Transparent ploy to kneecap rival

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Evers deserves a day in court with his counsel of choice.

FIRST, LET'S RECALL this newspaper has taken the stand that the elected office of statewide superintendent of the Department of Public Instruction is a superfluous waste of taxpayer money. Governors are held accountable for education policy. Governors ought to appoint the education chief, just like governors appoint the Department of Natural Resources secretary, the Revenue secretary, and all the others.

Having said that, a political dispute over legal proceedings is not making the governor - or the attorney general - look good.

A lawsuit was filed a few days ago challenging the powers of the DPI superintendent and his agency. On several fronts this looks like an exercise in partisan political power.

THE LAWSUIT WAS brought against the schools agency by the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty, known primarily as a conservative advocate for Republican causes.

In response, DPI Superintendent Tony Evers attempted to hire outside counsel to represent him and his department. Gov. Scott Walker moved to block Evers from the counsel of his choice.

So Evers shifted to hand the case to DPI's internal chief legal counsel. Republican Attorney General Brad Schimel maneuvered to block that representation, instead informing the Wisconsin Supreme Court that his own Department of Justice would represent Evers. But, wait ... Schimel is on record disagreeing with Evers' position and siding with the plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

How is that fair?

Add this nugget of information: Evers is the leading Democrat candidate to challenge Walker's bid for re-election next year.

THIS DOESN'T PASS the smell test. In the larger issue of who should be calling education policy, we think it should be the governor. But, for now, it's not, so a partisan ploy to keep Evers from hiring his own lawyer is obviously prejudicial. Give him his day in court, with the lawyer of his choice.

By the way, under normal circumstances we also would argue there's no need to elect an attorney general. For example, the U.S. attorney general - a much bigger job - is appointed by the president.

On the other hand, it's painful - and illuminating - to watch President Trump bully and intimidate his own pathetic Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Independence at the Justice Department clearly is not Trump's first or second priority.

Nevertheless, Schimel proves the electoral process provides no guarantee of impartiality either. If he's not in cahoots with Walker's office to kneecap a political opponent here, you could have fooled us.

We continue to believe the people want a government that governs with a light touch, in the interest of fair play, not the politically-motivated exercise of raw partisan power. Evers said Tuesday he rejects Schimel's imposition of a hand-picked attorney. Good for Evers.

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