Sunday, September 8, 2013

Friebert's impact on Wisconsin politics greatly understated

Calling Bob Friebert an expert on politics and election laws, as his obituary did this week, is a little like describing Bob Dylan as a harmonica player. It greatly understates his impact and involvement in Wisconsin politics over the last several decades.

Just a partial listing will give an idea of the breadth of his participation. Friebert was involved with every Democratic governor of Wisconsin from Pat Lucey to Jim Doyle -- and no doubt some even before that. He was Al Gore's state campaign chairman in his first presidential run 1988, and continued a long association with Gore ever since, including 2000 when Gore won the presidency but never got to take office.

As a lawyer, Friebert was involved in some historic cases, two in particular that have faded from memory but which are important parts of the state's history:

-- The bitter Hortonville teachers strike in 1974, in which the school board fired the teachers. Friebert, who represented teacher unions for decades, argued the case before the US Supreme Court, but the court ruled 6-3 in 1976 that the board had the right to fire them. The strike led to adoption of the state's mediation-arbitration laws.

-- The case when the national Democratic party tried to force Wisconsin Democrats to abandon their long-standing open presidential primary in 1980 and use a system that prevented crossover votes, such as a closed primary or a caucus. The State Supreme Court upheld Wisconsin's right to conduct its own primary, but the US Supreme Court -- with Wisconsin Atty. Gen. Bronson LaFollette and Atty. Bob Friebert representing the state, overturned that ruling and said the national party could make the rules. Friebert, ironically, was a member at the time of the Democratic National Committee, which was suing Wisconsin in the case. (Wisconsin Dems used a caucus system once, in 1984, but the open primary was then restored.)

Friebert and his partner, John Finerty, had a hand in scores, if not hundreds, of campaigns for state and local office, including many judicial races ranging from local judgeships to the State Supreme Court. Finerty, who is still with the Friebert, Finerty, and St. John firm they founded in 1971, was the county courthouse half of the tandem, Friebert the player in the statehouse and national capitol. Services are on Monday.    Death notice

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

If Gore had used Friebert to handle the Florida recount he would have been America's 43rd President.