Who’s the Conservative for Circuit Judge?
The race between Rebecca Bradley and Janet Protasiewicz is hard to call.
“You’re clearly the conservative in this race,” announced right wing radio host Charlie Sykes, while interviewing and throwing bouquets to Rebecca Bradley for her race against Janet Protasiewicz.
After all, Bradley donated $1,300 to Scott Walker in his campaigns for governor, and Gov. Walker returned the favor, appointing her a circuit court judge in November. With supporters like that, Bradley must be a conservative, right?
Perhaps. But we often think of conservative judges as tough-on crime, law-and-order types. That doesn’t seem how Bradley has operated in her short tenure as a judge in Children’s Court. Democrat and Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele has endorsed Bradley, saying “she is compassionate about people and is making a positive impact on our community in Children’s Court.”
Another Democrat who supports Bradley, but prefers to be off-the-record, says Bradley “has treated children and families with dignity during her short time on the bench. She has shown to be a great listener and fair judge.”
Protasiewicz, meanwhile, has worked for 25 years as an assistant DA, prosecuting criminals. “She’s tough,” says Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm in an ad endorsing Protasiewicz. “She’s prosecuted some of the most dangerous criminals.” Protasiewicz finishes the thought, saying “keeping the community safe is the number one priority.”
If you’re going by endorsements, Bradley has the support of lots of conservatives, including Republican legislators Alberta Darling, Mark Honadel, Daley Kooyenga, Jim Ott, Jeff Stone and Joe Sanfelippo and three of the more conservative Milwaukee County Board members: Deanna Alexander, Jim “Luigi” Schmitt and Steve Taylor.
And Protasiewicz is supported by AFSCME, Milwaukee District Council 48, and a long list of Democrats, from Mayor Tom Barrett to Congresswoman Gwen Moore, state Sen Chris Larson and Milwaukee County Board Chairwoman Marina Dimitrijevic.
Protasiewicz signed a recall petition against Walker and demonstrated against his policies at the Capitol. She got involved in Democratic politics as a teenager taking a job with U.S. Rep. Clement Zablocki (who was a conservative Democrat, by the way), but dropped out of the party after she sought the judge’s position.
Bradley once belonged to the Republican National Lawyers Association. She also served as President of the Milwaukee chapter of the Federalist Society, which opposes judicial activism (but there are Democrats who’ve joined the group).
Bradley has the support of Wisconsin Right to Life. But is Protasiewicz pro-choice? Her campaign manager Marshall Cohen won’t answer that, saying only that “her belief is a personal matter.”
Longtime Democrat and PR man Evan Zeppos supports Bradley, calling her “very hard working, smart and fair.” As to her politics, “Do I think Rebecca is a more conservative thinking person? Yes. But in saying that I don’t want to suggest that Janet is a liberal.”
Certainly her campaign is avoiding making this a right versus left campaign. “I don’t like thinking about it that way,” says Cohen. “No, it’s politics versus experience.” Politics? “The politics of Scott Walker and Bradley against the experience of Protasiewicz.”
And Bradley’s campaign manager Nate Ristow isn’t eager to accept the label of the “conservative in the race” (sorry, Charlie). Bradley is “probably to the right of Protasiewicz,” he concedes, but “in the middle.”
The Milwaukee Bar Association isn’t much help, rating them nearly equal: Bradley drew more votes of “qualified” (with 297 votes to Protasiewicz’s 236) but also more votes of “unqualified” (54 to 48 for Protasiewicz). Both claim more experience, Protasiewicz by virtue of her many years handing criminal cases and Bradley because she’s heard “hundreds of cases” in her brief tenure as judge.
The candidates are even spending about the same amount of money. Ristow estimates that both campaigns will spend about $150,000. However, Bradley has gained the support of the Club for Growth, which favors limited government, and ran ads supporting her which Protasiewicz’s campaign estimated were worth $167,000.
Can a circuit court judge really do much to limit the growth of government? It’s possible the Club for Growth was thinking more long-term. The fear of some Democrats — who might see Bradley as an acceptable circuit court judge — is that she could later become an attractive choice for the state appeals court or even supreme court.
Bradley is the clear favorite, Even the Protasiewicz campaign seems to think so, given that they’ve run a negative ad against her. Ristow notes that Bradley won 59 percent of the primary vote to 29 percent for Protasiewicz. “The only municipality she lost,” he adds “was Shorewood.” And modestly liberal Shorewood has rarely been a bellweather for the county.