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The Incumbent Party

2010 October 11


The Incumbent Party of Judges – What about accountability?

For far too many years now, incumbent judges have enjoyed very little opposition to their candidacy. When voters turn over their ballots they are surprised to see the names of judges they have never heard of with incumbent next to their names. Most are unopposed. Lots of voters don’t even bother to select any and seem to forget about it after they leave the polls.

The Minnesota constitution has allowed for the election of judges since it’s statehood about 150 years ago. According to Dan Griffith, judicial candidate for the MN Court of Appeals, our state was responding to what happened in the Dred Scott decision. The US Supreme Court ruled that blacks have no rights by saying a runaway slave could be returned to his/her master in a slave-holding state. Amazed and appalled that our Supreme Court could make such a glaring, inhumane error, MN opted to elect judges to ensure accountability.

Since then however, the election process has been stolen by those incumbent judges, who have engineered the rules for judicial elections so they are “remarkably pro-incumbent” stated Greg Wersal, candidate for MN Supreme Court. In this manner, incumbent judges are conveniently able to  keep their seats. This leads Wersal to describe it as the ‘incumbent party’ – not an ‘official’ political party, but they might as well be. They’ve made the rules, often unconstitutional ones. There is not room here to explain how and why it got this way, but people need to know that there are many, including the MN State Bar, who would like to take the right to elect judges away from the voters. A right that is in our MN constitution.

Wersal, instead of just taking it, has been fighting the control of incumbent judges for years. Currently judges are allowed by the US Supreme Court and the MN appeals court rulings the ability to: seek party endorsement, tell voters their views and solicit campaign contributions. Chris Penwell, candidate in the 10th judicial district, notes that these are rights protected in the US Constitution – the freedom to associate and the right of free speech. Wersal stated it’s been 50 years since an incumbent judge lost an election. Doesn’t that make you wonder about the accountability of judges?

So when you vote this year on Nov 2, take note. My recommendation: vote for the NON-Incumbent if there is an opponent. You could select Wm. Christopher Penwell, the Republican endorsed candidate for Judge 3 in the 10th judicial seat open in Washington County. You can also select Roxanne Klugman, running against Randolph Peterson in the Court of Appeals Judge 13. Statewide, Greg Wersal and Tim Tinglestad, running against two incumbent MN Supreme Court justices, are Republican endorsed candidates along with Dan Griffith (also an endorsed Republican) running for the MN Court of Appeals Judge 14, who reminded us: “Judges shall be elected by the voters”.

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One Response
  1. Virginia Nelson permalink
    October 22, 2010

    I came to your website in my search for information about judges that are running in this years election. (And I do want to see us able to keep voting for judges and appreciate Greg Wersal’s efforts to help us get info about who’s is running.) Thanks for posting information.

    But do NOT think that automatically voting against the incumbent is a good idea. A number of years ago when I was young and ignorant I decided to give “the new guy” a chance. Wow! Was I wrong. Thankfully he did not win.

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