Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Van Hollen's remarks grossly inappropriate

Atty. Gen. J.B. Van Hollen, a Republican, suggests that Dane County District Atty. Brian Blanchard should strike a plea deal with former Assembly Speaker Scott Jensen, a Republican, in Jensen's corruption case.

Van Hollen's comments are simply inappropriate. He should keep his mouth shut and let the prosecutors and defense lawyers and judges handling the case do their jobs without such heavy-handed, big booted interference.

Perhaps the attorney general is going to start opining on settlement discussions for the routine, everyday drug, fraud and battery cases that don't involve his partisan pals.


Goofyone said...

Van Hollen has made a carear out of protecting his political cronies. A junkie condones drugs. A crimminal condone crimes. Van Hollen ran on the issue of consumer protection for citizens something Wisconsin does not have. After he is elected he has helped a sheriff charge $1200 plus for towing a car. The sawyer county sheriff his friend has the right to extort citizens.

geoff said...


JD Real said...

**This post is factual to the best of my memory and experience, but likely contains errors. I didn't re-check things, since the point is mostly to express sincere concern and sentiment.

I was furious after reading this in the MJS. Not because it's Jensen and Van Hollen and they're up to some classic Reptilian Redneck collaboration- that's expected, and I don't get furious over things I expect. The fact of VH's chest thumping and arm-twisting at a Madison DA's office [in an effort to procure slack for a once-powerful, still influential good ol' boy who's thiiis close to catching a break] likewise elicit little emotional response from me. Let's be honest- if Jensen and Chwala or Burke's position were swapped; if it was our guy getting a walk on a technicality despite obvious guilt, would we be mad about AG Doyle exerting some pressure to keep that walk free of obstacles? Nope. Might not have liked it, maybe we'd feel a little icky, but we wouldn't make much noise protesting.

That last thought, as well as a variation on Gretchen's closing thought are what I think touched me off. As I read the article, my mind went to the fact that Jensen was found guilty, and sentenced to 15 months of incarceration for crimes that "corruption" doesn't sufficiently describe.

Corruption conveys an image of an elected official whose votes and influence are directly for sale. Jensen was beholden to money in the way all electeds are, but no further, at least not on an individual level- his crimes were far worse.

Corruption is born of greed, debt, immoderation... some base desire. It involves predictable patterns of behavior and, while nonetheless a serious transgression, is essentially simple-natured and selfish, with no greater scope or goal than needed to acquire money. No ideology, just business, which at the very least makes it easier to discover and prosecute.

Jensen's crimes -mirrored on the other side, of course- also involve abuse of public office, but are in my view far more damaging. He and the others were convicted of various crimes related to utilizing public resources, including staff, communications service and equipment, office space and equipment, and so on for purely partisan campaign work. This political activity at taxpayer expense was far from infrequent- if I recall correctly, in some cases staff were even hired to state positions solely for this purpose. Entire sections of offices and groups of staff would be directed to perform strictly campaign functions for large blocks of time, in clear violation of the law. Worse yet, these staff and electeds weren't even working on their own campaigns, which a generous person might be more forgiving of despite the enormous scale of taxpayer abuse. No, in fact, the effort (which was particularly effective for Jensen) aimed at establishing by any means an unassailable, permanent majority. Working from within, discipline was swift and rewards equally so. With dedicated staff to deploy and control over election committee funds, party heads Jensen and Chwala could guaranty, crush, or create candidacies and even elections without a single poll. This level of dirty, ruthless partisan politics had never been associated with Wisconsin, but suddenly these men were stopping at nothing to amass armies for war.

What I see as so terrifying about the scenario is the fundamental nature of the actions as a whole: These men were systematically dismantling every check and insurance of democracy, and replacing them with their own power. Thankfully, the house of cards fell, but the district lines drawn then remain, as do the deep and bitter rifts between people, and the gaping loss of our state's proud tradition. Finally, many of the candidates brought to power by a ruthless criminal organization funded with stolen tax dollars remain in office, not directly guilty of the wrongdoing. Nobody says they profitted from a crime, and nobody accuses Mr. Jensen or Mr. Chwala of leading criminal organizations of their own making. I doubt anyone, however, could say the term is incorrect.

So- Conviction, 15 months for Mr. Jensen. This, of course, did not mean a minute of jail time- he was allowed to await his appeal free and unmolested in the comfort of his home and community. Then, on a technicality, he walks, and our AG insults the most basic decency of justice by stating that Mr. Jensen has paid a severe price already, and should be let go without retrial.

A 15 year-old stopped randomly in 2002 was found to possess five rocks of crack cocaine about the size of peas. Despite the questionable legality of the search, the boy's age, the miniscule quantity of contraband, and all common sense; draconian legislation passed almost two decades prior to address fear-mongering magazine covers mandated trial as an adult and minimum sentencing guidelines. Almost 5 years later, as he completes his time, news is made as the US Sentencing Commission's decision to begin addressing such cases is okayed by the Supreme Court. At no time was the public sufficiently outraged to bring attention to and address this actual suffering, the severe price of one mistake and no golden parachute. With regard to Jensen, little if any non-partisan outrage was expressed at the equal but opposite disparity between HIS crime and punishment.

I keep thinking about these two stories, and how both men's crimes continue to happen with shocking ubiquity, frequency, and ambivalence. At least I think it's shocking. The punishment each receives -the former potentially and the latter eventually- is also relatively unchanged, with equal public disinterest.

The system is flawed only when its elements perceive it to be. For now then, it seems, the flaw will stay with furious me.