What is it that scares judges about running for election? This week at the Kentucky Bar convention in Louisville, the talk is all about how a Texas millionaire bought a congressional seat in Northern Kentucky and how this kind of politics could upset the plans of current and future judges to hold office.
You the voter should take notice. What was preserved in the 1976 change to our judicial system in Kentucky is under attack. Voters are no longer trusted by the judicial minds in our Commonwealth.
Prior to 1976 all judges ran on a partisan ballot. The idea of making judicial elections nonpartisan was highly disfavored, but a constitutional amendment was passed by the voters in very few counties to take partisanship out of the courtroom. Most of Kentucky wanted to control who sat as judge. The right to elect judges was fiercely protected, but the right of judges to run under a party banner was traded off. Now the right to elect judges is under attack again.
The real fear has less to do with the rights of voters than it has to do with the influence of “big money” in campaigns. But the discussions are being muddied. The talk is about throwing the baby out with the dirty water. The solutions being offered include creating an elite committee of people to “appoint” judges. To avoid the influence of money some are saying that we need to destroy the power of people. This is a very dangerous slope upon which to embark.
One legislative proposal passed by the House Judiciary Committee in this past session called for public financing of judicial races. But this clearly wouldn’t solve the problem of big money influencing elections by way of Super PACS. All it would do is increase the tax burden on citizens without fixing a thing, a result which is becoming the comfort zone for Kentucky’s Legislature.
No doubt the Bar is as concerned as the rest of us should be over the recent developments on the American political scene where only millionaires or those with millionaire friends have any chance to offer themselves to the honorable calling to public service. But exhibiting such blatant distrust of the voter, as the proposals under consideration seem to do, is a very poor starting point for fixing the problem.
What voters need is greater transparency in campaign finance than that which the current SuperPAC laws provide and a more robust and balanced media that can help to offset the impact of massive advertising campaigns bought and paid for by those with private agendas.
Destroying our right to vote is a horrible idea.
Marcus Carey is a Northern Kentucky lawyer with 32 years experience. He is also a farmer, talk radio host and public speaker who loves history and politics. He is a prolific and accomplished writer whose blog, BluegrassBulletin.com is “dedicated to honest and respectful comment on the political and cultural issues of our time.” He writes a regular commentary for KyForward.