Gregory Humphrey History Minute: One Inkwell

I love history, and always wanted to teach a high school class. As such, here is one story that many do not know, but how grand it is to learn. From Dred Scott to Justice John Marshall Harlan’s famed dissent on behalf of the rights of Black Americans comes the story of an inkwell and the power of hope and inspiration. (That is my mom in the pictures on the wall.)

Clarence Thomas And Nikki Haley Try To Deceive With Numbers…Numbers That Do Not Lie

Sir Walter Scott may have arrived in 1808 at the best line for the conservative Republican Party in 2023.  He penned “Oh, what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive!”   After reading the newspapers this weekend it appears both Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and Nikki Haley have taken to heart the old quote and striving mightily to implement it in their daily lives. Thomas has been in the news lately for his severe lack of ethics and principles as a judge, namely for acceptance of hugely expensive trips from Harlan Crow, a major Republican donor for more than two decades. His lack of honor echoes when acting lewdly with his behavior regarding Anita Hill decades ago.  Meanwhile, Haley created a headline-making story that underscores what happens when detail-oriented work is tossed aside to chase a delusional case of Potomac Fever.

“Over the last two decades, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas has reported on required financial disclosure forms that his family received rental income totaling hundreds of thousands of dollars from a firm called Ginger, Ltd., Partnership,” the Washington Post reports.

“But that company — a Nebraska real estate firm launched in the 1980s by his wife and her relatives — has not existed since 2006.”

“That year, the family real estate company was shut down and a separate firm was created, state incorporation records show. The similarly named firm assumed control of the shuttered company’s land leasing business, according to property records.”

“Since that time, however, Thomas has continued to report income from the defunct company — between $50,000 and $100,000 annually in recent years — and there is no mention of the newer firm, Ginger Holdings, LLC, on the forms.”

As if that slick numbers game was not enough for news readers on this cloudy, rainy, soon-to-be snowy day came a news story that is most telling about the GOP efforts at saying anything as they will believe it.

This morning it was reported that “The former U.N. ambassador’s campaign said it had raised $11 million between her mid-February launch and the end of the quarter on March 31. It got that figure by saying Haley’s campaign had $5.1 million in receipts, along with $4.4 million for Team Stand for America, a joint fundraising committee, and $1.2 million for Stand for America PAC, a Haley-launched leadership PAC.

“But after Haley filed her first-quarter report to the Federal Election Commission late Saturday, an altogether different story has emerged. Her campaign’s math didn’t add up.

“What Haley’s campaign and two affiliated groups actually raised was about $8.3 million. The discrepancy between the Haley campaign’s public statements and the numbers on the filings appear to be a case of double-counting.”

Haley got to $11 million by counting $2.7 million twice — once when it was taken in by her joint fundraising committee and again when it was transferred to two of the other committees.

These two cases are just the latest in a long list of what can be proven to have created the erosion of credibility that faces the Republican Party. Where once the GOP could be a place of think tanks and policy wonks (Jack Kemp) it has become nothing more than an exercise of ruthless power, both in attempting to amass it and then keeping it. As such, we can say the GOP is not only morally-adrift but also lacking in values. It is not news to my readers that the acceptance of lower standards from conservative Republicans is on the rise as many need to shape and morph their own moral and ethical beliefs to reduce differences with Donald Trump since 2016. Just another of the damaging consequences of Trump, which in and of itself is a topic on Caffeinated Politics, as the undermining of our political culture matters in a democracy. The longer-term problem, however, regarding lack of virtue as evidenced by the actions of Thomas for literally decades, to the recent out-right attempt at deception for a political narrative by Haley are glaring examples of what has befallen the party that once viewed Ronald Reagan as a model for pols. Or the decency of George H. W. Bush. That has now all been relegated to history books.

Scott Walker Just Sounds Petulant

When people leave elected office, either willingly such as when Tommy Thompson stepped down as governor to serve as a cabinet secretary in Washington, or when they depart office such as with Tony Earl upon losing his bid for a second term, there is a certain tone and even grace about what follows in life.  On the national stage, perhaps the best ‘recent’ example is how President George Bush took up paint brushes and found contentment outside of the limelight.

Not everyone who is ushered out of the doors of power, however, has the same poise and ability to move on in life without looking peeved, even years after the door has closed.  While former governor Scott Walker rarely comes to mind or can be found as a reason for a news story in the papers, he has achieved a fair amount of media recognition since the outcome of Wisconsin’s Spring Election was noted across the nation.  The state’s Supreme Court shifted to liberals, and as a result, Walker tried to spin the defeat suffered by conservatives away from their seriously flawed candidate Dan Kelly and instead placed the blame on young voters.

“Younger voters are the issue,” Walker said. “It comes from years of radical indoctrination — on campus, in school, with social media, & throughout culture,” he wrote in a tweet, alongside a clip from a Fox News interview in which he elaborated on this theory. “We have to counter it or conservatives will never win battleground states again.”

Walker did not mention that it is usually more problematic for Republicans to win in state races that are not gerrymandered by his party.  But it is not his comments that I want to focus on, but rather his tone.  He once again comes across as brittle and not adjusted to his life as someone without an elected title.  He seems not to be comfortable in the role that the voters selected for him. 

There is a lack of dignity when Walker, a former elected official who courted voters, now challenges younger voters for undertaking their civic responsibility. There is a lack of reasoning when trotting out the well-worn trope about higher education being to blame for expanding the horizons of college students. Two students, one from Boston and the other from Arizona spent the final weeks housed with a neighbor on the Madison isthmus. They worked across the state on college campuses informing students about the importance of the court race, and making sure students were registered to cast a ballot for Janet Protasiewicz, who won by 11% when they were counted. Who would now argue against the maturity shown by those energized to wade into statewide campaigns or the young adults who took their role as citizens seriously as they cast a ballot?

I understand Walker needs a paycheck and his work as president of Young America’s Foundation keeps the light bill paid. But it does not make him look good, given what it seems he is required to do and say in that role.  I find myself pointed concerning this matter because I think at the end of the day Walker is a decent person.  I have had many serious disagreements about his policies and his politics, but I have never strayed from my bottom line which I wrote on this blog in 2010 as the final days were passing in the race for governor between Democratic candidate Tom Barret and himself.

As we wind this long and far-too-often nasty campaign down to the final days I am reminded we could have done far worse than the final two contenders for governor.  We can, and will, argue the politics of the race.  But in terms of electing a nice person, I suspect we will win either way.

I hope Wisconsin has a chance to see that nice guy again, as opposed to what was offered this past week.

Tale Of Two Concessions Speeches: Paul Vallas Vs. Dan Kelly

Paul Vallas addresses the crowd at his election night party to concede the race to Brandon Johnson. 
Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-times

From time to time in conversations with friends, I am asked what moves me about politics and politicians.  After watching campaigns and election nights for nearly 50 years, what truly uplifts and inspires me? One such moment took place on Tuesday but ironically was the same night when I witnessed a stunningly low moment in our politics.

Most people are now aware of the low-brow behavior of Dan Kelly when addressing his supporters after the Associated Press was able to call the race for Wisconsin’s Supreme Court less than an hour after polls closed.  Kelly did not call Janet Protasiewicz and offer a verbal concession but instead went on television stating, “I do not have a worthy opponent to which I can concede.” And then seemed to enjoy offering up the line, “My opponent is a serial liar. She’s disregarded judicial ethics“.

That was clearly the lowest moment in memory for politicos who follow such events, but soon thereafter something happened in Chicago that lifted the sails for those watching that city elect a new mayor.  Paul Vallas competed with Brandon Johnson in the run-off election and when it was clear Vallas had come up short something occurred that the city can be proud of as they move past a hard-fought campaign. The Chicago Sun-Times reporting tells a fabulous story.

Though 90,000 mail-in ballots remain uncounted, Vallas did not hold out for a full count that would have dragged Election Day into Easter weekend.

He took the podium at the Hyatt Regency Chicago at 9:45 p.m. Tuesday to tell his supporters he had called Johnson to offer his support to the mayor-elect.

“I ran for mayor to bring this city together, and it’s clear, based on the results tonight, that this city is deeply divided,” Vallas said. “So tonight — even though we believe every vote should be counted — I called Brandon Johnson and told him that I absolutely expect him to be the next mayor of Chicago.”

When some of his supporters shouted, “No,” Vallas responded: “Please, please, please. It’s critically important. This campaign that I ran to bring this city together would not be a campaign that fulfilled my ambitions if this campaign is gonna divide us more. So it’s critically important that we use this opportunity to come together.”

With 90,000 absentee ballots uncounted and a 52% return rate, Johnson likely will pad his margin of victory as late-returning mail-in ballots are counted later this week. Several analysts predicted he could get as many as 70% of the uncounted absentee votes.

When it comes to campaigns and elections, as witnessed on Tuesday night, there are two ways a losing candidate can proceed.  The high road and the low one.  As one who enjoys Chicago politics, I was watching coverage from their CBS affiliate (Channel 2) and needed the uplift that Vallas provided. It was not only an antidote to Kelly last night, but a lesson about how more politicians need to operate going forward.

Dan Kelly: Churlish Behavior And Bad Sportsmanship In Concession Speech

When one competes in an election there are certain situations that are going to occur.  Not everyone is going to be cordial to a candidate so grinning when confronted with the opposition’s supporters is a must. There are doubtless too many selfies that need to be endured, but with each one, a candidate grins and bears it.  Then comes the night when the ballots are counted and regardless of the outcome a candidate needs to be gracious.  If winning the candidate expresses how much the victory depended on the scores of volunteers and their tireless efforts.  Harder still, but equally important, is when the loser in an election steps up to the microphone and offers a concession speech that honors the victor. Even if one needs to fake the graciousness of losing, conducting oneself in such a manner is simply part of the deal of entering a race in the first place.

I have always said that how a losing candidate conducts themselves says far more about their character than any other outward display can convey to the public.  As such, I was truly and totally stunned by the dreadful way Dan Kelly admitted defeat Tuesday night when losing his second race to sit on the Supreme Court.  He stated, “I do not have a worthy opponent to which I can concede.” And then seemed to enjoy offering up the line, “My opponent is a serial liar. She’s disregarded judicial ethics.”.

The brittle, harsh, and truly troubling display from Kelly alerted the television audience that Midwestern niceness is not a trait equally shared.  Voters who had endured far too many television commercials over the months and had been alerted that Kelly was not properly suited for the Court, had the rare opportunity to witness why many worked so feverishly to defeat him.  No one on either side of the political aisle can condone or rationalize Kelly’s truly churlish behavior and completely undisciplined emotion.

Sports coaches from little league to the Green Bay Packers, forensics coaches in high schools from Superior to Lake Geneva, and parents who try to teach values at home all know the necessity of instructing about losing with grace and taking the high road when things turn sour.  When so many try to guide youth in a positive direction it is unacceptable to have someone who asked for our vote as a judge utterly disregard any sense of decency and act in such a surly fashion.

I have watched campaigns and candidates for over 45 years. I have been thrilled by speeches of victory, but also strongly moved by ones of defeat. The Dream Shall Never Die speech in 1980 at the Democratic National Convention placed Senator Ted Kennedy in the heart of the party, even though he was defeated for the nomination. He offered soaring words as he ended the race. “For all those whose cares have been our concern, the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die”.

Dan Kelly upon losing took the opposite tactic and acted with bitterness. He has to now live with that was his final campaign curtain call.

Dan Kelly Would Be Harmful To Democracy, Must Not Be Elected To Court, Imposter Electoral College Ballots Our Proof

Entrance to the Supreme Court of the state of Wisconsin.

In my life, one event far more than any other, was shockingly bizarre, utterly shameful, and absolutely repugnant on a level never before witnessed. It cut not only a deep wound into those who read and study our history and believe in our nation’s ideals but also slashed at the national fabric that holds a democracy together through fair elections and the peaceful transfer of power between presidential administrations.  The seditious insurrection at our nation’s Capital on January 6, 2021, will go down as a horrific attempt to steal an American election.

While Donald Trump provoked and cradled the violence, there were many across the land who aided and abetted his autocratic desires. One of those who lent a hand in undermining the 2020 election process, and pushed back on the lessons we learned in our civics classes, was Dan Kelly. He is now a candidate for the Wisconsin Supreme Court on April 4th.  Following the needless bombast and purposely created chaos by Trump and his White House after the 2020 balloting we needed to have stable, reasoned, and civic-minded people stand up for the sake of the nation. Dan Kelly took a different route.  

Following Kelly’s defeat by Wisconsin voters for a court seat in 2020 he took a job with the Wisconsin Republican Party and the Republican National Committee to work on election issues, where he was paid roughly $120,000.  For a jurist who told voters that objectivity was his desire just months prior when seeking their support, he quickly found his partisan niche when voted off the bench. It was because of that work former GOP Chairman Andrew Hitt was able to inform the January 6th investigating committee that Kelly was working as a “special counsel” and had “pretty extensive conversations” about the fake Republican electors. Hitt testified that he brought in Kelly to “kind of advise on election law matters.”

We know that the Republican fake electors met in the Wisconsin Capitol on the same day that Democrats cast the state’s 10 electoral votes for Biden.  Those electoral votes could be rightfully cast since Biden won the state by nearly 21,000 votes.  The actions by Republicans with a bogus and dangerous imposter list of electors created pure partisan chicanery. strongly aided by Kelly to purposely pollute our electoral college process.  As such, Kelly cannot claim to be a citizen in good standing with the principles of our nation as laid out by the Founding Fathers.  With such a lax foundation he is not the quality of person needed to be a court justice.

According to the Wisconsin Code of Judicial Conduct, Kelly walked away from the groundwork of how a would-be jurist should act in regard to partisan behavior. The code bars candidates from belonging to a political party, participating “in the affairs, caucuses, promotions, platforms, endorsements, conventions, or activities of a political party or of a candidate for partisan office”. Such brakes on political actions are more common than we might consider. My brother-in-law could not place a political lawn sign on his property because he was a mere postmaster. Surely then, we must hold supreme court candidates to a higher set of guidelines and standards when we learn of one aiding in the undermining of a presidential election.

Kelly proved his desire to be a politico when he took a job with the Republican Party and dress in partisan red. That was his right since he needed a job.  But then he traded in his values and core beliefs to aid the autocratic desire of Trump over and above the election outcomes of the American people. That created a clear danger to our nation. To our democracy. Such a person can not sit on the Supreme Court.

I recall that Elizabeth Taylor could not wear white on her 8th marriage, and in that same light, there is no way that Dan Kelly can again wear a black robe. There are bridges, once crossed, where a return trip is no longer an option.  I do not mean to end this post in a light-hearted mirthful manner as there is no equivocation about where we all need to stand as citizens.  Any effort to overturn Wisconsin’s 2020 presidential election results is disqualifying for elected office of any kind.

Current Wisconsin Court Race Screams Out For Merit Selection, Now More Than Ever

The only way to watch local news in Wisconsin is with a DVR recording of the broadcast and the remote in hand to forward past the relentless ads for the upcoming April Spring Election where a very heated Supreme Court race awaits voters. The ad buys and the money raised to air them made for a story in The New York Times. Judicial seats on our highest court have been made into sharp-edged campaign races that lower the role of a sitting justice to a mere pol who makes pledges and does everything just shy of placing an R or D for party affiliation on their campaign material.  That should trouble everyone, party aside. The second and third paragraphs of the news article alert us to the glaring problem.

The conservative candidate, Daniel Kelly, is trailing in limited private polling of the race. Abortion rights, which powered Democrats in the midterm elections, are driving the party to shovel enormous sums of money into the campaign. And perhaps most significantly, Justice Kelly’s campaign has been outspent by a staggering margin on television since the Feb. 21 primary: $9.1 million to nothing.

But Justice Kelly, who sat on the court before losing re-election in 2020, appears unfazed. He told supporters on Sunday in northwest Wisconsin that help was on the way from unidentified outside groups in his race against Janet Protasiewicz, a liberal Milwaukee County judge opposing him in the April 4 election.

Let me state up front that my disdain for the current method of electing court justices runs as much against the liberal candidate as it does the conservative one.  This is not an attack on anyone’s judicial philosophy, but instead a deep concern with the process itself. This is not the first race for the court that has drawn the ire of good government types who bemoan the slippage that has occurred with how we place new members on the high bench. This is not the first time Caffeinated Politics has opined about the need to do better, much better when it comes to how seats on the Supreme should be filled.  I noted that in 2011 the Wisconsin State Journal, a constant voice for merit selection in filling court vacancies editorialized about the issue.

Wisconsin’s high court should absolutely have an honest and open debate over the bipartisan push in the Legislature to end state Supreme Court elections. These ugly judicial elections, driven by shadowy special interest groups with lots at stake in future court decisions, are a huge contributor to our high court’s embarrassing dysfunction.

It was bad enough that the quality and experience of court candidates has been slipping over the last decade as judicial campaigns have become more vicious and money-soaked. It was bad enough that public distrust in court decisions has fallen just as partisan squabbles and 4-3 votes have increased.

At a time when public approval of our governmental and public institutions is shrinking, there should be ideas advanced that would reverse that sad downward trend. Merit selection is one idea that should be considered to make our Supreme Court better, and to assure the citizenry that qualified jurists are at work. No longer can voters just assume that justice will be handled in the manner we were taught in our civics classes.  There is more money and more chicanery in the system now than ever, and corrective measures must be undertaken to correct the problem.

There are different ways that merit selection can work. But the process could start with a nonpartisan group that would recommend names for the court. Then either the governor or legislature might make the selection. After a set number of years, the voters could then vote yes or no on retaining that person for another term. What appeals to me so very much is the idea that the first step in the process would ensure that only highly qualified and thoughtful names in the legal community would be advanced. The ones with low ethical standards that do not mesh with our ideals or those without intelligence that reflects our needs would be weeded out. As would the ones who might simply opt instead for being elected to an openly partisan office.

With merit selection, there would be no more stories of wealthy names dumping money into court races for this or that candidate, or cases potentially being corrupted down the line due to campaign donations. If you find yourself turning aside from the onslaught of advertising on TV for a court seat, you too should be considering merit selection for vacancies on the court.

Jennifer Dorow’s Unsound Judgement On Mingling Guns And Alcohol Calls Into Question Her Suitability For High Court

When I think of Wisconsin Supreme Court justices my mental image constructs a serious person with law books and one of those expensive type pens that write smoothly and has a nice heft when held. I recall the mesh market bag that held at least ten legal tomes as Wisconsin Justice Shirley Abramson placed them into the back of my car for a trip to Door County. She was a guest speaker at an event packaged by our legislative office, and I readily introduced my sincere interest in being her means of transportation. I would argue she best exemplified and epitomized a member of the high court in both intellect and legal reasoning, as well as temperament and personal composure. After all, that court must be viewed as a place of decorum and high personal standards.

I have been giving thought about the type of person best suited to sit on the court as our state enters the final weeks of a primary contest where four candidates vying to fill the seat of a retiring conservative member. (Place aside for the moment that merit selection would be a wiser and more appropriate way to fill seats on the court.) There is no way to not think about the type of person we need on the court, especially when reading the news this weekend.  One of the candidates, Waukesha County Judge Jennifer Dorow, has been constructing a business plan in Delafield for an indoor gun range with a liquor license.  Potentially alcohol-fueled guests could also buy firearms and accessories on-site and use them on a shooting range.  One might assume there will be convenient cups and glass holders near to where the bullets are stored for easy access for the paying guests as they load the deadly weapons. I have never heard of a more potentially dangerous business plan. 

Nothing of this type has come before the local Marquette Neighborhood Association, where over the years I have attended meetings on proposals for many an entrepreneurial design. While many were interested in making money and having success with their venture, no one would have ever so foolishly entertained the marriage of alcohol and guns.  Dorow is just plain wrong to play so close to potential injury, or worse, as she seeks to make money.  This business plan, in and of itself, serves notice as to why she is not fit to sit on the Supreme Court.

Our state has many complex and weighty issues that percolate up to the court that then await the review and findings of the justices. Citizens obviously have sincere, and at times, very diverse opinions as to the proper outcome of such cases.  But win or lose, at the end of the day, the populace must have a feeling the justices are credible individuals. Folks around the state most likely are not much aware of the nuances of the law and state statutes, but they can relate to the foundations that a justice must first have a solid character and basic common sense as a prerequisite for being elected.

Dorow alerts us to her lack of seriousness for statewide office as a justice when she endorsed combining alcohol sales, gun sales, and a shooting range.  Why not ask for a daycare center in an adjoining room?