La Crosse’s Power Couple?

Will La Crosse County crown a poor man’s version of Bill and Hillary Clinton as prom king and queen, or will voters make a thoughtful choice for Circuit Court Judge on April 7?

The election is a rare one in which taxes, spending and social issues take a back seat to the more austere topics of fairness and justice. This year, the judicial election between Brian Barton and Gloria Doyle adds questions of nepotism, bias, and qualifications into the mix.

Barton is the right choice for those interested in an accountable government and public safety. His years of experience in criminal law, including seven years prosecuting crime, five as a defense attorney, and eight as an Army lawyer, is the experience that the region needs as it deals with what many in law enforcement see as a revolving door where criminals take turns having their wrists slapped.

In this week’s Martinicast we say La Crosse has become a waypoint for drug dealers, hookers, and killers – that’s accurate, because drug dealers who bring related crime choose small La Crosse as a meeting point between the larger markets of the Twin Cities and Chicago because of the lighter police presence. This city has crime problems that are only getting worse.

But don’t take the word of a right-wing writer; Barton has the endorsement of many in law enforcement including Sheriff Steve Helgeson, the Sheriff’s Department Patrol Union, former police chief Ed Kondracki, and former sheriff Mike Weissenberger.

By contrast, Doyle has the endorsement of a smoky mahogany room full of former judges. It makes sense that the establishment has her back, as she and her husband Steve have been La Crosse County’s aspiring power couple since he lost his first Assembly election back in 1984. Now they’re finally positioned to occupy the two tallest Ivory Towers in the area.

A bingo hall full of former judges who helped build this revolving door doesn’t speak well to Gloria’s judicial philosophy. But the fact that law enforcement made it clear who they think should – and shouldn’t – be the next judge says a lot if you can read between the lines and know about the wrath of the Doyles, who have already put pressure on the sheriff for daring to speak up in favor of her opponent. According to several activists supporting Barton, a list of community leaders are hesitant to endorse though they support Barton because their organizations or businesses have an interest in keeping the favor of the County Board, which is presided over by Doyle flunkie, Steve’s handpicked successor as chairman, Tara Johnson.

They are without shame.

If one held out any hope that the Doyles would at least try to make it look like they weren’t hoisting each other up the ladder of taxpayer funded opportunity, those hopes have long been dashed.

First, Gloria fell short of the judgeship in February 2006 when Jim Doyle (no relation…technically) named Roger LeGrand to the bench. Prior to that failed aspiration, she was partners with Steve at their so-called Doyle and Doyle law firm. A month after LeGrand bested Gloria, she conveniently got a gig as La Crosse County Family Court Commissioner – which happened while her husband was the chairman of the County Board.

At the time, Steve hot-stepped with the Tribune prior to after the appointment, pretending to seek legal opinion about his wife getting a cush county job paying around $80,000 a year. Behold the efficacy of the corrupt machine Steve built as County Board chair, the remarkable political savvy of the pair, and the hard-hitting reporting by the media, which asked a question that Steve asked them to ask only after his wife got the job.

Fast forward to the back-scratching of the current campaign. Steve registered Gloria’s website himself – a simple web search shows was bought by Steven Doyle via the Doyle Law Office in November of 2014, just days after former Judge Dale Pasell announced he’d retire.

Steve and GloDo even have matching his and her yard signs – Gloria’s version basically deletes “Steve” and “Assembly” and inserts the proper updates. There’s not even an attempt by her to run a separate campaign from that of her uber-partisan husband who, despite his bipartisan rhetoric, is king of the La Crosse County Democrat machine.

La Crosse, you have your prom king and queen, should you choose to check the box with the familiar last name. But this election is a serious one, and Gloria is an inferior candidate. If she’s not prepared to run her own campaign with her own yard signs, how is she prepared to set a badly needed new direction for the courts?

There’s also the question of Gloria’s judgment, both in dealing with struggling families and maintaining dignity in general. She signed the recall paperwork of Governor Walker. That might not be a surprise considering who she’s married to, but Gloria herself is not an elected partisan – she should have better judgment than to broadcast her political bent.

Doyle does, after all, serve in a quasi-judicial capacity as Family Court Commissioner, a credential she doesn’t hesitate to literally wear on her sleeve as she goes around ostentatiously wearing the robes of an actual judge.

A judge forfeits his or her impartiality by doing things like signing recall petitions. At least that’s how the Journal-Sentinel described it when Joe Voiland knocked off incumbent judge Tom Wolfgram after the judge signed the Walker recall. Whether her signing the recall helps or hurts GloDo, it speaks volumes about her respect for the few roles that are supposed to be above politics.

This question hasn’t presented itself in the media, nor will it, most likely. Nor will Gloria’s hit-and-run of a parked car and unsafe lane deviation in 2009, an incident that’s shrouded in question marks because no one in the media has bothered to ask. Was she drunk? Texting? Dropped her lipstick?

We’ll never know, most likely, and that says all you need to know about politics in La Crosse.


About the writer: Chris Rochester is editor in chief of Morning Martini. He’s an armchair politico, veteran of several campaigns, and communications specialist. He's the communications director for the MacIver Institute. Commentary here is strictly his own.