The election game

Where I’m from there were these two judges up for re-election.  Some people think judges should be appointed.  Others think that would be worse, and that they should be elected.  The solution in this area is kind of a split the difference:  judges are by and large elected but to long terms.  In this case 10 years.

In elections there is something called the power of incumbency.  These two judges had never held any other elected office and had been elected to that one only once, ten years earlier.  In the interim they are not allowed to do politicking in the commonly understood sense.  Unlike legislators who run every two years and are sort of always “running”, these two had gotten elected and pretty much disappeared from public view except for the occasional newspaper article with their name in it on some high profile case or other.

They were both opposed by challengers who had enrollment advantages, party endorsement advantages, ethnic advantages, populist advantages.  War chest wise they were all relatively evenly matched.

Both incumbents won handily.

Once you control for every other variable it comes down to this:  the police and their unions had endorsed them.

Judges or would-be judges up for election court the police openly, and if they get their endorsement they put that in their TV ads, on their billboards, in their mailings and flyers, tout it in their stump speeches.

In elections you are playing for the mushy middle.  Party loyalists go with the party.  With them all the ads and speeches count for little or nothing.  Only a small portion of the electorate is in play, maybe 20%.

That 20% are “open-minded”, but typically what is there to be open minded about?  They tend to be swayed by non-rational appeals:  for some, it’s mainly siding with the perceived winner, the more powerful; for others, well, it’s more complicated, but still tends to be non-rational, maybe a subconscious concern for safety or security.  In both cases these non-rational considerations favor the police and the establishment.

I’m painting with a broad brush here, obviously.

You have to imagine how this works.  It’s thousands of  little discussions, here and there, going something like oh, I know so-and-so, she’s married to a sheriff’s deputy who works down at the courthouse and he says we should vote for ______.  The sheriff’s deputy.  He wears a uniform and has a badge and he’s a credible source, even third hand. It’s about all the thought, if you can even call it that, that the 20% is going to devote to a judicial election.

You can’t win this game, unless something changes.  How do I know?  Because you haven’t won it up to now.  Sharon Keller has already won this game – twice.  Lesser Sharon Kellers all over the country win the same game, the same way.

If things stay the same she’s going to win.  If something changes, she may win anyway.  There are no guarantees.

But think, for a moment, about how a successful strike could affect that game.  It begins to look a little bit, just a little bit, like the edifice has a few cracks in the foundation.  It makes that 20% think a little harder, or at least think.  For those who go with the winner, the more powerful, the powerful don’t look quite as powerful as they did before.  For those who look to public officials for safety and security, there’s a vague sense that the wheels might come off the train.  (They’re a little bit loose, anyway, when a significant and necessary part of the system says, even for one day:  we decline to participate in a system that has become a farce.)  It makes them a little uneasy.  You’ve undermined the safety and security they would otherwise uniformly attribute to the status quo.

Independent lawyers are extremely unpopular as a group.  Selfish, greedy, corrupt, unprincipled, sneaky.  It’s not fair or true, and it’s particularly irksome when that could more properly be applied to police, prosecutors and – of course – judges, but we have to deal with reality.  This is what’s going on in people’s minds.

One other thing.  This would not be a strike for more pay or better working conditions or selfish ends; this would be highly principled and selfless.  It is said that one of the worst things in PR is to confirm a negative stereotype.  That means one of the best things is to undercut a negative stereotype, and a strike for this reason, at this time, would do that.

Now, I have to deal with this “leadership” thing.  Next post.



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