Elections, the Holocaust, and the Senate Debate: Glimpses of Three Law School Events

Glimpses of three important events in recent days at Marquette Law School:

The Wisconsin Elections Commission is less than four months old and so far it has made only two major decisions, each supported by all six members. Will the new body, created to take over the election oversight role previously played by the state’s Government Accountability Board, be a steady and responsible force for conducting elections well and avoid partisan divisions?

During  an “On the Issues with Mike Gousha” program Wednesday (Oct. 26, 2016), two of the leaders of the commission conveyed a message of professionalism and commitment to doing the jobs well . They also expressed general confidence in the quality of election practices in Wisconsin.

But Mark Thomsen, chairman of the commission and a Milwaukee lawyers, and Don Millis, a commissioner who is a lawyer from the Madison area, outlined some of the difficult and controversial issues that they face this fall and beyond, such as handling of voter identification requirements  and early voting, and showed some differences between them that reflect their own partisanship.

While the GAB was intended to be non-partisan, the election commission has a partisan make-up.  By law, it is made of up of three Republicans and three Democrats appointed by the governor or legislative leaders. Thomsen is a Democrat, Millis a Republican.

Thomsen said the two decisions that all the commissioners supported were the selection of Michael Haas as administrator and endorsement of a budget request for the commission’s work in the next state budget. Thomsen said how the budget request fares with the governor and legislators will be important to how successful the commission is.

How confident are the two that everyone who is eligible to vote and who attempts to vote will have their ballots counted this fall? Millis said he was ”reasonably confident” that the vast majority of people will succeed in voting. Thomsen was more cautious – he said he is “dead certain” that the number of legitimate votes that will go uncounted will be larger than the number of illegitimate votes that will be counted.

But, the two said, so far things have been going well as the election  approaches. And, through absentee ballots and early voting, more than 325,000 people have already voted statewide. That’s more than 10 percent of the vote total in the November 2012 presidential election in the state.

To watch video of the hour-long program, click here.

Timothy Snyder, a prominent historian and professor at Yale University, spoke with Gousha during an “On the Issues” program on Oct. 19 about the rise of Nazism in Germany, the Holocaust that killed about six million Jews, and other events in Europe between World War I and World War II. Snyder’s books include Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning and Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin.

Snyder said many people think they understand the Holocaust. But, he said, images of the railroad tracks at the Auschwitz concentration camp that so many people associate with the events of that time minimize the horror. People should know more about the roots of Hitler and the events of that time, he said, and much of what people think minimizes the horror.

Snyder described Hitler’s view that it was the destiny of races to struggle for control of fertile land such as Ukraine, which the Germans seized early in World War II. He also described how the Holocaust emerged not so much from strong, controlling governments but from the disintegration of government and order in places such as Austria and Poland.  One lesson and warning, Snyder said, is that “people who were very much like us can kill people who were very much like us.”

He concluded by urging people to learn more and make what they learn part of understanding events now. Snyder said. “My whole point . . . is that the Holocaust is something that we not only have to understand but that we can understand, because some elements of it just aren’t that far away either from the world that we know or that the world that we unfortunately might be about to know.”

The conversation with Snyder may be viewed by clicking here.  The program also was recorded by Milwaukee Public Television for showings in mid-November.

And finally, a brief comment on the debate on Oct. 18 between the two major candidates in the US Senate election this fall, incumbent Republican Ron Johnson and Democratic challenger (and former senator) Russ Feingold. The debate in the Law School’s Appellate Courtroom was co-sponsored by the Law School and WISN 12. It was shown live statewide through a network of television stations. It was also shown nationally on C-SPAN.

If the eyes of those in the courtroom were focused on the two candidates, the eyes of the candidates were focused almost entirely on Mike Gousha, distinguished fellow in law and public policy at the Law School who moderated the debate. Feingold and Johnson were seated immediately next to each other at a small, round table, with Gousha on the other side. The candidates barely glanced at each other and did not talk directly to each other. Their words and attention were focused entirely on Gousha.

I would suggest two reasons for this. One is that they simply didn’t want to speak to each other, even if the format allowed it. It was pretty clear from the session (and certainly from other campaign developments) that these were two people with frosty views of each other.

But the other reason is that Gousha did a masterful job. He has moderated numerous debates such as this one, and his level-headed, even-handed, knowledgeable work in these settings is well-known. His professionalism carried the day at this debate also.

If Feingold and Johnson didn’t want to talk to or look at each other, they were willing to talk to and keep their eyes on Gousha. One big reason was because they knew they were dealing with the best.

To view the debate, click here.


This Post Has One Comment

  1. Gloria Rozmus

    As to the replacement of the GAB, I wonder if there will be continuity in future years when administrations and legislative majorities change, or are we to expect that newly appointed members of this commission will continue to learn on the fly as they perform their duties?

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