Ellen Andersen

Why I'm Voting for Melina Kennedy

Filed By Ellen Andersen | November 05, 2006 11:05 PM | comments

Filed in: Politics
Tags: Democrats, domestic violence, Election 2006, local politics, Marion County, Melina Kennedy

LGBT people living in Marion County are fortunate in that both candidates for M.C. Prosecutor support comprehensive hate crimes legislation (including enhanced penalties) that covers sexual orientation and gender identity and both candidates have actively courted the LGBT vote.

But while Carl Brizzi is supportive of LGBT rights, his record on domestic violence concerns me deeply. Dismissal rates have gone through the roof under Brizzi's tenure. Conviction rates have dropped from 37 percent to 9 percent in the past four years. Domestic violence cases are arguably among the toughest to prosecute (although they didn't magically get tougher when Brizzi took office). But Brizzi's policy of letting newbies cut their teeth on them when they first join the prosecutor's office certainly hasn't helped matters any. As a friend whose job puts her into contact with domestic violence victims daily said to me: it's a policy that's harsh for the brand new prosecutor and even harsher for the victims.

Domestic violence is not an isolated problem. It's an epidemic.

  • In the United States every year, about 1.5 million women and more than 800,000 men are raped or physically assaulted by an intimate partner. (See Tjaden P, Thoennes N. "Full report of the prevalence, incidence, and consequences of violence against women: findings from the National Violence Against Women Survey." Washington (DC): Department of Justice (US); 2000b. Publication No. NCJ183781.)
  • Another 3.8 million women and 2.4 million men are pushed, shoved, slapped, or hit by an intimate partner each year (Tjaden and Thoennes).
  • According to the Centers for Disease Control, domestic violence results in nearly 2 million injuries and 1,300 deaths every year.
  • According to the National Coalition Against Domestic violence, about 3 out of every 5 women murdered are killed by their husbands or lovers.
  • Moreover, the effects of domestic violence are transmitted intergenerationally. One study found that children of abused mothers were 57 times more likely to have been mistreated or physically harmed compared with children of non-abused mothers (Parkinson GW, Adams RC, Emerling FG. Maternal domestic violence screening in an office-based pediatric practice. Pediatrics 2001;108(3):E43.)


Melina Kennedy gets it. If she's elected prosecutor, she's promised to assemble a family violence unit within the prosecutors office made up of deputy prosecutors trained in the issues surrounding DV.

Kennedy also understands that domestic battery needs to be a felony. (As it stands now, it can take up to four (!) DV convictions for domestic violence to be treated as a felony in Indiana. Four convictions!) I want hate crimes legislation. I also want domestic battery legislation. While I don't envision I'll ever need it, and hope fervently that my daughter won't either, I know that my students do. Rarely does a school year go by without at least one of my students coping with partner violence. And my guess is that for every one student I know about, there are several others who choose not to confide in me....

This has to end. So I'm voting for Melina Kennedy on Tuesday. Her actions as prosecutor could make a real difference in the lives of real people.


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Bruce Parker II | November 6, 2006 1:44 AM

Ellen,

Well, I was fully prepared to totally support my first republican candidate. You just changed my mind. Willful ignorance of the relationship between women hating and queer hating may lead some folks and organizations to disregard your valid point and observations. But, I see the link and hope that it will affect the way that lots of folks vote.

Thanks for sharing,

Bruce

Chris Douglas | November 6, 2006 6:57 AM

Regarding domestic violence, both candidates need to be encouraged and willing to speak up about the impact of the anti-marriage amendment on the enforcement of domestic violence law in instances where partners (same-sex or not) are not married. In other states, similar constitutional amendments have been used as a challenge to such enforcement.

It is my sense that both candidates may be, but require additional education on the topic. (Carl Brizzi expressed a concern about that aspect when asked, and Melina said she would study the matter, if I recall correctly.)

Ellen, what about the Brizzi camp's claim that the reason domestic violence convictions have gone down is because they are charging the alleged perpetrators with harsher crimes like battery, intimidation, etc instead of domestic violence?

Personally, I think they'd do equally well. I have to admit, the Prosecutor's race is the only one in the state where I have no qualms if the Republican wins. Of course, I still want the Dems to win, but that's my partisan side coming out. There is something to be said for supporting LGBT inclusive Republicans over anti-gay right wing homophobes, but I have to admit - I won't shed tears if he loses.

Ellen, I'm just curious if you've ever voted for a Republican? If so, who? I'm a Republican, but I've voted for quite a few Democrats over the years. I will vote for John Day for state representative, primarily because I've never heard from the Republican candidate and have no idea how he thinks on any of the issues. Day at least makes an effort to get out and meet the voters and discuss the issues with them. If your real reason for supporting Kennedy is because she's a Democrat and you never support Republicans, it makes a difference on how to view your analysis of the race, which is obviously based on extremely misleading data put out by the Kennedy campaign. People I've talked to who work in the prosecutor's office, including Democrats, have been really turned off by Kennedy's blatant misrepresentation of statistics. The Star called her out on this in its own analsysis of the same data.

Ellen Andersen | November 6, 2006 11:06 AM

Chris, I think you're right that both candidates need to (and are willing to be) educated on the potential impact of the proposed anti-marriage amendment on the enforcement of domestic violence laws in the context of unmarried couples.

Bill, Brizzi's contention that conviction rates are falling because the prosecutor's office is charging the alleged abuser with harsher crimes is problematic because the falling conviction rate is only partly due to the unwillingness of a jury to convict (which might be because the jury doesn't think DV is as serious as battery...). It's also due to an increase in dismissals - judicial rulings that the prosecution failed to show all the necessary elements of the crime or otherwise failed to make its case. And it's no coincidence that prosecutorial experience is negatively correlated with dismissal rate: it's the least experienced lawyers who are most likely to find their cases dismissed. And DV cases are complicated in ways that, say, felony larceny cases aren't. DV is precisely the kind of case that should be left in the hands of experienced litigators. That Brizzi takes newly minted lawyers and throws them into DV tells me one of three things. Either he fundamentally doesn't get the complications of DV law. Or he doesn't care. Or he simply doesn't know how to manage and assign his staff. No matter which answer is the right one, Brizzi isn't the right person for the job.

And yes, I agree with you that we should support LGBT-inclusive Republicans over anti-gay homophobes. That's a no-brainer. But that doesn't mean we should support LGBT-inclusive Republicans over LGBT-inclusive Democrats, simply because they're Republicans. I know Chris Douglas has made an argument that we should because otherwise social conservatives will argue that Republicans lose when they stray from their ideological roots. I disagree.

In tomorrow's elections, both the anti-gay Rick Santorum (PA) and the gay-friendly Lincoln Chafee (RI) seem likely to lose their Senate bids. It will be extremely difficult for the right-wing Republican base to argue that Chafee lost because he was socially liberal. And even if they can make that claim with a straight face (pun intended), I don't think most people will believe them. Here in Indiana, Hostettler, Chocola, and Sodrel - all socially conservative Republicans - are in tight races. Right-wing R's might make the claim that a Brizzi loss is a sign of what happens when R's get too friendly with the queers, but then how will they explain a Hostettler loss?

Ellen Andersen | November 6, 2006 1:33 PM

At the risk of blowing my Democratic credentials, Gary, I have indeed voted for Republicans - Libertarians as well. For instance, I was a big supporter of Rep. Connie Morella when I lived in Maryland. I've been less likely to vote R. since living in Indiana, in no small part because Rs here are more socially conservative than in some of the other states I've lived in. Still, here in Indiana I regularly support Republican candidates for superior court judge. The qualities of a good judge -- or a good prosecutor -- have little to do with their party affiliation, imo.

As for my analysis, I stand by it. And if we're going to play the unnamed "people I've talked to" game, pretty much everyone I know who's involved in domestic violence issues here in Indy is up in arms about Brizzi's management policies in the area of DV. I should be careful to note that the anti-DV advocates I know have had some extremely complimentary things to say about several of the individual deputies prosecuting cases -- thoughtful, hardworking, willing to learn and go the extra mile, etc. What they're upset about is the flow of experienced DV litigators out of the prosecutor's office and the policy of throwing newly-minted JDs into the DV lion's den.

Chris Douglas | November 6, 2006 4:12 PM

With regard to your question to me, Ellen, they will argue, alas, that Hostettler lost to a Democrat who has campaigned as a conservative on GLBT issues. This is the problem that occurs when Democrats adopt conservative tactics to win over Republicans: It reinforces the conservative arguments that other issues drove the victory, and that the Republican Party should remain conservative.

On the other hand, when Republicans with progressive glbt outlooks win office in the executive branch while conservative ticket-mates lose in the legislative and otherwise, then we have a strong argument that progressive policies not only are morally appropriate, but are winning.

You make some very good points. I'm with Bruce then. Count me as a reconvert. I was going to vote for Brizzi based on Chris's logic of supporting LGBT inclusive Republicans, but if his domestic violence rate is that bad - and because of dismissals - than he's not for me.

I am not a big supporter of the GOP, and did not shed any tears when they lost both houses of Congress, but I digress. Although Melina Kennedy has much government experience, her obvious lack of prosecutorial experience was the reason why she lost a fairly close contest to Carl Brizzi. I believe Brizzi beat Kennedy 52 to 48%. Don't hold this against me people, but I voted for Carl Brizzi as I consider him better qualified to continue serving as prosecutor.