As of midnight on August 31, 2017, the often-divisive reign of Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke has ended. Though he did not get a post in President Donald Trump’s White House as was expected (perhaps thanks to another recent appointee), days after announcing his “retirement” it now appears the ex-Sheriff will be headed to the right-leaning America First Action Super PAC as a “senior adviser”. And thus, the end of Mr. Clarke’s long run of involvement in local Milwaukee affairs.
I’m not interested in diving into the sludgy waters surrounding opinions of David Clarke himself. YouTube is bursting with poorly-executed promotional clickbait videos (“Liberal calls Sheriff Clarke DUMB, See how he responds”), none of which I’ll link to here. Likewise, the liberal blogosphere is over-saturated with hyperbolic tear downs of his character (“Fascist Milwaukee Sheriff David Clarke Resigns”).
Instead, let’s take a moment to consider the most perplexing question concerning Sheriff David Clarke: how did an outspoken right-wing firebrand continue to get elected in a Democratic stronghold city like Milwaukee? We’ve literally elected 3 different Socialist mayors throughout our history.
Yet David Clarke, a man who has called Black Lives Matter a “terror organization” and stated “The only reason I’ll be reaching across the aisle (to Democrats) is to grab one of them by the throat.“, is a registered Democrat himself. His re-election wins in 2002, 2006, 2010, and 2014 were all with him running as a Democrat.
Problem: Milwaukee County Sheriff is a partisan position.
Why? Why is it important for us to designate the political affiliation of an elected County Sheriff? The bigger question: why do we even elect the County Sheriff?
The Milwaukee County Sheriff is tasked with running our county jails, protecting the airports and courts, and assisting with both routine traffic and specialized peace-keeping operations. While there are certainly people better equipped than others to manage those tasks, none of those topics is particularly partisan.
Clarke himself stated on his campaign website in 2014:
“Like me, most people question why the Office of Sheriff is a partisan election. I have never asked a person to vote for me because I run as a Democrat.”
Here’s a list of David Clarke’s election win percentages over the years:
Yet just this January a local poll had his approval rating in Milwaukee County at 31%. Where is this disconnect coming from?
Sheriff David Clarke has proven time and again that one must be registered as a Democrat to have a fighting chance of winning an election in Milwaukee County, regardless of where your political loyalties lie. The only plausible explanation for his continuous landslide wins in Milwaukee County, versus his abysmal approval ratings from the same constituency, is that the local Democrat voting block is blindly voting party-line. The little “D” next to his name means little more than “deception”.
Long story, Milwaukee County no longer has to worry about this particular Sheriff. But let’s learn and change our rules for the future and for the better.
Tame Solution: Make Milwaukee County Sheriff elections non-partisan.
Bold Solution: Make Milwaukee County Sheriff an appointed position by Milwaukee County Executive and/or County Board.
Boldest Solution: Let’s stop blindly voting party-line, folks.
Featured photo of Sheriff David Clarke at 2017 CPAC. Photo by Gage Skidmore from Flickr.