Wednesday, October 25, 2006

AJC's View of the Georgia Safety and Prosperity Coalition and Wiggins

The AJC's editors have decided to strongly endorse Justice Carol Hunstein's re-election bid to the Georgia Supreme Court. Just add them to the looooooooong and varied list of endorsees for Hunstein. For quick reference, Mel from Blog for Democracy posts a letter from Paula Gaber of Georgia for Democracy that highlights a list of statewide and bipartisan Hunstein endorsees.

Here's what the AJC had to say about Justice Hunstein:

Based strictly on qualifications — years practicing law, arguing cases in state courts, presiding over trials and listening to appeals — the contested race for the Georgia Supreme Court on the November ballot really shouldn't be close.

Justice Carol Hunstein, who has served on the high court since 1992 and been elected by Georgians twice, is clearly a better choice than her challenger, Mike Wiggins, a former Bush administration lawyer who has not argued a case before the State Court of Appeals or Supreme Court in his career.

Besides her experience as a trial court judge — she was a DeKalb Superior Court jurist before joining the high court — Hunstein's personal story is inspiring. She overcame cancer at a young age but lost a leg in the battle.

Politically, she is a no-nonsense judge who has the backing of conservative Democrats, such as former Gov. Zell Miller, who appointed her to the high court, and Republicans such as former state Attorney General Mike Bowers. She has a well earned reputation as a tough, but fair, justice who has walked the fine line between safeguarding defendant rights while at the same time seeing to it that those who break the law are appropriately punished.

But in the AJC editorial, they didn't stop at singing Justice Hunstein's praises. They took dead aim at Mike Wiggins and his benefactor, The Georgia Safety and Prosperity Coalition:

Hunstein's opposition is coming from a well-financed coalition of business and professional groups who are, simply put, out to buy a seat on the state's highest court. The coalition, which boasts a heavily Republican presence, is backing Wiggins by attacking Hunstein, although Wiggins is trying to keep an arm's length distance between himself and those raising huge sums of money to defeat the incumbent.

The group goes by the lofty name of the Georgia Safety and Prosperity Coalition. As an independent political group — not tied to a particular party or candidate — there is no limit on how much individuals or businesses can contribute to it or how much it can spend. Early on in the campaign the group got $100,000 from the political action committee of the Medical Association of Georgia, $50,000 each from DaimlerChrysler and the Georgia Hospital Association, $25,000 each from the American Insurance Association and the Coca-Cola Bottlers Association. The group has already booked $200,000 worth of commercials and is likely to spend much more. Hunstein expects she'll have to raise and spend $1 million in her own campaign to defend her record.

Even though the race is supposed to be nonpartisan, Wiggins and his supporters have touted his Republican connections and have declared Hunstein to be "the Democrat in the race." They like Wiggins because they believe he will uphold their interests on a range of issues from limiting what juries can award in liability cases to slamming the door shut on the public's access to government decisions on tax breaks and other inducements to promote economic development. In effect, they want him to be just the kind of "activist" judge they claim to abhor, as long as he is active for their causes.

Similar, well-financed campaigns are being mounted around the country by business and special-interest groups in hopes of influencing who is elected to state appeals courts.

While there were other Georgia Supreme Court justices up for re-election this year — all three of them men — the coalition decided Wiggins should run against Hunstein because, as a woman and a DeKalb County resident, they thought she could be portrayed as a liberal Democrat. (Interestingly the same tactic was used two years ago when some of the same groups now backing Wiggins went after Justice Leah Sears and lost.)

In what has to be the most embarrassing memo in the campaign, Liz Young, treasurer of the Safety and Prosperity Coalition, advised Wiggins in an e-mail how to answer why he was running against Hunstein, suggesting the "answer cannot be that she is a one-legged, Jewish female from DeKalb County." Besides the ugliness of that sentiment, the advice is factually incorrect — Hunstein is Christian.

The coalition's portrayal of Hunstein as soft on crime plays equally loose with facts. At least two independent studies of court rulings while Hunstein has been on the bench showed that she has consistently sided with government prosecutors more often than the court as a whole. So if it isn't about being soft on crime, why challenge her? Wiggins, in a fund-raising letter early in the campaign, got closer to what's really at stake.

He noted that conservatives — although what he probably meant was Republicans — have succeeded in Georgia at taking control of the legislative and executive branches, leaving only the state's judiciary as "the last frontier."

The Republicans definitely aren't hiding the fact that Wiggins is their man. In today's mail I received a mailer from the Republican Party of Georgia listing their preferred statewide candidates as well as candidates from my area. Right there in between Stan Wise and Renee S. Unterman was Mike Wiggins - Supreme Court, the ONLY nonpartisan candidate to make their list.

Sorry, but as the AJC went on to point out, Georgians have already decided that their state judiciary isn't going to be partisan. That means that Mr. Wiggins and his partisan ilk aren't welcome on the bench of the Georgia Supreme Court.

Voters need to make that point to Wiggins and The Georgia Safety and Prosperity Coalition crystal clear on November 7th.


Tina said...

This race is supposed to be nonpartisan but some people seem determined to make it partisan. The judiciary should be above partisan politics. Incidentally I have not seen any ads for either candidate down here in Mid-GA.

Pennsylvania Independent said...

There are fierce and cutthroat political elections in Pennsylvania as well. Bob Casey, Jr. (D) and incumbent US Senator Rick Santorum (R). Casey whose father was Governor of Pennsylvania in the late 1980's until 1994 is ahead in polls. The Democrats chose a good candidate because casey is a Pro-Life and Pro-Gun candidate. Pennsylvanians are sick of Rick Santorum. I am Pro-Choice, but I am voting for the person whom I feel is best suited for the job, which I do not feel is Santorum.

Button Gwinnett said...

Tina, consider yourself lucky. In the last few days in metro Atlanta, I've seen a couple of different Wiggins ads that spins and distorts some of Hunstein's rulings. Of course they each used the word "liberal" as if it were the equivalent of pure evil. In one of Justice Hunstein's commercials we've learned that Wiggins sued his own mother.

Penn, good luck in replacing Santorum. That race is being watched by many in the Georgia blogosphere.

Anonymous said...

Button, if the latest pro-Wiggins ad "spins and distorts" some of Hunstein's rulings, it is her colleagues on the Georgia Supreme Court who have "spun and distorted" her rulings. The characterizations in the ad are taken directly from opinions by other justices in the same cases.

Reasonable people certainly can disagree about whether the "liberal" label properly sticks to Justice Hunstein, and Georgians can disagree about whether a "liberal" judge is a bad thing. But you should look up in the Georgia Reports the cases referenced in the ads before you accuse the ads of "distorting" her rulings.

Button Gwinnett said...

Actually anon, I still feel that the ad distorts the facts, regardless as to where the criticism came from. So maybe I should have phrased it that way instead.

I've seen the ads, looked at the comments and excerpts of each of the 3 cases cited by the ad on Mr. Wiggins' website, and I've reviewed Daily Report's article dealing with the Wiggins ad via Justice Hunstein's website.

The reason why I feel that the ad distorts is because it deals with subject matter that can't possibly be properly explained in a 30 seconds campaign ad. In two of those decisions, Justice Hunstein was in the majority on a 4-3 ruling. In the other one, she was in the minority, also by a 4-3 ruling. Whether or not one might disagree with her findings in each of the 3 cases, she wasn't alone in her opinions. So while it might be convenient for Wiggins to feature criticism from, say, Justice Benham in one case, Benham agrees with her in the other two cases.

You're right, reasonable people can agree to disagree on whether or not a particular justice leans to the left or to the right and whether or not thats bad. But the ad sensationalizes the outcomes of those cited cases. All 3 cases are very complex and can't be adequately explained in 30 seconds, as evidenced by the 4-3 outcomes in all 3.

BTW, I'm not very fond of Justice Hunstein's attack ad either. But then again, I hate these kinds of ads in general.

In the interest of fairness to readers:

Wiggins webpage featuring comments on the 3 cases:

Daily Report's article on the Wiggins ad: