Seal the eastern border and batten the hatches. There are two problems headed our way from Wisconsin, the source of much of our woe.

With the first problem, victims get bulging eyes and big bellies and go around in circles or just hang around until they smell bad. I know what you are thinking. It sounds like politicians at the Capitol, but they have been going around in circles for years without any assistance from Cheeseheads.

I am talking about something more important: fish.

There is a new fish malady called viral hemorrhagic septicemia, or VHS, and it has been killing thousands of fish in the Great Lakes.

So far, only a few Wisconsin lakes have been afflicted, but VHS could be headed our way, and it is time to stop all Cheddar Heads at the Interstate 94 crossing and search their cars for bad fish.

Fortunately, the Department of Natural Resources is on top of this deal and has a plan to protect our state's fish, including walleye, our supreme fish.

Now, if the state would just be as concerned about protecting our Supreme Court.

That's the other problem we may catch from Wisconsin, but no one seems to be taking this one seriously: Mud fights for seats on the Supreme Court.

Last week, Wisconsin voters held their noses and went to the polls to choose a Supreme Court justice in a race so putrid that America's last Limburger makers in Monroe, Wis., complained. Millions were spent on attack ads in the race, which pitted Burnett County judge Michael Gableman, a conservative who had the backing of business interests, against the state's first black high court justice, Louis Butler, a swing vote for a liberal majority.

In a reprise of the 1988 Willie Horton gambit, one vile ad for Gableman pictured Butler and a photo of a rapist whom Butler had defended while working as a public defender. No mention was made of any constitutional right to an attorney. Instead, the race-baiting ad made a visceral appeal to the worst elements of backwoods justice:

Rapist? Black. Supreme Court justice? Black. Get it?

The ad falsely claimed Butler "found a loophole" that led to the rapist's release and the commission of another crime. Butler represented the rapist in an appeal (24 years ago). But the convict served his sentence before being released and re-offending. Such subtleties may have been lost on voters watching a highly charged ad that ended by asking, "Can Wisconsin families feel safe with Louis Butler on the court?"

Interest groups on all sides - teachers, American Indian tribes, anti-abortion groups, attorneys - weighed in with negative ads, from one suggesting Gableman bought his circuit court appointment to one calling Butler "Loophole Louie."

It was uglier than a bowl of deep-fried cheese curds. Legal experts around the country called it a new low for judicial elections, unfair election complaints were filed against both candidates, and observers called it a barroom brawl.

Escape to Wisconsin. Yes - but bring a tire iron.

When the smoke cleared, Butler lost by a narrow margin, 51 percent to 49. The stench has lingered.

Dave Zweifel, editor emeritus of the Capital Times in Madison, wrote a column Monday decrying the "trashing" of Wisconsin's high court traditions by "smear advertising," both in this election and one in 2006 that proved to just be a rehearsal.

"I have no problem with the business community working to elect a pro-business justice," he wrote. "But I do have a problem when lies and deceit corrupt the debate and gobs of money control that debate."

Our problem at hand is that when Wisconsin sneezes, Minnesota often catches a cold.

Two Minnesota Supremes - Paul H. Anderson and Lorie Skjerven Gildea - are up for six-year terms this fall. Filings don't close until July, but so far there are few signs we will get a high court rumble.

That may change as fast as a sick fish could land in Duluth.

We are prepared for a virus that makes fish go belly-up. But not for one that turns state courts into just another front in the political wars.

Former Gov. Al Quie, a Republican, led a commission that has recommended measures to keep special-interest groups from buying seats on the court. The Quie effort has bipartisan support, though so far it doesn't seem to have much hope in the Legislature.

Maybe we don't want to think about all that ruckus from the people next door.

But that stuff may come here. And will, unless we stop it.

Nick Coleman •