Down the Ballot

Breaking down the choices this election season

By Dave Skinner

Election Day 2016 is looking to be America’s worst ever. We’ve always gotten the government most of us deserve, right? Facing not just one, but four of the lousiest candidates for president, ever – I’ll shuffle down to the polls, squinch my eyes, bite my lip bloody, and vote for the least worst – again. Yep. For Donald Trump.

Why? Because if Hillary Clinton wins and her “victory” spills down the ballot to Congress, she’ll be able to pack not only the U.S. Supreme Court, but the entire United States federal court system with young, diverse, healthy leftist radicals. Once that happens, our great experiment in self-governance of, by and for the people, is over. Don’t think so? Well, my condolences.

But I’m not going to just be voting for president, I’ll be going right down the ballot, voting like a good Republican should – even way down the ballot for the initiatives. Marsy’s law? Maybe. The pot initiative? Nope, dope. Biomedical? Sorry, but against billions spent nationwide, $2 million a year is utter waste. Trapping ban? Animal-rights fetishism, period. Heck no.

Finally, I’m going to crawl all the way down the ballot and vote in the “nonpartisan” judicial races. This year we get to vote on three Supreme court seats, two unopposed. The incumbents, Chief Justice Mike McGrath and Justice Jim Shea, must still stand for “retention” elections in which 50 percent of the ballots cast must be marked. I’ll leave McGrath blank. But, when Jim Shea was appointed by Gov. Steve Bullock, I studied the applicants and Shea was the best pick.

Then we have the open-seat Supreme Court contest (to replace retiring liberal Justice Patricia Cotter), between Dirk Sandefur of Great Falls and Kristen Juras of Missoula,

Is there a difference that matters? Sure – the court has power over the other two branches of Montana’s government.

Don’t let that “nonpartisan race” horsepucky fool you, either. For many reasons, the Montana Supreme Court is fully partisan.

For an example, give yourself a whirl through Google for recent writings by and about two former Montana justices, James C. Nelson, and Terry Trieweiler, who upon his resignation from the court in 2003, was pegged by media as having “anchored the liberal wing of the Montana Supreme Court for a dozen years.”

Then there was a study on “State Supreme Court Ideology” done by Stanford wonks in 2012. Using a system that tracks campaign contribution records, these geeks determined that Montana’s Supreme Court was the sixth most liberal in America. Really? Even stranger, the elected court was well to the left of the elected Legislature. How come?

Well, that’s simple. Without “party” political infrastructure to support these expensive statewide “nonpartisan” races, there needs to be a substitute to “inform voters” – especially if you are a lawyer who makes a living in front of these judges.

Therefore, as duly reported by Jayme Fraser of the Billings Gazette, starting in “2002, political action committees, primarily those backed by the Montana Trial Lawyers Association (MTLA), began fundraising and spending more than the candidates.”

For 2016’s Juras/Sandefur race, MTLA and “other attorneys — via three political action committees: Montana Law, Montanans for Experienced Judges and Montanans for Liberty and Justice — have collectively raised more than $400,000 since early last year” and are expected to support Sandefur.

MTLA is opposed in the money race by the nationwide Republican State Leadership Committee, (fronted by the “Judicial Fairness Initiative”), which Fraser reported has a fat national kitty but has allocated fairly little to Montana – so far. If they spend, it will be in support of Juras.

Obviously, large businesses with deep pockets, and trial lawyers seeking to drain those pockets, have the most at stake before the Montana judiciary, and it’s appropriate that they “invest.” But it’s a sad thing when we see deceptively named PACs on both sides playing word kabuki in order to manipulate voters – I mean, who doesn’t like “Experienced Judges” or “Judicial Fairness?” I sure do, but I prefer they be conservative, too – so, I’m muting all the ads and voting for Juras.

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