Blue City, Say Goodbye to Your Progressive District Attorney – Mother Jones

Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm. If the Republican candidate wins the election for attorney general, he is threatened with removing prosecutorial power from Chisholm. Ivan Moreno/AP

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On a cloud day in September, Eric Toney, the Republican candidate for Wisconsin attorney general, called a press conference. Flanked by local police, Toney was in Milwaukee — a city he says is becoming a “shooting gallery” — to announce a signature campaign policy: strip local District Attorney John Chisholm of power.

“I refuse to accept this as the new normal,” Toney said of a 91% increase in Milwaukee’s murder rate since 2019. “That’s why I advocated granting our prosecutor general of the initial prosecuting authority here in Milwaukee so that we can catch the crime that they can’t or won’t prosecute.

Across the country, Republican state lawmakers are demanding the same, stripping power from local prosecutors who have passed reforms aimed at reducing mass incarceration. But these power grabs are not limited to crime. They concern the implementation of the minority rule. State politicians strip autonomy from local voters in hopes of earning points to crush cities they portray as lawless and ungovernable.

“[Toney is] carelessly – and for motivated political gain – using race-coded rhetoric to invite the open usurpation of the legal order established by the state itself and the state constitution,” said Atiba Ellis, Professor of law and expert in voting rights at Marquette University in Milwaukee. “And it’s a dangerous game.”

Toney’s proposal is that if elected in November, he, not Chisholm, would make the charging decisions for Milwaukee County, where about 70 percent of Wisconsin’s black population lives. Chisholm, first elected in 2007, had come to national attention as a reformer who sought to implement a “paradigm shift” in the way district attorneys operate, paving the way for other progressive prosecutors in cities like Boston, Chicago, St. Louis, Philadelphia and San Fransisco.

Chisholm wouldn’t be the first DA to face this anti-democratic gamble. In St. Louis County, after Wesley Bell was elected on a progressive platform in 2018, the Missouri state legislature drafted a bill that would refer criminal complaints to the Missouri attorney general for he examines whether Bell’s office chose not to charge them. Earlier this year in Florida, Governor Ron DeSantis suspended Hillsborough County Attorney Andrew Warren after he said he would defy the 15-week abortion ban championed by DeSantis.

As a demagogue crime Republican in the weeks leading up to the 2022 midterm elections, Pennsylvania state lawmakers filed articles of impeachment against progressive Philadelphia prosecutor Larry Krasner, who had been solidly re-elected in 2021. Republican candidate for Minnesota attorney general, Jim Schultz, threatened to follow Toney’s lead if progressive candidate Mary Moriarty took control of the Hennepin County prosecutor’s office in Minneapolis.

Since the 2020 election, Republican leaders in Wisconsin like Robin Vos have publicly expressed a preference for excluding Milwaukee from state elections. With Eric Toney’s original jurisdictional plan, they’ll do one better: disempower Milwaukee voters in their own local elections.

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