In The News
The empty sheriff and the quirks of primary politics
By Dominique Paul Noth
Editor, Labor Press,
August 29, 2010
The Republican candidate for sheriff, Steven Duckhorn, won’t face an opponent until November 2. Who it will be depends on what happens on the Democratic side of the straight ticket primary Sept. 14, where impressive Milwaukee Police Lieutenant Chris Moews dukes it out with the current sheriff, David Clarke, who has relied on suburban voters and conservative talk radio image to sail to earlier victories.
The equation may have changed this year, but Clarke is clearly disinterested. Invited early to participate in a High Noon forum Aug. 29 for all the sheriff’s candidates, he left the South Side in the lurch along with families (many Hispanic at this bilingual event), eager to learn what a sheriff will do about safety issues and budget management,
The Republican was there though he doesn’t have to run for months. Moews was there ready to discuss change. Clarke alone declined to show up.
“That empty chair speaks volumes,” noted Duckhorn, like Meows a career lawman anxious to see the current Milwaukee County sheriff’s department improve.
Moews detailed his extensive credentials and desire for executive leadership he has long prepared for. His main reasons for being in the race, he noted, was to fulfill the neglected promises of safer streets and lakefront (Clarke hasn’t added a deputy in seven years, Moews noted) and better use of tight resources (news stories have detailed how Clarke has frittered money away on a series of failed projects).
The crowd, clearly disappointed by Clarke’s absence, was nevertheless attentive to both the candidates there – and anxious to see life on their streets and in their neighborhoods get much better.
Clarke’s indifference did speak volumes – but mainly that he doesn’t see a threat given his past victories. Clearly he’s not a RINO (Republican In Name Only) but a ROKJustNINA (Republican OK Just Not In Name At-all) since he hangs out on that ideological side except when he’s running for re-election, given the county’s historical preference to vote Democratic for sheriff.
This year could be far different. Many suburban citizens want to voice a preference in the GOP contest between Mark Neumann and Scott Walker to face Democrat Tom Barrett in the November 2 race for governor. Walker’s polling puts him way ahead; more neutral polling suggests the race is one heck of a lot closer, a few percentage points.
Republicans, being out of power, are more motivated to vote on their side of the ballot in the primary, and citizens who don’t flaunt party affiliations may be drawn to the Walker-Neumann dustup. So expect a lot of pundit hay to be chewed up over the Republican side turnout in Milwaukee County (likely inflated) and the Democratic side turnout (largely deflated since ballot rules don’t allow crossovers).
The primary occurs a mere week after Labor Day, traditionally the holiday only after which people start thinking politics. The GOP has been pressing its support base for months while the Democrats are only now gearing up for November (since Barrett has only token opposition in the primary).
This sets up an interesting scenario – first, the likelihood that too much will be made out of primary party results, and second, if real Democrats stay in their lane and the squishier Dems work the GOP side of the aisle, results could be quite different in some legislative races and in the sheriff’s race in Milwaukee County.
All this made the South Side voters eager to understand the differences between Clarke, who has been a massive disappointment to their families, and Moews, endorsed by the Milwaukee Area Labor Council and many influential individuals and groups. It was also a chance to learn more about Duckhorn.
The general mood was that the citizens regretted not being able to ask their questions of the current sheriff. They represent an enormously growing and vote-oriented population in Milwaukee (Latinos have increased 43% since the last census count).
Sponsors of the forum were Voces de la Frontera, the Milwaukee Spanish Center and the churches and affiliates of MICAH. The moderator was a noted broadcast professional (host of Milwaukee Pubic Television’s Adelante!), Patricia Gomez.