Bruce Murphy
Murphy’s Law

Winners and Losers

It was a good election for Scott Walker and conservatives but there were some bright spots for liberals.

By - Apr 4th, 2013 09:21 am

Poor Tom Wolfgram. He seemed like the model lawyer, who served as the District Attorney of Ozaukee County and then was appointed an Ozaukee  County Circuit Court Judge in 1994 by Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson. He  won reelection three times and was named the Wisconsin Judge of the Year by the State Bar in 2008, for creating a model program for victims of crime.

But Wolfgram was crushed in Tuesday’s election, getting just 37 percent of the vote against attorney Joe Voiland. The challenger did not criticize any decision ever made by Wolfgram. The sole issue in the campaign was that Wolgram had signed the recall petition against the current governor. Voiland didn’t attempt to prove this had compromised Wolfgram’s decisions in any case. His mere signature was enough to trounce him.

It was a stunning result in an election that had many winners and losers, including some who weren’t on the ballot. The winners included:

Scott Walker: Wolfgram’s defeat sent a message of terror to any Republican who dares to disagree with the Republican governor’s policies. The reelection of Justice Pat Roggensack assures a conservative majority on the The Wisconsin Supreme Court, which bodes well for Walker when his signature legislation, Act 10, gets reviewed by the court. His appointee to the Milwaukee County Circuit Court, Rebecca Bradley, won election. Even the reelection of State Superintendent Tony Evers works well for Walker. Sure, Evers is a liberal aligned with WEAC, the state teachers union and a foe of Walker. But Evers and the governor have been friendly with each other, collaborating on a proposal to create a “report card” to evaluate all public schools.

Tony Evers: True, he faced a weak opponent, but he rolled up 61 percent of the vote, strengthening his position. He has been able to forge connections with Republicans even as he criticized Walker for freezing spending on public schools in his proposed budget. He’s a rare liberal who’s actually a player in the GOP-dominated state capitol.

State Supreme Court’s Conservative Bloc: The four-member majority won’t face another election until 2017, four years from now, when Justice Annette Ziegler will run for reelection. Meanwhile, Ann Walsh Bradley, one of just two liberals, will have to run in 2015, and is likely to face an opponent who will get millions in third party conservative dollars to run against her.

Milwaukee County Board’s liberal majority: In the last decade the number of conservatives on the county board has steadily declined. The most recent conservative who left (winning a job in the state assembly) was Joe Sanfelippo and his supervisor seat was just won by former state representative and moderate Democrat Tony Staskunas. In the other race for an open seat (vacated by Nikiya Harris, who won a state senate job), the winner was Khalif Rainey, an aide to congresswoman Gwen Moore. Rainey has already announced his opposition to downsizing the board.

County Board Chair Marina Dimitrijevic: She already had a veto-proof majority and Rainey and Staskunas are likely to join the group on most issues.

Republican State Senator Alberta Darling: For many years she was seen as a lightweight legislator, but she has tied herself to Walker with great success, winning a seat on Joint Finance, and proving a winner in this election by supporting Voiland against that heretic Tom Wolfgram.

Milwaukee School Board liberals: Tatiana Joseph, an instructor at the UW-Milwaukee, and Claire Zautke, an aide to County Executive Chris Abele, were both endorsed by the teachers union and push the board further left. This had Charlie Sykes predicting that current school board president Michael Bonds would be replaced and MPS superintendent Gregory Thornton might even leave. Bad predictions. A still rather unified board should reelect Bonds and and remains solidly behind Thornton.

And the big losers:

Don Pridemore: the Republican state representative couldn’t even win the support of some conservatives for his race for state superintendent. Pridemore could never shake his notoriety for telling a tea party group that he would back a law that would throw federal officials in jail if they tried to implement the Affordable Care Act in Wisconsin. This antiquated version of federalism, which was effectively ended by the Civil War, won scorn for Pridemore from Sykes, who predicted the Republican would get 32 percent of the vote. Wrong again, Charlie, it was 39 percent, but still an abysmal showing.

Don Pridemore II: To further stamp his candidacy as ridiculous, Pridemore sent a memo to an aide which got leaked, saying he would give no interviews to Mary Spicuzza of the Wisconsin State Journal, David Umhoefer (a Pulitzer-Prize winner) and Patrick Marley of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Jack Craver of The Capital Times and Scott Bauer of The Associated Press. That’s just about everyone covering the race.

The Wisconsin Supreme Court: As one expert has suggested, it’s become a national punch line since Prosser was accused of trying to choke a fellow justice. Its prestige is likely to continue declining unless the justices face up to their problems. But Roggensack was just rewarded with a victory for denying the court was dysfunctional, so where is the incentive to change?

WEAC: Sure, the state teachers union successfully supported Evers, but it basically sat out the Roggensack race, whose election makes it far less likely that Act 10 (which crushed WEAC) will be overthrown. Once the mightiest lobby in Wisconsin, WEAC is now a shadow of itself.

Chris Abele: a bigger majority for Dimitrijevic means even less power for the county exec, unless he improves his ability to win over board members.

Ed Fallone: His unsuccessful campaign means Wisconsin lost the chance to elect its first Mexican-American Supreme Court justice.

Bipartisanship: Bradley’s challenger for Milwaukee Circuit Court judge, Janet Protasiewicz, tried to make the election a Democrat-versus-Republican race and lost, largely because some liberals liked Bradley and didn’t like Protasiewicz’s nakedly partisan campaign. For a state rubbed raw by bitter partisanship, that was a good sign. But it was far outweighed by the thrashing Judge Wolfgram received in Ozaukee County, which shouted out the message that voters won’t tolerate any non-Republican thoughts by their judges.

Categories: Murphy's Law, Politics

9 thoughts on “Murphy’s Law: Winners and Losers”

  1. Kyle says:

    I think Wolfgram’s signature on the recall petition probably guaranteed he was going to lose, but I think the margin he lost by was due to the reasons he used to try to justify signing the petition. I don’t think anyone believed he signed it to buy more time to understand the issues. If you think a judge is lying to your face, why would you vote for his reelection?

  2. Stan says:

    “Message of terror” may not apply to any counties outside of suburban Milwaukee. Also, it may backfire with moderate Republicans who feel that Wolfgram made a mistake, but didn’t deserve this consequence. Walker cannot afford to lose 2-3% in Republican support in next year’s election — that could happen if moderate Republicans feel he rules with a “message of terror.”

  3. Eric says:

    Somewhere in the middle between winner and loser = Walker’s legal counsel. That office arranges the appointment of judges and Rebecca Bradley probably saved the top legal counsel’s butt this week with her narrow win. The legal counsel’s appointments have lost most recently in Milwaukee (Nelson Phillips), Racine County, Lincoln County, and a couple or races in Dane County. Now, Walker is reportedly not going to bother with appointments in Dane County. Bruce– I hope you follow-up on the shaky work in that office. The Madison papers are reporting this week on the legal counsel for Walker meddling in a civil DNR case involving Madison-Kipp Corporation.

  4. Big Al says:

    I live in Ozaukee County my family received 3 mail pieces plus several robocalls from Senator Darling and Assemblyman Stroebel all telling me to vote for Voiland because Wolfgram signed the recall petition. No mention of questionable rulings or anything about how good or bad of a job Wolfgram has done. For all Voiland’s ads talking about judges remaining impartial, I only saw his campaign focused on one very partisan issue that wasn’t even related to what kind of job Judge Wolfgram has done.

    The focus of Voiland was that judges shouldn’t have signed the recall petition because that creates a “conflict of interest” and destroys the “separation of powers”. If that’s true, why do we allow judges to vote in elections? How is that different, other than that you can prove who signed the recall petition but you can’t prove who someone voted for?

  5. Kyle says:

    Big Al – there are lots of things that are perfectly legal that we hold elected officials accountable for when the next election rolls around. How many politicians have ruined their careers with infidelity that was not illegal?

    I think the real issue is that we vote on judges. Why subject rule of law to campaigns and voter whims? But because we do, voters may use whatever criteria they wish to make their choice. Or are you suggesting that we disenfranchise people based on how they make their voting decisions?

  6. dohnal(Wis. Conservtive Digest says:

    You criticize Don Pridemore, but he brought up really good issues exposing the failures of the Left, and education in Wisconsin.
    The real shame in this state is MPS, followed by MMSD, then the Milwaukee Cty board and do not forget the mismanagement of the Wis Exposition Center and the failed Milwaukee theater.
    Wonder why the state will never give us any money????

  7. stacy moss says:

    Why not flip it around and talk about BIG losers? The Democrats in Wisconsin who made Walker into a national figure by doing a recall election with no viable candidate at a time when they were unlikely to win.

    Walker is a good politician, certainly above average. But we (the motley left) made him into a star.

  8. Mike Bark says:

    Judges are not really supposed to show their political stripes and that’s why Wolfgram had a problem which he managed to compound with a lame answer as to why he signed. No one wants a judge who sounds like a moron.

    The reasons judges don’t sign something like a recall is the same reason why journalists by and large didn’t sign the recall. They are supposed to be objective. It had to kill Bruce not to sign the recall, but to his credit, he didn’t.

  9. Big Al says:

    Kyle – I’m not suggesting we disenfranchise anyone. People have the right to vote using whatever criteria they choose; however, that doesn’t always make their criteria a logical way to vote. My problem is that Voiland’s ads claim that by signing the recall petitions Judge Wolfgram can no longer be impartial, which is a bunch of baloney. If that’s true, I want to know who every judge voted for in each election so I can decide if he or she is “impartial” based on whether I agree with his or her voting choice.

    His ads claim that signing the recall petitions constitute bad judgement – so does that mean that anyone who signed the petition has bad judgement? I hope someone who appears in Voiland’s courtroom raises that issue – “I signed the recall so Judge Voiland thinks I have bad judgement, so how can I get a fair trial if the judge is biased against me before the trial starts?”

    Vince Megna made a good point in his WI Supreme Court campaign – why do we pretend these races are nonpartisan when we all know they’re not? Voiland claimed to be impartial but there was nothing impartial or nonpartisan about his campaign.

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