TV pundits joke that where “God, gays and guns” once defined Republican concerns, mortal terror of the lobbying power of the National Rifle Association has replaced that with “guns, guns and more guns.” There’s truth in that even as the majority of the country, including responsible gun owners in the NRA and most Republicans, wants some sensible controls, such as the universal background checks promoted by all the Democrats running statewide August 12 for attorney general.
Now the NRA has stuck its nose into the Milwaukee August 12 election, expecting opposition will melt away in terror of its gun power. That expectation is backfiring as residents learning of the intrusion react angrily to ignorance and flat deception in a local urban race.
|Christopher Moews is likely to benefit from|
the NRA's fund-raising intrusion from afar
for David Clarke. Moews is shown speaking
to a community forum.
Clarke has simply not generated as much local campaign money or helpful headlines as his outrageous posturing once did, and he senses he’s behind. He needs cash from outside Wisconsin, maybe to concoct some last-minute flurry and radio and TV ads. He could also be laying some groundwork for a loss. How can the NRA now not support him in any future career move?
Most Milwaukeeans on the Democratic side are not NRA members or sympathizers – and even those who are will likely be offended by this abnormal fund-raising plea from executive director Chris Cox. Personalized by first name, it contains a near apology for breaking in on people’s computer time for something other than a legislative issue or an attack on liberal members of the US Congress. It falsely suggests that this is a “special election” called specifically because Clarke has spoken up for the NRA cause and is under attack from “anti-gunners working overtime” on behalf of Obama.
The NRA email list is not being told the truth -- that Aug. 12 is a normal Democratic primary. Let me say that slowly: D-e-m-o-c-r-a-t-i-c. When was the last time the NRA network was pursuing money for a Democrat?
Of course, Clarke is a no-Democrat Democrat. In his typical political opportunism, he has run as one since 2002 aware that no open Republican in modern times has carried this election.
|There's little polling in the sheriff's race, but by most anecdotes|
and Clarke's desperate call to the NRA, strong turnout
Aug. 12 could put Christopher Moews in the office,
restoring respectability to the county.
He wants to restore the sheriff’s department to a valued place in local law enforcement – the cooperative approach that Clarke stole from the department. And while he supports Democratic Party values, he also says this office should not be a partisan contest.
If you ask other local law enforcement officials, they say Clarke has destroyed morale and abandoned the county’s close roles and respect in metropolitan policing policies. But they credit him with mastery of self-promotion, relying for years on a complacent media accepting his grandiose pretenses of action.
In the past few years, the usual protective club of law enforcement officials openly had it with Clarke. Quietly his colleagues in multi-jurisdictional task forces (such as OWI efforts against drunk driving) quietly removed him from authority.
Even Milwaukee police chief Ed Flynn responded last year to Clarke’s attack on his successful methods and his radio ad calling on the public to arm themselves with guns as a better option than calling 911.
“The data continue to show that no one has more to say about law enforcement in Milwaukee County and less to actually do with it than Sheriff Clarke," noted Flynn. Meanwhile the head of the deputy sheriffs association described Clarke’s rush for headlines as inciting vigilantism.
He has also been forced by administrative hearings to curb his ramrod bossism. He has trumpeted and then abandoned costly public relations programs in drug interdiction and taking guns at random from passing cars (NRA, you didn’t know?). He defiantly padded his department budget when Scott Walker was around as county executive to protect a right-wing ally’s indiscriminate spending and power grabs.
Given that history, this NRA fund-raising blitz, which was supposed to have liberals shaking in their boots, doesn’t seem to be making a dent among the knowledgeable. It landed in many mailboxes the same day the community learned that Sierra Guyton, the 10 year old caught in gun battle crossfire at a playground, had died. That carried far more meaning about the excess of guns in our community.
The NRA attempt came with Sandy Hook and dozens of other mass shootings fresh in the news, reminding voters how common sense advances to protect children were sidetracked by the NRA’s call to arm teachers or, even more absurd as current events prove, that only a good guy with a gun could stop a bad guy with a gun.
It came at a time when Milwaukee children were shooting themselves playing with pistols adults left loosely around the house, when news reports nationally focused on the growing epidemic of accidental shootings. It came in a nation finally concentrating on debating the best steps to protect neighbors and children from the outrageous number of guns and discuss the mental state of users rather than believing that anyone who parrots the NRA line is automatically believable.
I first met Clarke in 2002 as editor for the Milwaukee Labor Press, wondering who was that guy in crisp uniform poking his head over an unknowing US Rep. John Lewis, along with Tom Barrett, Marvin Pratt and other dignitaries in every photo op, seeking to steal some thunder during a civil rights march. The hosts of the event along Martin Luther King Drive couldn’t identify him.
He seemed a relatively toothless publicity hound (appointed to fill a vacancy by an interim Republican governor), pushing his presence into the TV cameras and dodging questions about his political views, drifting into lightly controversial ideas about school uniforms. Things became uglier at the county when he promoted sycophants over proven seniority and dismissed past practices while insisting on authority over the beaches, the airport, the freeways and visiting dignitaries attracting national media – always complaining he didn’t have the manpower or a big enough budget.
Such behavior was tolerated for a while (I can even name some respected political experts who helped him start out). Even openly skeptical Democrats thought he might mature from a fiend for publicity into a more malleable law and order guy -- until he started tearing the canvas of the big tent party to shreds with ever more outlandish ideas and strutting.
He catered to the promotional interest on his far right. He saw his most extreme statements get noticed by talk radio, FOX News and organizations like the NRA. Other media saw a chance to sell newspapers by paying more attention than logic warranted to the droppings from his loose lips. His rhetorical toughness grew in inverse proportion to his abilities. Statements and platforms turned more extreme. He launched into personal attacks on any politicians – or deputies or chiefs or administrative monitors or even top judges – who questioned his methods.
Finally the courts and officials had to step in, shoot him down on personnel issues, limit his courthouse antics and wrest his control of the house of corrections.
|Penis envy? Clarke's attack on Chris Abele (right) was typically|
concocted to generate media coverage and succeeded with this
double image leading off the JS story.
Once Clarke on the air meant listeners. Today it’s more ho-hum, which simply encourages greater invective on his part. So few outside the NRA leadership take him seriously -- “all hat and no cattle” as described in my 2010 column.
Pretending this race is all about gun rights, the NRA has actually stepped into a hornets’ nest in both political parties. The email support for Clarke may even be working against his one-time close Republican ally, Scott Walker, who worked hard to make sure he had no Republican challenger in the August primary and only has to face likely Democratic candidate Mary Burke in November.
But part of that strategy was making Walker seem popular in August. So his campaign team is making robo-calls to encourage August 12 votes on their side of the ballot to manufacture a good showing for Walker.
Those receiving the NRA pitch are mainly Republicans, the people Clarke may need to survive while the Walker camp is fighting against such crossover votes. The governor’s people could be learning again what it’s like to be run over when national conservative organizations put his re-election second to their own schemes. That seems to have just happened in the John Doe case where the right deliberately exposed Walker to ridicule. Clarke’s self-promotion may be doing it again.
Today Clarke serves mainly as a negative example. Politicians who don’t always agree with each other on specific issues seem to be arguing about who detests him the most.
County Executive Chris Abele – who broke his own civility rules by talking email trash about Clarke and inadvertently revealing his own thin skin by responding in kind -- criticized the county board for not cutting the sheriff’s budget and responsibilities as deeply as Abele wished, particularly his idea of turning county parks patrols over to the city police because Clarke was not doing that job. The board’s budget choices actually supported other deep cuts to Clarke’s kingdom but wanted parks patrol to remain under the county’s jurisdiction.
Yet Abele has been joined in his criticism of the board by candidates Abele supports for legislative office, and even candidates with more believable progressive credentials opposing those Abele candidates (note how many of the folks are running against supervisors seeking the same legislative offices). There are times where the county board deserve barbs for being retaliatory but it was surprising how many journalists joined this particular criticism, deciding the board was acting out of dislike for Abele and a curious buddying up to Clarke. Curious since their outspoken unhappiness with Clarke predates Abele.
I interpret it more as looking ahead for Moews to win – the optimism that someday the public by vote will return respectability to the sheriff’s office. The board saw no reason to attack the legitimate scope of the office in dislike for the man running it into the ground -- not if he is likely to go away. Slapping Clarke down but preserving the parks patrol and those attached deputy jobs may prove the best step forward in municipal cooperation and new recognition for a better sheriff and his deputies. I think the board was taking a longer view than the county executive.
Supervisor Gerry Broderick (who points out he is running for nothing and can speak plainly) puts it simply. “We were looking forward to the day when a real lawman like Moews takes over and returns the sheriff’s office to full sobriety” – which includes patrol of the county parks.
That day should be August 12. Electing Moews is now the most important reason for Milwaukee to vote. NRA meddling without facts should spur that turnout.
About the author: Noth has been a professional journalist since the 1960s, first as national, international and local news copy editor at The Milwaukee Journal, then as an editor for its famous entertainment Green Sheet, also for almost two decades the paper’s film and drama critic. He also created its Friday Weekend section and ran Sunday TV Screen magazine and Lively Arts as he became the newspaper’s senior feature editor. He was tapped by the publishers of the combining Milwaukee Journal Sentinel for special projects and as first online news producer before voluntarily departing in the mid-1990s to run online news seminars and write on public affairs and Internet and consumer news.