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 Countyâs 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, Voilandâs claim is irrelevant. He has presented no evidence that Wolfgramâs 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.
Voilandâs ploy provoked a reaction he might not have expectedâexpressions 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 Wolfgramâs support has come from people who also support Gov. Walker.
They get itâpolitics donât 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 âthe recall is water over the dam and the governor has moved on.â The letter criticized the insertion of âpetty politicsâ into the judicial race.
Absent the petty politics, Voilandâs 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 itâs all fair game for discussion or criticism. Yet there hasnât 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 stateâs Judge of the Year in 2008.
A telling footnote to Voilandâs campaign is its purchase of Internet domain titles that include Wolfgramâs name. On the website it created and titled âtomwolfgram.com,â the campaign displays the recall petition Wolfgram signed. How clever! Or is it just a cheesy political trick?
Either way, it and Voilandâs single-issue political campaign have no place in Ozaukee Countyâs nonpartisan judicial election.