Friday, April 24, 2009

Things Are Different, Let's Just Appoint Everybody!

From the very beginning of the Tennessee gubernatorial campaign (one that anyone who follows politics in this State agrees is starting way too early), there has never been any question that if Lieutenant Governor Ron Ramsey entered the race, Nicole and I would support Governor Ramsey. We have long believed that Ron Ramsey is someone who shares our values and believes in Tennessee the way that we believe in it.

One of the things that Ron Ramsey, as well as Republican leaders in both the Tennessee House and the Senate promised the voters that if a Republican majority were elected in both Houses, that the GOP would move to elect our judges as the Constitution requires:

Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey told reporters he'd like,"a constitutional amendment to change the constitution and, in the meantime, allow the governor to appoint anybody he wants to which is exactly what we did until Winfield Dunn became governor in 1970 and Democrats didn't want him to appoint judges."

Lt. Gov. Ramsey reminded reporters, "I've come around, actually, on whether I feel like Supreme Court justices need to be elected or not. I believe having the Supreme Court justices might not be in the best interests of the people of Tennessee. Things are different than they were in 1870: the modern campaigning and raising hundreds of millions of dollars to run campaigns."

Ramsey's solutuion, then, is to attempt to amend the Constitution to do away with the popular election of judges, but continue to flout the Tennessee Constitution in the meantime by allowing the Governor to appoint these judges-a direct violation of the Tennessee Constitution. Using the same logic that Ramsey is using in the quote above-namely, that things are different than they were in 1870 (how progressive of the Lt. Governor!) and campaigning just costs too dang much-perhaps we should just start appointing the Governor. After all, the Constitution calls for the Governor's direct election, but it sure costs a lot to run for Governor, as Ramsey has reminded us in recent weeks. The Governor might be open to unwholesome influences from his or her campaign contributors.

While we're at it, perhaps we should examine the notion of appointing members of the General Assembly as well. As everyone knows (even the citizens who have never read the Tennessee Constitution, and please by no means read it unless you want you want your blood boiling at how our elected officials violate it on a daily basis) the State Constitution clearly calls for the General Assembly to be elected also. We've seen from Tennessee Waltz how money can corrupt our elected officials, and they have to be kept in the money just to be able to run for re-election. To avoid continual scandals involving the corrupting influence of money in politics, let's just appoint the General Assembly so that no one has to raise or spend any cash on being elected.

I ran for elected office last year. It took a whole lot of time and some money as well, and I lost by a very narrow margin. I have enough friends in high places around here that I could secure an appointment as Alderman or County Commissioner. I think I like this scheme of appointing officials that the State Constitution says we are supposed to elect, especially when I can be one of those to kiss the right arses and get an appointment.

What's that? You say you want to elect your leaders? What about the corrupting influence of money? You mean you would rather have a little corruption made public in a free voting system than a lot of hidden corruption which might influence appointments? But the Lieutenant Governor says he wants the Governor to appoint judges because things are different than they were in 1870...

Ron Ramsey is a fine human being with so many good ideas for making Tennessee a better place. If he keeps up at his current pace, however, he may not even make it to the August 2008 Republican Primary, let alone actually win it. First, he complained about his inability to raise money while the General Assembly was in session. A reasonable complaint, except that bringing it up now is a bit too convenient since he is a candidate presently affected by the law in question. Now, he says he doesn't want to elect judges in this State, a promise which he has not only broken to the voters, but a stance which can be seen to violate his very oath of office.

Unless Ramsey either changes his tune or learns when to keep silent, he will likely take pages from David Davis' unwritten book How to Lose An Election You Damn Well Should Have Won.

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At Friday, April 24, 2009 9:23:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ron Ramsey is an opportunistic nut. He was for popular election of judges until he saw the chance to appoint them himself. Actually, he was probably for whatever King Pharmaceuticals told him he was for.

However, the Tennessee Constitution does not proscribe "direct" elections of judges, and in fact, doesnn't even address the issue of appellate court judges - but calls for elections in a manner to be directed by the legislature. In this case, the legislature has mandated that there be retention elections. It has worked very well. Tennessee has one of the highest rated appellate systems in the country. You want direct elections? Look at what has happened in Alabama and West Virginia - locals don't have much of a say, as big dollar out of state interests come in, recruit candidates and fund them out the ying-yang. In West Virginia, a coal-mine operator donated $3 million to a Supreme Court campaign and the judge he elected saved him $20 million in damages on a case. If you are a litigant, you want a fair minded judge, not swayed by money, but interested in justice. What we've got works just fine - let's leave it alone and deal with some real issues.

At Saturday, April 25, 2009 1:29:00 AM, Blogger Dave Oatney said...

From the Constitution of the State of Tennessee, Article VI, Sections 3 and 4:

"The Judges of the Supreme Court shall be elected by the qualified voters of the State. The Legislature shall have power to prescribe such rules as may be necessary to carry out the provisions of section two of this article. Every Judge of the Supreme Court shall be thirty-five years of age, and shall before his election have been a resident of the State for five years. His term of service shall be eight years.

"The Judges of the Circuit and Chancery Courts, and of other inferior Courts, shall be elected by the qualified voters of the district or circuit to which they are to be assigned. Every Judge of such Courts shall be thirty years of age, and shall before his election, have been a resident of the State for five years and of the circuit or district one year. His term of service shall be eight years."

Our Constitution absolutely prescribes the direct election of judges-period. To read anything else into the relevant clauses is to read things that simply are not there. For our legislators to knowingly maintain a judicial system that is in clear and direct violation of the State Constitution means that every member of the General Assembly who is complicit in attempting to knowingly maintain such a system is in violation of the oath that they swore to support the Constitution of the State of Tennessee. If members of the Legislature as well as the Governor knowingly persist in a direct Constitutional violation, they have taken their oaths with the purpose of evasion. In most States as well as at the federal level, holding office with intent to evade the Constitution would be grounds to be impeached.

At Saturday, April 25, 2009 5:29:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry Oats, I just have to agree that you are wrong on this one. This issue has been litigated fairly extensively. In Tennessee, yes/no elections are constitutional. State ex rel. Higgins v. Dunn, 496 S.W. 2d 480 (Tenn. 1973. They have been specifically declared constitutional in Supreme Court elections. See State ex rel v. Laska and Bredesen v. Tenn. Jud. Selection Comm.

The state constitution specifically grants the legislature the ability to enact the manner of the election - and yes/no elections have been chosen and declared constitutional. Once the state's highest court has ruled something to be constitutional, it's constitutional.

Sorry dude, you're just SOL here.

At Monday, April 27, 2009 6:05:00 PM, Anonymous John Danneskj√∂ld said...

Gee, Anonymous, does the fact that the very group who would lose out on a popular election (i.e., the Supreme Court of Tennessee) upheld the Tennessee legislature's sham process not give you concern? No one is upholding the Tennessee Constitution here because they would lose power by doing so. So no, the only ones who are SOL here are the PEOPLE of Tennessee.

Here are some facts you may not know. In the late 1970's, the issue was put to Tennesseeans to amend the state Constitution to allow the current appointment plan. The citizens voted it down but that didn't stop the Legislature from doing an end run and adopting what the citizens rejected. And the courts just willingly follow along because they know they run a real risk of losing their cushy jobs if the PEOPLE get to vote in something other than a silly retention vote.


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