Wouldn’t you like to have, say, a year where you never hear from a politician running for office?
If so, too bad for you. In three weeks, in fact, the “fall” primary election will be held Aug. 12.
There are several interesting area races this fall, and you’ll be reading about them in your favorite weekly newspaper over the next few weeks and months. Unfortunately, you cannot vote in all of them taking place in your county. Voters in Grant and Lafayette counties will have to choose between voting in the Republican sheriff’s primary in each county, or the 17th Senate District Democratic primary. Voters in Lafayette and Iowa counties can vote in the 17th Senate District Democratic primary, or the 51st Assembly District Republican primary, but not both.
Each party also has primaries for statewide races. The Democrats have primaries for governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general and state treasurer. The Republicans have a primary for state treasurer and secretary of state, plus, in Grant County, the Third Congressional District. Again, though, you can’t vote in all the races that will be on your ballot Aug. 12.
Wisconsin is supposed to be superior to other states because voters don’t have to register as Democrats or Republicans. (In other states, if you don’t register in a party, you don’t get to vote in that party’s primaries; if you register as an independent, you don’t get to vote in any party’s primary.) Wisconsin voters have to choose a ballot when they go to the polls. That means voters have to decide which race is more important to them — a race for the state Senate or their sheriff’s race, in Grant County.
It’s pretty obvious that substantial party maneuvering has been taking place, and not necessarily to voters’ benefit. Pat Bomhack of Dodgeville originally was running for the 51st Assembly District (which primary he lost in 2012), when he suddenly changed his mind and decided to run for the 17th. Apparently state Democratic leadership thinks Bomhack is more electable than the first 17th candidate, Ernie Wittwer of Hillpoint, against Rep. Howard Marklein (R–Spring Green). As an added bonus Democrat Dick Cates of Spring Green doesn’t have to worry about a primary and can wait for whichever of the four Republicans running for the 51st emerges.
The converse is taking place in the Grant and Lafayette county sheriffs’ races, with the same lack of voter benefit. Whoever wins the Republican primary — and the Aug. 12 election is likely to be as much a low-turnout election as most primaries are — will be on the ballot by himself during the higher-turnout general election Nov. 4. Neither Democrats nor independents will be on the ballot. Without a write-in candidate — and the chances of a write-in candidate winning a countywide race are as good as the Cubs winning the 2014 World Series — Lafayette County will get another Republican sheriff, and Grant County either will get the current Republican sheriff, or a new Republican sheriff.
As has been written on this page before in response to my previous comments, there is a long tradition in this nation of having elected county positions, particularly sheriffs, because the sheriffs of England were selected, not elected, and thus not accountable to the citizens. (Sheriffs also have authority in civil issues that police chiefs do not have.) If, the argument goes, we elect people to create our laws, we should also elect people to enforce those laws, or at least those who manage those who enforce those laws, because those who are dissatisfied with their work can vote for a different sheriff next election.
At a minimum, though, the services sheriffs, district attorneys, clerks, treasurers, registers of deeds and coroners provide should not be based on whether the office-holder has a D or an R after his or her name. Democrats or Republicans are so entrenched in many counties of this state that there is no competition for those positions, since one way to get out of favor with the local party in power is to run against its incumbents, meaning change only occurs when the incumbents retire. (Lafayette and Iowa counties are exceptions, with Republican sheriffs and Democratic district attorneys. Iowa County has four Democratic office-holders, including the clerk, register of deeds and coroner, and three Republican office-holders, including the treasurer and clerk of court.)
This is not an issue of favoring one party over the other, and it’s not an issue of favoring one candidate over his opponent, or opponents. The purpose of elections is to allow voters to choose who they want to represent them — to make decisions and spend their tax dollars. The purpose of elections should not be to game the system so that the party leadership-preferred candidate is chosen over other candidates. The purpose of elections also should not be to cement one party’s stronghold on one particular elective office.
And by the way: The final issue for political letters-to-the-editor to be published prior to the Aug. 12 primary election will be next week, which means any letters have to be here by the end of Friday. Depending on available space, not all letters will be printed. Note that we don’t run “Vote for _____” or “I’m endorsing _____” letters, because those kinds of letters are really advertising.