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And while some candidates have become more vocal in criticizing opponents, O'Leary maintains the level of civility in Minnesota is largely intact. But he thinks that will change. "The respect [for other candidates] and the overall demeanor will hold up for the next couple of years," he predicts, "but it will become increasingly contentious. We will see more attorneys willing to run against sitting judges and they will be more willing to run negative campaigns. It will look more like Texas."
Opelt says that Texas voters, frustrated with profligate spending in judicial races and an array of negative consequences, are trying to turn the tide. "People got alarmed during the 1994 Republican sweep," he claims, "when minority judges were ousted in droves. Not because they were minorities, but because they had limited resources and the other side [Republicans] outspent them."
As a result, within the past year or so, the state legislature has begun to consider some measures that would level the playing field. "There have been some modest campaign spending limits approved thus far, and there is some discussion about altering how candidates are selected," he says. But while Texas may be ready to adopt a gentler approach to campaigning, it seems that Minnesota will have to learn the same lessons in its own time.
"I predict the situation will get worse before it will get better," says Christensen. "And then there will be public outcry, and the system will be changed. It's the way these things work."