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Thursday, September 18, 2014
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Published: Friday, 5/30/2014 - Updated: 3 months ago

COMMENTARY

Judges would help ’cause it’s not about them

BY KEITH C. BURRIS
COLUMNIST FOR THE BLADE

My brother and his best buddy from high school have a saying that has become their message to the world: “It’s not about you, dude.”

It’s widely applicable, these days.

For example, I was sitting at an outdoor picnic table at St. Luke’s Hospital a few days ago reading a book. A guy walked up and sat down.

Soon, he began to tell me his troubles.

He had put his girlfriend on a motorcycle without proper training and she had immediately crashed and broken numerous bones.

“Now,” he said mournfully, “I will be blamed and have to wait on her hand and foot for weeks.”

Well, yeah.

I hope so.

There’s a guy who needs to hear the “It’s not about you, dude” mantra.

When I think about the members of the Lucas County Board of Elections, I think this is the message they need to hear.

It’s not about you, dudes.

Because this group of individuals — the board and, to a lesser extent, its top staff — long ago ceased to worry primarily about counting votes; making voting more accessible to all; or just not being last in Ohio with election results.

They are consumed by petty and personal slights, grudges, and vendettas.

If retired judges were appointed to sit on the elections board (not just to supervise the board but to replace it), institutional men would replace narcissistic men.

The bench is one profession where the ego is required to be sublimated to larger things — due process, accepted protocols, the law itself.

Are there judges who are exceptions to this norm?

Of course. But that is precisely how they come to be known as bad judges. They come out from behind the role and assert their own personalities.

When that happens, it is universally recognized as an abuse.

Moreover, a judge may be a political animal. But his first allegiance must be to the law, not his party.

It is bizarre to me that the supervision of elections could ever be a patronage job. This smacks of the old USSR, or of Vladimir Putin’s new one.

The late Sen. Eugene McCarthy used to say that patronage in politics is inevitable, so one of the challenges of good government is to contain patronage to governmental enterprises where it can do minimal harm.

Hence, he said, when President Franklin Roosevelt appointed the party chairman as postmaster general, it was defensible.

When John F. Kennedy appointed his campaign manager attorney general, and Richard Nixon did the same, patronage was taken too far.

I don’t think running elections should be a patronage job.

I’d like to see the state statutes changed.

Meanwhile, the appointment of judges to actually sit on the Lucas County Board of Elections should help to clean things up here.

I am hopeful that the Democratic chairman will embrace this proposal. The Republican chairman has done so. Judges are not angels, or sages necessarily.

But they are trained in process and decorum. It’s not about them.

Keith C. Burris is a columnist for The Blade.

Contact him at: kburris@theblade.com or 419-724-6266.



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