Sunday, July 13, 2008

Miscalculating Compatriots Condemn Melina Kennedy to Consolation Prize

Take a great acting talent with an appealing public persona. Have his management team convince him he’s right for a role that plays completely “against type,” and you might see Denzil Washington holding an Oscar for Training Day.

But what is 1000 times more likely is the sight of Meg Ryan playing a boxing coach in Against the Ropes, Tom Hanks making us forget he’s Tom Hanks in The DaVinci Code, or Hayden Christensen in ALL of the Star Wars prequels.

There’s a political counterpart to this phenomenon. It’s Melina Kennedy playing a candidate for Marion County Prosecutor, a roll for which she was horribly miscast.

Sure, any actor or political figure makes the ultimate decision to run, but the point of having a team of advisors is to make sure you have a sounding board to keep you from doing something silly or out of character.

And when a handful of Democratic political higher ups met in a conference room with a list of names on a board to handicap their potential prosecutor candidates, Melina’s name wasn’t on it. When Kennedy was finally proposed, everybody in that room, no matter how ingenious or astute they had been politically up to that point, caught a bad case of electoral tin ear.

They completely failed to consider IPOPA’s “opportunistic sexism” theory, which is hardly revolutionary but now confirmed (at least for me) by some intriguing psychology in Blink, by Malcolm Gladwell.

I’m sure there is a better phrase for the phenomenon, but "opportunistic sexism" (or "opportunistic racism" for racial minority candidates) means simply that while most Americans are not overtly sexist or racist, their subconscious is bombarded with imagery or data that creates perception streams. If the perception streams are negative (which is historically the case for women and minority candidates), images or ideas that play on the negativity resonate easily with voters. Thus, when given an opportunity to reach a subconsciously racist or sexist conclusion, voters will.

And therein lies the formula for political success for minority candidates in all elections with diverse voter pools. They have to “salmon slalom,” and make several strong pulls against the stream until the voter’s unconscious path is altered and actually starts to move the other direction. Then over time, as more women or minority candidates fulfill “untraditional” roles, the negative perception streams gradually slow and ultimately dry up. But political reality demands you look at the current as it exists now. That's how you achieve the victories that allow you to change the perceptions (though clearly a colossal screw-up might make it harder for the next candidate who tries to run against the perception stream).

Ask an objective political strategist about the historic view of women as it pertains to law enforcement, and (s)he’ll tell you that women are not perceived as “being tough on crime.” This is why Indiana does not have a single woman sheriff in its 92 counties. To my knowledge (and apparently to the knowledge of those who care about such things), Indiana has NEVER had a woman sheriff.

Look at the Sheriff’s Association of Indiana’s website, and you’ll see 91 white men and 41 moustaches (the one African-American, Frank Anderson, has a moustache). The facial hair quotient might be higher, but two sheriffs had no photos and I couldn't tell whether another five had only slight facial hair or five o'clock shadows.

Fortunately, ladies fair better in the prosecutor position. Elected county prosecutors Sonia Leerkamp (Hamilton), Patricia Baldwin (Hendricks), Karen Richards (Allen), ClaraMary Winebrenner (Dekalb), Stacy Mrak (Pulaski) and Amy Richison (Huntington) come to mind.

But one thing you’ll notice is that the ladies must come up through the ranks. Leerkamp worked extensively with Steve Nation and Steve Goldsmith in Marion County before she took center stage. Richards assembled a lengthy and impressive record as a sex crimes prosecutor. While it is conceivable that a man with a strong record as a trial lawyer might win without ever being a prosecutor, its less likely a woman could. To be accepted as prosecutors, women need to show their “toughness” by vocation because they can’t convey it in words.

Perhaps the inability to shake the anachronistic notion that “woman control the home sphere” accounts for these women almost all cutting their teeth prosecuting “family-related offenses,” such as child homicide, domestic violence, and sex crimes. Whatever its reasons, this kind of track record is what you seek for electoral viability in a woman prosecutor candidate.

But what does that room of Democratic heavyweights bring you? Melina Kennedy, a woman who never prosecuted a case.

This is the tip of the iceberg, folks. I am geared up on this subject. IPOPA’s finest might be coming, including…

…a further discussion of subconscious sexism/racism and a fascinating self-test to detect your own subconscious on sexism and racism

…key lessons from Pam Carter’s campaign for Attorney General in 1992

…how Melina Kennedy’s campaign made matters worse

…the great news for Melina Kennedy

…who looks good as your next Marion County prosecutor

The onslaught is coming!



Anonymous said...

I think our next prosecutor candidate should be someone who will not have an affair with an office staffer and cause the breakup of his/her marriage.

Anonymous said...

Indiana has had a woman sheriff, Lillian Holley. She was a John Dillinger fan.

Anonymous said...

iPOPA, don't forget Roy Dominguez

iPOPA said...

Anon 5:50:

Lillian Holley was, indeed, an Indiana Sheriff. Well done!

Anonymous said...

Several years ago one of the donut counties, I believe it was Boone, had a husband and wife that alternated being elected sheriff every 8 years. I am pretty sure the man was Ern Hudson, who was generally well respected. When he would serve his 2 terms then his wife would run for sheriff and be elected, and Ern would be the chief deputy. Then it would be his turn to run again and he would be elected. This went on for several years and it seemed to be what the people in that county wanted. Nothing wrong with that.

Local Lawyer

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...

I think what the Brizzi/Kennedy election came down to, and this applied to Ds too, was that Brizzi was not doing a bad job and he was not disliked. Melina also ran on very flimsy issues that did not help her election much.

What convinced me that she was not qualified to be prosecutor was her blatantly unconstitutional proposal to prohibit sex offenders near parks, but the distance was so great that a sex offender would be prohibited from most of Marion County. That proposal, which the city-county council adopted and then a Federal Court struck down, indicated to me that she did not understand con law as it applies to crim law, and I really questioned whether her experience as an appellate court clerk was sufficient enough for her to be the prosecutor of the biggest county in the state. I think she can be a decent politician, but not as a prosecutor. I also think Mike O'Conner made her run on issues that were non-issues, which made her look desperate.

Brizzi is an okay prosecutor, but I am not convinced that Melina would have been better.

Jon E. Easter said...

Steve Poore for Prosecutor!

As far as Melina Kennedy goes, I think Melina ran a solid campaign. She was outspent mightily by a desperate political party that was at the time trying to hold onto a last vestige of power (enter 2007).

I will criticize her campaign in that it didn't hit back hard enough. Brizzi, according to anecdotal research, only had personally tried one case. He was making that into his bread and butter. After the unfair "pilot ad", the campaign should have hit immediately back on that.

Anyway, I appreciate your well thought out analysis. I just wish you would have included these thoughts about the campaign spending. Of course, the 2007 Mayoral race proved that spending isn't everything.