But one investigation has shone the brightest media spotlight on Chisholm. For more than two years, prosecutors under Chisholm’s command have been combing through Gov. Scott Walker’s tenure as Milwaukee County executive in a wide-ranging secret John Doe investigation. The probe has already produced criminal charges against six people, convictions of five, and incarcerations for two, with more expected.
Yet, in cases where the spotlight shines brightest, reality has sometimes been deeply distorted. Like so much else in these times of intense political polarization, the Walker investigation has spawned images of two fundamentally different universes.
On the left, Walker’s critics gleefully predict the governor’s downfall any day now. On the right, his champions point out that he’s not been charged with any crimes. Walker has stated publicly that he’s been told the investigation is not targeting him – a claim his opponents are unwilling to believe. For all the bravado of the governor’s critics, his allies are just as confident he will not merely survive, but thrive.
Conservative Republicans who back the governor, from talk-radio hosts to self-styled media watchdogs, have positioned the entire criminal probe as nothing more than naked politics. Chisholm, they note darkly, is a Democrat; the investigation, they insist, is nothing more than a partisan witch hunt, with Chisholm carrying water, in the words of Conservative Digest publisher Bob Dohnal, “to help his buddy Tom Barrett.”
Dohnal made the confident assertion last spring, not long before Milwaukee’s mayor lost to Walker a second time. That June recall election capped the long, fruitless campaign to oust the governor. But there are two problems with perceptions like Dohnal’s.
The first and most obvious is that the vote came and went without charges against the governor, despite the dire predictions of Walker’s supporters.
But that’s no surprise to the people who have known and worked with Chisholm over the last two decades. Because, more fundamentally, the other problem with the right’s Machiavellian caricature is that none of Chisholm’s large network of supporters see anything like him in it.
What they see instead is a relentlessly earnest and nonpartisan public official, regardless of his party label. Not a conniving prosecutor willing to indict the proverbial ham sandwich, but a sober student of history who wants to see law enforcement pay as much attention to prevention as to prosecution.
Chisholm shrugs off the attacks of Walker’s cheerleaders as the work of “propagandists.” “I don’t make decisions on whether a person’s a Democrat or a Republican or an independent,” he says. “I make decisions on whether I can prove a case beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Wednesday, February 6, 2013
Erik Gunn, writing for Milwaukee Magazine has a compelling and exhaustive look at Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm. Here's a rather tasty excerpt from this must read piece: