Saturday, September 16, 2006

Local Politics - The Supremes

And now we get into the really murky, almost-alien territory, where the stakes are high and the voter's pamphlet provides scant clues to help. For this one, I'm calling upon a larger force, Voting for Judges, which serves as an aggregator of bios, stands, funding reports, and endorsements, and recommend you check it out.

But let me make it clear at the outset. I strongly suggest you support Susan Owens, Gerry L. Alexander, and Tom Chambers, for reasons that will soon become increasingly clear. No even-handedness here - the Supreme Court is under siege.

In Washington State, our Supreme Court is elected as non-partisan positions. The candidates tend to be lawyers, lesser court justices, and local politicians (usually GOP but not always), and tend to have conservative (legal view) tendencies. Because they are non-partisan, there isn't a lot of money floating around in the races, and they don't attract a lot of attention. Indeed, a lot of them tended to be settled in low-turnout primaries, since you need only to get 50%+ to take the office.

This, unfortunately, all of the above is a recipe for mischief, and that mischief has manifested in the form of the BIAW (Building Industry Association of Washington), pro-business Chambers of commerce, and out of state developer interests that are throwing money into these races. Much like developers seeing an old-fashioned drive-in on the borders of a spreading suburbia, their mouths water at the prospect of the potential this situation presents. As a result, a huge horde of money has been poured into this race, in hopes of replacing these conservative (legal view) incumbents with conservative (give business a cookie) challengers.

And they would be amusing if it all wasn't so serious in the end. The BIAW-backed candidates have an army of yard signs and a fleet of mailers, messages on the answering machine and ads on the air. This is beyond the idea of merely making sure their names are well-known to the primary voters and into the hardball politics of personal vilification and questionable tactics. It is with all this in mind that I steer my way into the Voter's Pamphlet, and into this election. Most of the Voters Pamphlet bios are pretty stock (Importance of the court, legal background, judicial experience, endorsements). The BIAW-backed guys are usually easy to spot because they use the "property rights" headnod - which they expect you to think means your property rights, but really means the BIAW's ability to develop more property.

For Justice of the Supreme Court Position 2, there are five candidates - two majors, and the rest pretty much chaff to keep either one from getting a majority outright. But here's a clue - when four of the five candidates talk about "special interest money", it usually means the fifth candidate is the one getting it. And that refers to Stephen Johnson, who was my State Senator, and as far I can tell didn't do a heckuva lot during his tenure outside of pushing the standard conservative memes. I expect him to do the same if he gets in here. And he has a good chance, packing a lot of endorsements from the business side, including a couple mid-level Dems so he can call himself bi-partisan. Because of the presence of three small candidates (Richard Smith,Norman J. Ericson and ANOTHER Johnson, Michael Johnson, it is likely this one wile go to the general election, which means more vilification of the incumbent, Susan Owens.

The one the BIAW/Chamber of Commerce is trying to win outright this time is Position 8, where they have one of their regular lawyers who has no bench experience, John Groen up against the venerable Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Gerry Alexander. And given the nature of the state supreme court, it still comes down to name recognition, and Groen has been flooding the zone with his powerful backers. As a man with no experience as a Judge, Groen gets to assault every decision made in the last 12 years to sew FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt), while staying extremely coy about his own background. Alexander, for his own part, stands on his achievements and endorsements. It is the New Politics/Old Politics competition playing out, and I worry that Old Politics will get stuffed as a result.

The undercard in all this is Position 9, where the Big Business/Big Property candidate is Jeanette Burrage against incumbent Tom Chambers. Burrage is one of the few judges that has broken into view - as a King County Superior Court Justice, she demanded that female lawyers in her court wear skirts, not pants. The dust-up may have cost her the position and, oddly enough, does not show up in her bio (Mr. Chambers, being too much of a gentleman, does not bring it up, but does note that he was the 2006 Outstanding Judge of the Year as awarded by the King County Washington Women Lawyers).

Burrage is a dark horse, Johnson is likely to go against Alexander in the main primary, and a huge amount of money, invective, and spleen is being thrown behind Groen to get Big Property's regular lawyer on the bench. And what does all this cash buy? Tune in tomorrow.

More later,