Friday, December 31, 2010

Law enforcement officers protect us, let's protect them

On this New Year’s Holiday, I would like to step back from the normal blog to tell a personal story that will never leave my memory.

On a pleasant summer afternoon when I was 12 years old, the family went for an outing. My father drove the car with my mother next to him in the front seat. My brother and I were in the back seat, he on the passenger’s side and I on the driver’s side. The windows were down because it was hot. We were all talking while I was fighting with my brother.

Suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere, four guys on motorcycles quickly passed our car. The speed and noise gave everyone except my father a fright. He had seen the bikes coming from a long way off in the rearview mirror so he was prepared. The guys on the bikes thought they saw a familiar face and slowed down dramatically. My father had to slow the car down to avoid hitting them because they were taking up both sides of the road and he couldn’t pass them. As they recognized my dad, one stayed in front to keep our car in check while the others slowed to come up beside the driver’s side of the car.

Sitting just behind my father in the car with the window down, I had a front row seat to something this country boy hadn’t seen very often. They starting yelling obscenities at my father at the same time they were giving me the evil eye. After a few more obscene jesters, they drove on ahead and disappeared from sight.

Everyone in the car starting asking my father what that was all about. We were all scared and in shock. My father, the quite guy he was, didn’t say much other than he had put them in jail one time.

My father was a cop in the Shelby Police Department. It was something he had always wanted to be and was very proud of it. The Detroit Police had stricter guidelines so he wasn’t able to join the force there. He did finally get on the force at Shelby and retired from there after many years.

The bad guys are out there. They would love to know more about the police so they can carry out attacks of terror and seek revenge for whatever punishment they received for the crimes they had committed. The above story is just one of many my father and family experienced over the years. It is likely that thousands take place every day in America to other officers and families.

In Tacoma, Washington, a man convicted of stalking and assault has asked for the names, addresses and other personal information of police officers that work for the city. He has requested the information through the Freedom of Information act. The Tacoma Police Union Local No. 6 has filed a motion with the courts to prevent the individual from receiving the information on the officers. Unless the courts place an injunction on the request, the bad guys, like those mentioned above, will be able to get all the information they need to carry out attacks on the officers and the families in their homes.

It was announced in the past couple of days by the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund that more law enforcement officers have lost their lives in the line of duty in 2010 than in 2009. The number of deaths in 2010 spiked to 160 from an almost 40 year low of 117 in 2009. As a law enforcement officer, the risk of losing your life is very real.

The right of people to know who is working for the government and what they are doing is not an absolute right. When there is a real risk that innocent people will be hurt by the right to know, then the community must prevent it from happening. In the Tacoma case, the courts need to block not only this individual from receiving the information, but all such requests need to be prevented.

It is important that the citizens of a community have oversight of their government. But, in the case of law enforcement officers, who place their lives on the line, there is plenty of oversight by the city government. There is no need to provide the personal information that would endanger so many lives.

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Wednesday, December 29, 2010

End of story, Joe

As a follow up to yesterday’s post, a federal judge has cleared the way for U. S. Senator Lisa Murkowski to take her seat in the new session of congress that begins January 3, 2011. Murkowski ran as a write-in candidate during the last general election after losing in the primary to fellow republican and Tea Party favorite, Joe Miller.

Miller contested the Alaskan election commissions’ decision to accept write-in votes that were clear as to their intent, if not the correct spelling of Murkowski’s name. After exhausting his challenges in state courts, including the Alaskan Supreme Court, Miller asked a federal court to rule on the election.

Federal District Judge Ralph Beistline released the injunction he had placed on the election. The judge ruled that, "Generally speaking, the Alaska Supreme Court is the final expositor of Alaska law. That must be the case here."

Federal courts have consistently ruled that unless civil rights are violated that evokes the Fourteenth Amendment, elections are a matter for each state to set and arbitrate. The Constitution clearly states that it is up to each state who they send to represent them in congress.

End of story, Joe.

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Tuesday, December 28, 2010

In Alaska, they have the basis for a reality show

Lisa Murkowski, the Republican primary loser in the Alaskan Senate race, decided she wanted to run as a write-in candidate in the general election. Joe Miller, the Republican winner in the primary thought he would only be running against the Democrat. Murkowski won the election as an independent write-in against both the Republican and the Democrat.

Miller is a poor loser. Almost more than two months out, he is still contesting the election. After working his way through the state courts and the state supreme court, Miller is taking his case to federal court. His issue is that he wouldn’t have lost by as many voters in the general election if it weren’t for the state election commission’s decision to count a vote on the write-in portion of the ballet if the voters intention was clear. The state courts gave Murkowski a win with 10,328 votes including the contested ballets. But, Miller says Murkowski won by only 2,169 votes.

Are you confused? Murkowski still wins if Miller wins in Federal Court? There is an important issue here, but Miller isn’t telling the whole truth.

Without being in Miller’s head, it sounds like Miller wants to cut the lead so he can ask for another recount. With only 2,169 votes to overcome, it is possible that he could turn the election around and take the Senate seat away from Murkowski.

But, to the rest of us, there is an even bigger issue here. The Alaskan Election Commission decided before counting the contested ballets, that as long as long as it was clear who the voter intended to vote for, they would count the vote. After reviewing the circumstances, the state courts, including the state supreme court, ruled in favor of the Alaskan Election Commission. This sounds like the hanging “chad” problem from the Bush-Gore election. In that election, voters needed to punch out a hole to cast their vote for a candidate. Some of the “chads” from the punch out were left hanging, so those votes were in question. In this election, the commission decided that even if the name of Murkowski or any other write-in candidate was misspelled, if it looked like one of the names, they would count it.

Mercowski, Murcoowski, Mercowsomething, Mcowskyed and perhaps many other spellings would be accepted by the election commission in Alaska as being for Murkowski. Miller’s beef is that the commission made up a new law with the “as long as it was clear” rule. He says the commission not only over stepped its bounds as defined by law, but didn’t even open up for public comment on the ruling before starting the counting of the contested ballots. Of course, we would still be waiting for the public comment part of the process to be over with even now if the commission had.

More directly stated, the commission has made a ruling on the election that Miller says isn't clearly stated in the election law. There could be a section of the law that gave the power to the commission to make just a ruling, but isn’t clear here. What is important here is the separation of powers and the right of each state to set its own election rules.

As a principle of the Constitution, although never stated used, is the term “separation of powers.” The Alaskan legislature empowered the election commission to make decisions on the voting process. If a candidate has concerns with the results, they can take it to the state courts. It is a challenge of one branch’s authority by another. In this case, if the state legislature, through the election commission, over stepped its bounds, another branch of government can decide if it did, in this case, the state courts. The state courts have done just that. With a small detour here, the courts ruled that the outcome of the election would not have been different even if the commission had made a decision beyond the powers granted to them.

As for taking the case to the federal courts, the Constitution clearly states that elections are a state function. Unless Miller’s rights were violated in a way that would evoke the Fourteenth Amendment, the Federal Court should pass on any review.

Miller was a Tea Party candidate. The Tea Party has strong concerns about the Federal government getting involved in our lives. Yet, as soon as things don’t go Miller’s way, he looks to the Feds to give him help.

This election is over and the challenges need to stop.

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