attack, his claim is offensive in that it suggests it is somehow wrong for judges to exercise their right to participate in democracy as private citizens. Wolfgram was one of roughly one million Wisconsin voters who exercised their right to sign petitions in support of the gubernatorial recall election.
Voiland’s ploy provoked a reaction he might not have expected—expressions of support for Wolfgram and early endorsements of his re-election by all of the police chiefs in the county and Ozaukee County Sheriff Maury Straub. Much of Wolfgram’s support has come from people who also support Gov. Walker.
They get it—politics don’t matter in this election. Straub, who calls the governor a friend, made that point in a letter to the editor published in Ozaukee Press when he wrote that “the recall is water over the dam and the governor has moved on.” The letter criticized the insertion of “petty politics” into the judicial race.
Absent the petty politics, Voiland’s candidacy would be welcome as a sign of vitality in the democratic process. After three terms on the bench, Wolfgram has created a record of hundreds of decisions in criminal and civil cases, and it’s all fair game for discussion or criticism. Yet there hasn’t been any of that from the challenger.
Those who have endorsed Wolfgram, on the other hand, have praised his record on the bench, as has the State Bar of Wisconsin, which named him the state’s Judge of the Year in 2008.
A telling footnote to Voiland’s campaign is its purchase of Internet domain titles that include Wolfgram’s name. On the website it created and titled “tomwolfgram.com,” the campaign displays the recall petition Wolfgram signed. How clever! Or is it just a cheesy political trick?
Either way, it and Voiland’s single-issue political campaign have no place in Ozaukee County’s nonpartisan judicial election.