Ignoring The Rabbit Trail
By Kevin Rex Heine, Section News
A favorite political campaign strategy is to keep one's opponent off balance. Keep them on the defensive, keep them reacting, get them chasing down rabbit trails and responding to red herrings. Anything at all to have your opponent operating in "reactive mode" instead of "proactive mode." In a tight race, getting into an opponent's head, or into the head of her campaign team, can throw them off their game, and perhaps enable an easier victory than otherwise would happen (perhaps even snatching victory from the apparent jaws of defeat).
Back in July, a letter began circulating by e-mail. The attachment was a PDF copy of a letter sent by the Cass County Republican Chair to all republican county and district chairs, Bobby Schostak (Chairman, Michigan Republican Party), Richard Studley (Chairman, Michigan Chamber of Commerce), all four republican nominees to the Michigan Supreme Court bench, and both republican candidates for the vacancy nomination that will be decided this Saturday. The point of the letter was to alert people that Colleen O'Brien has a verifiable donation trail going back as far as July of 2004 . . . to democrat organizations and democrat candidates. (This trail comes forward at least as far as October of 2009.) And gauging by the tone of Bill LaBre's letter, this may just be the tip of the iceberg.
Of course, not really a surprise, Colleen O'Brien's campaign issued a rebuttal about a week and a half later. In that rebuttal, O'Brien claims that contributions to the Oakland County Democrat Party (and she speaks of three separate contributions to the OCDP, whereas LaBre only cites one) were done either as a favor for friends who were selling tickets, or to support a fellow judicial colleague who happened to be a Democrat. She further claims to have been a regular donor to the Oakland County Republican Party (and republican candidates) going back to the early 90s, including specifically L. Brooks Patterson and Mike Bouchard.
Then, of course, there's the claim and counter-claim as to exactly when Judge O'Brien started getting involved in Republican Party politics. Jim Alexander, chairman of the Oakland County Republican Party from 1988 to 1994, has claimed, and it's in open circulation on FaceBook, that O'Brien has been a regular contributor to the Oakland County Republican "Lincoln Club" for as long as he can remember. This is in direct contrast to at least a dozen people in Oakland County whom I've spoken to, all known republican grassroots types, spread more or less evenly among the four congressional districts (8th, 9th, 11th, & 14th), who are prepared to swear on the record that they can't recall having seen O'Brien at so much as a single republican event (county or district) prior to last fall's Mackinac Conference. Ditto, by the way, for several county party chairs on the west side of the state.
The concern that O'Brien may be a Democrat is further fueled by a rumor that she was, until last summer, on the Michigan Democrat Party's short list for potential nominees to fill the seat being vacated by Justice Marilyn Kelly . . . the exact same vacancy for which she is currently seeking the Republican nomination! And no, I wouldn't put it past Mark Brewer to plant a mole in the conservative majority on the court.
The final piece of scuttlebutt circulating is that Colleen O'Brien is campaigning on the Oakland County taxpayers' dime. Alleged evidence of this is a caseload comparison from Westlaw Review showing that Judge O'Brien's 2012 docket load is only a smidge over half of what it should be through July 31st of this year, and she has issued no opinions from the bench, while Judge Markey's caseload (measured by judicial opinion) is not that far off from what it normally is through the same "checkpoint." The problem with this comparison is that, while the standard that Westlaw uses to determine "judicial opinions" for an appeals court judge is fairly straightforward (the fact that Markey was on the three-judge panel that wrote the opinion), additional context is needed to make sense out of O'Brien's numbers.
Unless you have the spare time and money to invest into running every one of these shadows down, then any time spent doing so is effort wasted chasing smoke, with no reason to expect to find a fire, even though it should be there. It's a distraction, and I find myself agreeing with O'Brien on this one point, that it's pretty sad that a judicial nomination race degenerates into a contest over who wrote the most checks to which party, or who has been more involved with which party and for longer. Trust me; we have better things to discuss with regard to this race.
However, Judge O'Brien has posted on her "Latest Emails" page (a subpage of her "Events & News" page) a link to a letter sent out by "Trucker Randy" Bishop entitled "Setting the Record Straight on the Michigan Supreme Court Race" that mentions me by name as someone allegedly accusing O'Brien of having less than champion positions, background, and agendas, among other things, as a backhanded way to support Markey. Clearly, she didn't learn from what happened to Saul Anuzis when he challenged my credibility in public absent evidence. Quite frankly, after reading the letter twice, the only thing that seems to be missing is the Paid For by Colleen O'Brien for Justice disclaimer.
This may sound like harsh treatment, but re-read the piece. In reference to Judge Jane Markey, we learn that Trucker Randy has heard a few of her speeches, hugged her a couple of times, and considers her "a genuinely nice person." With O'Brien, we get an in-depth if utterly banal description of her Catholic upbringing. This, and nothing more, is written to "prove" that O'Brien is a "Champion of Right to Life." Well, I suppose that I should point out that Nancy Pelosi is Catholic, and even describes herself as a "devout" Catholic who "honors her faith" . . . I don't see any reasonable person referring to Pelosi as pro-life.
Colleen O'Brien's own say-so is all the proof Trucker Randy rolls out to establish that his candidate of choice is pro-life. This conveniently ignores two facts: First, in all of her election campaigns, Judge Markey has always been endorsed by Right to Life. Second, in all of her election campaigns, Judge O'Brien has never once been endorsed by Right to Life. Never . once . !!!
So, other than ipse dixit, what is the proof that O'Brien is pro life? By the way, Trucker, what is Judge Markey's religion? Is she Catholic, Presbyterian, Anglican, Baptist, Lutheran? We don't know because it seems obvious from the piece that Randy never spoke to Judge Markey about anything. Randy also doesn't mention that, as recently as August 27th, three days before he circulated his letter, Bishop was publicly proclaiming the virtues of Jane Markey on FaceBook to anyone who would read his commentary.
Let's start with something undisputed. As a Court of Appeals judge, every decision in which Judge Markey participated is immediately placed online on the Court of Appeals website. Anyone can review not just one case, but literally thousands of cases, and all from the privacy and comfort of his living room . . . for free. In contrast, and again this is undisputed, circuit judges rarely issue written opinions, and nothing they do automatically goes on-line.
So voting for a circuit judge - this would be Judge O'Brien - is a gamble because we don't really know her track record. This is just so obvious, why are we debating it?
But wait! Trucker Randy has a rebuttal. This is what he says (really, he actually says this!):
"Some people have falsely claimed that we can't see all of Judge O'Brien's cases, ... so voting for her would be a gamble. My research proved that every word that is spoken by her or anyone in her court room has been recorded by a court reporter. ANYONE can go to the Oakland County Court Clerk and request a full or partial transcript of any case, anytime they want."
Hear that, Western Upper Peninsula delegates? Don't be so lazy. Get into your car, drive the 12 hours to the Oakland County Courthouse. Find the Court Clerk's office. Request a full or partial transcript of any case anytime you want! Oh, and don't forget to bring money for the transcript fee. And you'll need a case number, or at least the name of one of the parties to the case.
Randy's counter to that, in our phone conversation minutes before the e-mail was published, was that the Oakland County Circuit Court does make their court records available online. What he doesn't note is that, as is made clear in the user guide, all you can actually do from the convenience of your own home is requisition the records in question. You still have to wait at least two days for delivery (if you want the PDF copy by e-mail), or however fast snail mail is moving these days. Oh, and don't forget that you're going to have to cough over a Washington per page, plus a Hamilton per case number if you want a certified copy of that record. And let's not forget that you still need to know - in advance - either the case number or the name of one of the parties to the case . . . and you still don't get to know if you've found what you're looking for until after the records are already in your hands.
So maybe we could stipulate that the judicial record of Colleen O'Brien is "open" in the sense that it's publicly available to a slightly greater degree than counties that don't have their court records online. But seriously, Trucker, are you seriously trying to equate "more publicly available" with "freely searchable online" and claim that one is just as open as the other? Honestly, Randy, some basic fact-checking research would have been nice.
Trucker Randy notes in his letter that O'Brien has contributed to Democrats, but assures us that it was only for "tickets to events where colleagues were being honored." But he conveniently omits the time frame. It was less than 3 years ago, and was $250 to attend the Democrat Phil Hartman Dinner for the pleasure of listening to Congressman Barney Frank! How does Randy know that she only attended because she had Democrat friends being honored? He does not say, but this has been the O'Brien campaign's shaky spin on this fact all along.
But Randy's greatest error is of omission. He somehow tries, though unsuccessfully in my view, to obscure the meaning of O'Brien's Democratic contributions by ignoring her lack of Republican contributions. Look for them, if you wish. I haven't found any for prior to this year.
Randy acknowledges that he has never actually seen O'Brien at a Republican event. But it is okay, he assures us: he spoke to a personal friend of O'Brien and this personal friend assured Randy that O'Brien "attends" Lincoln Day Dinners regularly. It is passing strange how no actual contributions from O'Brien to the Republican Party or any Republican candidate (before she began running for Supreme Court as a Republican) appear anywhere on public election contribution filings. Randy also is mum on those who have contributed to O'Brien's races for judge, like the Teamster 1038 PAC - Detroit, that contributed $500 to her. Seriously, Randy, as a Freedom To Work guy, you're supposed to be all aware of some of these union shenanigans. How often do the Detroit Teamsters contribute to Republicans? The Teamsters Union?
How does the O'Brien campaign diffuse these uncomfortable truths? How do they balance their candidate against Judge Jane Markey, who has contributed tens of thousands of dollars to the Republican Party and Republican candidates, a woman who has been a fixture in the Republican Party for 20 years? How do they respond when asked to provide any paper trail whatsoever for any contributions by Colleen O'Brien to any republican at all prior to September of 2011? Trucker Randy digs up an obscure link that shows that 22 years ago a young lawyer named Jane Markey contributed $110 to Justice Patricia Boyle, a non-partisan justice who was originally appointed to the bench by a Republican Governor (Bill Milliken, specifically).
But wait, Randy! How do you know that Ms. Markey was not just attending an event where some of her colleagues were being honored? In the face of multiple donations to Democrats, that is O'Brien's explanation. What is Markey's explanation? I'll bet you don't know, because you did not have the integrity, hell, the common courtesy, to ask her before you published your misinformation. (Yeah, you had the decency to call me to let me know that you were running with your letter, because you were mentioning me by name, but did you actually call her?) And by the way, was young lawyer Jane Markey even politically active 22 years ago? Were you politically active 22 years ago?
Yet, on the basis of all this information, Trucker Randy Bishop has the stones to announce to the entire world that Judge Jane Markey's record is worse than Colleen O'Brien's record! And this conclusion is arrived at exactly how?
That's as bad as Michigan Freedom To Work endorsing a slate of candidates, that happens to be nearly identical to the iCaucus Michigan slate, with the notable exception that they've endorsed Colleen O'Brien instead of Jane Markey. This MIFTW endorsement list, so far as I'm aware, isn't available online anywhere; but I did see it at a River City Patriots meeting last Thursday. That Markey's name was conspicuous by its absence was the subject of a bit of discussion during the Q & A session after her presentation at that meeting. Jane seemed a bit flabbergasted herself, since no one from MIFTW had ever called her to discuss her position on Right-To-Work legislation. Had they done so, they would have learned that Markey has been pro-RTW her entire legal career, and that isn't likely to change any time soon.
By contrast, iCaucus Michigan thoroughly vetted both candidates for the judicial vacancy nomination, and gave them both a fair chance to make their case. The resulting endorsement followed hearing what both candidates had to say, at length, about the issues and their judicial records. There's a reason that the endorsement vote was 70-30.
As I said back at the beginning of this article, this chasing down rabbit trails is a waste of my time. Maybe one of the regulars here (such as Scales or KG) who have some time, and who are far better blood hounds than I am, might find it useful to run this campaign contribution stuff to the ground and see what comes up. Me, I'm much more interested in talking with convention delegates about what they're thinking in regard to who the Michigan Republican nominee should be for the Supreme Court vacancy nomination, and explaining to them why Judge Jane Markey is the better choice.
Unfortunately, because the opposition just won't leave this alone, I actually have to waste time explaining why this is a waste of my time.
Ignoring The Rabbit Trail | 4 comments (4 topical, 0 hidden)
Ignoring The Rabbit Trail | 4 comments (4 topical, 0 hidden)
Related Links+ PDF copy of a letter
+ issued a rebuttal
+ caseload comparison from Westlaw Review
+ Setting the Record Straight on the Michigan Supreme Court Race
+ even describes herself
+ Oakland County Circuit Court
+ as is made clear in the user guide
+ digs up an obscure link
+ that happens to be nearly identical to the iCaucus Michigan slate
+ Also by Kevin Rex Heine