Tuesday, November 1, 2016

WA: Buying the Court

When reformsters aren't busy trying to buy seats on school boards or flood a state with outside money to influence charter school legislation, sometimes they turn their money and attention to the courts.

Washington State has been a disappointment to many of its tech billionaires. Bill Gates and his friends had to spend several million dollars on several different tries to get a charter school law passed, and then the state court turned right around and declared that law unconstitutional (something about spending public monies on a private education-flavored business). There was some agitated freaking out and an attempt to do an end run around the ruling. 

But there is of course a simpler solution. Pack the court with judges who are more agreeable. And so  three judges in the Washington Supreme Court face challenges this year (the first such challenge since the 90s).

Center, leftmost, and bald guy with cute tie-- those are the targets

This is not a coincidence. Court critic GOP State Rep Matt Manweller reached out to recruit all three of the candidates running in races, and he had the McCleary decision in mind (that would be the case in which the court ended up fining the legislature for every day it failed to fully fund Washington State schools). Manweller suggested that the court had actually been corrupted by Dirty Union Money. You remember the whole thing about balance of power between branches of government? Here are Manweller's thoughts on how to use politics to bring the court to heel:

How can I bring those nasty unions to heel?*

State Rep. Matt Manweller, R-Ellensburg, said he thinks the mere threat of unseating a justice will make the court think twice about piling on more sanctions in the McCleary case.

Read more here: http://www.thenewstribune.com/news/politics-government/article81681377.html#storylink=cpy

So here's Chief Justice Barbara Madsen, the author of the 2015 decision that ruled Washington's charter law unconstitutional. She is being opposed by Greg Zempel who doesn't like how capricious and random the court's decisions are. Zempel has been backed by a pile of money from Stand for Children, an Oregon reformster group that has funneled money to his campaign from Connie Ballmer, wife of former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer; Reed Hastings, founder and CEO of Netflix; and Vulcan Inc., owned by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen. Vulcan and Ballmer were big financial backers of the charter law that was struck down.

Also facing reformster-backed challenge is Justice Charlie Wiggins (who is nothing if not a snappy dresser). Charteristas must sense a vulnerability because as we come down to the wire, they have pumped almost a million dollars into the campaign of Federal Way Municipal Court Judge Dave Larson. Larson has popped up in the news before, standing up to keep An Inconvenient Truth out of classrooms. Vulcan tossed in $300K and Gates threw in $200K of his own. Meanwhile, one more fly-by-night PAC, Judicial Integrity Washington has dropped $350K on a tv ad smear campaign against Wiggins featuring ads that other members of the legal community likened to the infamous Willie Horton ads used against Dukakis way back in the-- well, shut up, kid. Some of us remember that.

And to round out the trio, Mary Yu is facing a challenge from the Manweller-recruited David DeWolf, a former law professor and fellow at the Discovery Institute, a Seattle-based thinky tank that has made a name for itself pushing Creationism Intelligent Design with its "Teach the Controversy" program. This race doesn't seem to be getting a ton of coverage or a ton of money; I have a sneaking suspicion that DeWolf is not a serious contender.

So if you are in Washington State, you may want to pay attention to those boring old supreme court justice races, because these three incumbents are being made to pay a price for crossing the charter and reformy crowd. And should they lose the election, public education in Washington State will pay a price as well.

*Yes, that's a real picture of Manweller, from his Twitter account

1 comment:

  1. Gates foundation has given $10M to the Doscovery institute in years past http://www.salon.com/2005/08/27/gatesfoundation/