Sunday, November 12, 2017


By Dominique Paul Noth

Roy Moore (left) vs. Doug Jones, a hot time in Alabama.
There is a surprising 38th parallel in politics that routine candidate ads are not supposed to cross even if third parties do.  The line is using legally unproven crimes and scandals from the past against an opponent in last minute ads -- despite their availability in news stories. 

It is amazing – and sometimes quite pleasing -- how cautious even today are political ads by candidates about using such material in the final weeks of a campaign.  Except if your name is Donald Trump.

Part of it is self-preservation, part fear of backlash accusations of gutter politics but some reasons are moral scruples.

Nowhere has this been truer than in the state you’d expect it to be less true right now – Alabama.  Defrocked justice and wannabe senator Roy Moore may use every radio outlet he can find to blame opposing candidate Doug Jones, the Democrats,, even George Soros for smear tactics and gutter politics four weeks before the senate electoral vote, though the well researched Washington Post story about child sexual molestation in 1979, when she was 14 and he was 32, was clearly dragged out of people in multiple interviews and hardly initiated by political opponents.

In fact, the Jones campaign has been scrupulous to not use the ugliness  even in its email solicitations, which fill my email box and many others.

(Editor's note: On a Monday filled with fresh revelations, the Jones campaign went a tad further, praising the courage of the women who came forward to accuse Moore.)

It is Moore’s fellow Republicans who immediately expressed their doubts about his innocence, partly because they already thought his views unhinged but most prominently because they agree with Mitt Romney’s tweet:  “Innocent until proven guilty is for criminal convictions, not elections.” Every time he tries to address going out with teenagers as a man in his thirties, he reinforces the allegations.

Despite the rantings from the Moore’s side, and perhaps because  of the timing of the report (like the true but late DUI report about  George Bush),  the most the Jones campaign at this writing has said in email solicitations is that their candidate is gaining momentum, a common fund-raising come-on.

Over the weekend they still avoided the story:  “So now Moore is hiding from reporters, refusing to debate Doug, and running a MAJOR ad campaign to defeat us!”  And sure enough, after leaving the airwaves largely to Jones’ common sense persuasions that even a Democrat could work better with both sides of the aisle than Moore could, the Moore third party camp is launching a last minute ad blitz. They are not sure if the religious faithful will stand by Moore even harder as many think or drift away in the privacy of the voting booth.

Wisconsin, fortunately, has nothing as horrible.  But in fact the pettiness in crossing that line is notable in some preliminary social media posts by campaigns, and to me that is disturbing this early in the election season. 

So far these are minor blips and slips on the Wisconsin  campaign trail and I sometime fear I am behaving like a Puritan policeman beating the early brush for intrusions, whispers, sly wording or unneeded interpolation signaling ethics slipperage.

I don’t want to be too pure of heart here, but I am hearing snideness already among supporters of the 17 announced or almost announced Democratic candidates for governor (there’s a list at the end of this story). Several of the snide will have ad responsibility for their choices. I think the Democrats’ success in Virginia stemmed in large part from knowing when to put away the intramural knives, and I already sense how little hiccups now can slide across the ethical line. 

In that spirit, let me fret about something four months ahead of the non-partisan primary and spring election, mitigated I suspect by a boiling understandable anger within the electorate of wanting to know how the judges they elect will rule on their issues, so biased to the conservative side is the state’s highest court right now.

Tim Burns, the most openly left candidate running for Wisconsin Supreme Court, has used social media to point readers to the news stories about an opponent in the race, strongly supported by Republicans, ticketed for trespassing and obstruction in 1989 during an abortion protest. Now Michael Screnock’s opposition to abortion, given his right-wing ruttings, is hardly a surprise and there were plea deals that apparently allowed him to become a judge.   

That was not pointed out in the Burns campaign message.  Screnock’s behavior was a disqualifying factor for me when I read the news, but I didn’t like a candidate using it outside the more balanced media. And then telling people how to think by posting mug shots with the tagline: “Does this seem like Michael Screnock would respect women's rights?”

I’m sure I’m about to offend someone, but why does a belief in abortion automatically brand someone as disrespectful to women and not worth the trouble of trying to recruit to progressive viewpoints?

There is another one – a Burns email solicitation I regard as too sly for its own good, talking about an event in which a reporter asked each candidate to name a justice they admired.  Milwaukee Judge Rebecca Dallet, pursuing the same liberal voters that Burns is, mentioned Sara Dey O’Connor – not for her decisions, she emphasized to the reporter, but her acknowledged diligence and listening in approaching issues.  

Look how that came out in the Burns email solicitation.

The differences in this election could not be more clear . . . 
Last week, a reporter asked which U.S. Supreme Court Justice each of the candidates admired most.
What did my opponents say? Republican Justices Scalia and O'Connor.
My answer? Thurgood Marshall.”

Now I also admire the late Marshall, though the civil rights activism that marked his career are hardly the cases that will come before the state supreme court where we need balance.

And I was bothered at the conflation of his opponents – who cited whom and why? --  especially since Dallet went out of her way to explain her choice of O’Connor as a justice she didn’t always agree with but who didn’t wear politics on her sleeve, which she thinks hurts high courts today.

While some think the voters just want to know which side justices are on – given how right-wing the state court has been – Dallet told me in an interview she believes a blatant political tilt can be toxic, that people are afraid to bring cases to the court if they already sense how a judge is leaning.
Randy Bryce running against Paul Ryan . . . 

I sure felt similar twinges about Dan Bice’s JS story pointing out how candidate Randy Bryce had a three months delay in child support payments, since rectified.  There was no support issue between him and his former wife; she knows iron work is seasonal and that Randy is a devoted father who’s always there for his 11-year old son. And I understand Bice scours public records for news.
. . . has dominated the headlines Cathy Myers
thinks ignore her campaign.

I didn’t understand why Cathy Myers, Bryce’s fellow progressive in seeking to displace Paul Ryan from the First District House – a goal I sincerely agree with – would jump on this delay as some sort of character issue.  Frankly, Bryce’s struggle to maintain child support is something a lot of voters will admire, and it emphasizes how he is not entering this contest with the big bucks that Ryan has behind him.

Still, Myers is a most respectable and welcome candidate, with strong support in Janesville for her school board races and certainly articulate on many of the issues in the race. She is clearly miffed at all the publicity Bryce has engendered from his earliest videos and the force of his image and personality as a striking contrast to Paul Ryan. 

It was that enthusiasm that last October 5 produced this tweet from her: “Like too many women, I know what it's like to prepare, work hard & be successful only to be ignored in favor of a less qualified man.”

Well, some may sympathize with that blunt assessment.  But it is also true that a traditional progressive opponent, which is what Myers is, hasn’t generated the headlines and interest that Bryce has in this race.  It’s because of the IronStache campaign that Ryan for the first time in years is running a bit scared. Add to that his abysmal record as speaker of the house clinging to Trump in D.C. while pretending to voters back home he is maintaining a distance.

Some of this is the normal bitterness and contrast that candidates, even when they actually have  similar views and aims, engage in to convince voters – but the issue is always how well they come together to fight for their side when the time for storms and disparagement passes.  And if the voters in this bitter national era are now willing to understand and forgive such games.

Final note: Current list of Democratic candidates for governor

Some detail is required in  referring to the large field of Democrats looking to run against Scott Walker for governor, though the field will be weeded down June 1 depending on nomination papers and then again that same June weekend by the Democratic state convention.

But right now, the known names statewide are quite interesting:

Newcomer Bob Harlow was early out of the gate and should be included along with former Reps. Kelda Helen Roys and Brett Hulsey, Madison Mayor Paul Soglin, current Rep. Dana Wachs, state Sen. Kathleen Vinehout, state school superintendent Tony Evers, Blue Jean movement’s Mike McCabe, businessman Andy Gronik, lawyer and active former candidate Matt Flynn and firefighter leader Mahlon Mitchell, who ran for lieutenant governor with Tom Barrett.

But aside from these better known statewide candidates there are interesting others in the race: Madison business leader Michele Doolan, former state candidate David Heaster from Fort Atkinson, Sheboygan businessman Kurt Jason Kober, former candidate Jared William Landry from LaFarge, Madison minister Andrew Lust,  Jeffrey Rumbaugh, an advocate for the disabled,  and photographer Ramona Rose Whiteaker from Stoughton.   

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 original 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. From 2002 to 2013 he ran the Milwaukee Labor Press as editor. It served as the Midwest’s largest home-delivered labor newspaper, with archives at  In that role he won top awards yearly until the paper stopped publishing in 2013. His investigative pieces and extensive commentaries are now published by several news outlets as well as his culture and politics outlets known as Dom's Domain.  His award-winning theater reviews appear at

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