Maybe, some day, people will hear
Pressing for good, honest government practices requires a long-haul mindset.
THE GENTLEMAN DESERVES what might be called the Persistence Award – that sounds better than the Beat-A-Dead-Horse Award – for never giving up on what appears to a good-government lost cause.
Jay Heck, executive director of Common Cause, consistently pushes for reforms intended to keep government on the up-and-up and make it work better for all citizens, not just the favored few. He calls out politicians and their powerful supporters, and he does so with facts and figures that cannot be denied.
Except, of course, they are denied by those in power, and whose primary purpose is staying in power by rigging the game to make that outcome certain.
THE ONGOING CONTROVERSY over partisan gerrymandering in Wisconsin’s legislative redistricting process has been a strong focus for Heck and Common Cause. We suspect he’s known for a long time it is impossible to make any headway within the political structure in Madison. Yet inch by inch the redistricting scam has been exposed, with more and more people in Wisconsin realizing their electoral choices have been taken away from them. As public opinion changes, political change may follow. Or, with the U.S. Supreme Court accepting a legal challenge to Wisconsin’s system, the cause of good government could win that way.
Never giving up on what’s right eventually can score.
Which brings us to another Common Cause target.
SEVERAL MONTHS AGO, dozens of retired Wisconsin judges asked the Wisconsin Supreme Court to establish guidelines that would require sitting jurists to recuse themselves in situations where litigants set to appear before them had been major contributors to their campaigns. The retired judges made several modest but important specific suggestions, including dollar amounts from contributors to trigger recusals for the various levels of courts, right up to the Supreme Court itself.
The suggestions were sparked by cases connected to the political John Doe investigations in past years. When those cases arrived at the Wisconsin Supreme Court, justices were asked to end the investigations and block prosecutors from looking further into matters involving specific donors and specific campaigns. Some of the litigants standing before the court were known to have contributed millions of dollars during campaigns to elect the very justices sitting in judgment on the case. Representing the other side, prosecutors asked certain justices to recuse themselves and step away, citing conflict of interest.
That did not happen. All justices stayed. Those who most benefitted from the campaign donations held fast and ordered the investigations halted.
SO WHAT ABOUT the suggestions for setting new recusal rules for those times when major donors come before a given court? Pretty much the same cast of characters on the Supreme Court refused to even hold a public hearing on the matter, rejecting it out of hand. That means the next time politically connected big donors want a court ruling, expect their bought-and-paid-for justices to stay put and do their bidding.
Defeat after defeat might cause some to give up, but Jay Heck on behalf of Common Cause keeps soldiering on. Optimism is a long-haul kind of thing. One of these days, people just might start to pay more attention and send politicians a message that cheaters no longer will be tolerated.
The idea espoused by this Supreme Court – that there should be no established guidelines, and justices can just decide for themselves if they are, or appear to be, compromised – makes the law look like it’s for sale.
It is not easy to get our preoccupied citizens to pay attention to the sausage-making of how government works (or, in this situation, doesn’t work). But we’re glad Jay Heck and Common Cause keep ramming head-long into that political brick wall.
Originally published on August 7, 2017 in the Beloit Daily News.