Steven Walters
The State of Politics

Why Ziegler Has No Opponent

Overwhelming dark money advantage and Democratic fatigue are factors.

By - Jan 9th, 2017 11:11 am
Annette Ziegler

Annette Ziegler

There are numerous reasons why Supreme Court Justice Annette Ziegler, a member of the court’s five-justice conservative majority, will not be challenged in the April 4 election for a second 10-year term. She will be the first justice in 11 years to be unopposed.

If you look only at the vote totals from the last four Supreme Court elections, it would appear that a moderate lawyer could have a chance against Ziegler: Conservatives won three of the last four Supreme Court elections, but with just 50.9 percent of all votes cast.

But campaign-spending totals in the last four elections tell a much different story — and go a long way toward explaining why Ziegler won’t be challenged on April 4.

According to Wisconsin Democracy Campaign totals, conservative candidates for the Supreme Court and independent groups that ran ads, and backed them in other ways, spent a total of $8.59 million in the last four elections.

Three of those elections were won by now-retired Justice David Prosser (2011), Chief Justice Pat Roggensack (2013) and Justice Rebecca Bradley (2016). The only conservative to lose was Rock County Circuit Judge James Daley in 2015.

In those four elections, moderate Supreme Court candidates and groups supporting them spent $5.16 million — $3.43 million less than their conservative opponents and their big-spending friends, according to the Democracy Campaign. The only moderate winner in those four elections was incumbent Justice Ann Walsh Bradley in 2015.

In low-turnout spring elections, the $3.43 million more spent by conservative candidates and third-party groups had a major impact.

Put another way, conservative Supreme Court candidates and outside groups supporting them – including the Republican State Leadership Committee last year, which spent $114,000 to help elect Justice Rebecca Bradley – accounted for 62-cents of every $1 spent in the last four elections.

Democrats and others who might otherwise be encouraging veteran lawyers to challenge Ziegler are weary, reeling and regrouping from Nov. 8 losses, and unwilling to – for now – make campaign donations. They also know they will soon be asked to write checks for the party’s nominee against Republican Gov. Scott Walker and to re-elect Democratic U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin in 2018.

Republican President-elect Donald Trump not only carried Wisconsin on Nov. 8, but Republicans also won bigger majorities in the Legislature.

Former Justice Janine Geske said there are several reasons why respected, experienced lawyers who should run for the Supreme Court won’t consider it now. Geske served on the court from 1993-’98.

“Judges and lawyers, who are highly talented and, under other circumstances, would have been interested in serving on the Supreme Court, do not want to endure the nasty, expensive and ‘reputation ruining’ process of a race,” Geske said, adding:

“With all the ‘dark money’ being poured into these elections, a justice will face ethical attacks when he/she sits on a politically charged case.

“Unfortunately the Supreme Court has exacerbated the problem by enacting a broad judicial ethics provision that sets no limits or guidelines on contributions that would create a conflict.”

UW-Milwaukee Professor Mordecai Lee, who served as a Democratic legislator from 1976 until 1990, offers a more blunt assessment:  “Money makes the world go around. Republicans have it. Democrats don’t.”

“Partly related to money is a factor that is rarely discussed,” Lee adds. “The lesson of the last Supreme Court and attorney general races was that no matter what the Democratic nominees’ credentials were, the GOP’s attack ads (including heavy media buys) have always succeeded in making the Democratic candidate look soft on crime and pro-criminal rights.”

Lee also said the “many reasons” Democrats are outspent by Republican candidates and third-party groups include:

*”Before Act 10, Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce versus public labor unions were roughly balanced. Act 10 removed labor money, organization and effort from the Democratic Party.”

*The 2012 retirement of former U.S. Sen. Herb Kohl, the millionaire who for about 25 years kept the Democratic Party “well-organized and well-financed.”

*The 2011 redistricting plan, which federal judges have ruled unfairly helped Republicans keep control of the Capitol, is a “self-sustaining” help for Republicans, Lee says. “Being out of power repels financial – and other – support.”

*”More upper income people give to GOP than to Democrats,” Lee says. “It’s a built-in advantage.”

Overall, he adds, Republicans “are simply better at tough politics than Democrats – a kind of scorched-earth approach.”

Steven Walters is a senior producer with the nonprofit WisconsinEye public affairs channel. Contact him at

One thought on “The State of Politics: Why Ziegler Has No Opponent”

  1. Debra Kamps says:

    When we vote to take away peoples rights no matter what their occupation, such as the Public Workers, you vote to take away everyones rights. People in Wisconsin will soon learn what it really meant to destroy the incomes and benefits of Public Workers because it will trickle down the line to all workers in the state. High paying Manufacturers closed up and/or left the state leaving thousands to work for minimum wage which is about the only thing we have left here. They have alos taken away benefits of those that have worked for years and fired them for lower paid workers that wont be given benefits. Longer work hours without breaks/lunches and mandatory overtime without extra pay (time and a half) all because the people in this state thought public workers made to much for what they do. They make less than the same worker in the private sector with less benefits and have more responsibility but the idiots of Wisconsin believed the devil they elected to run the state instead of checking into it. Walker has stolen more money from the state since he started his work in any position for the state than anyone will ever know. He still has yet to pay back the money he owes for campaigning for President $407,000 and that was only after he announced he was running and after he spent thousands to campaign all over the world before he announced his campaign. Wisconsin Idiots, just like the other states that elect these Republican pukes will soon be made aware of all the bullshit, lies and corruption that follows this moron and the likes of him. It’s a terrible shame when teachers, engineers that watch over the companies that build your roads, consultants doing the same work as public workers and workers in factorys/assembly lines doing one job, a job you don’t need a brain to do are making more and receiving more in benefits than an engineer or a teacher or someone doing a job for the people of this state because of the lies and shit that flow out of Walkers mouth on a daily basis. How about the DNR cuts so hunters and fisherman don’t have to register their catch anymore, they can take a picture of it and submit it and if they want to get more than they are licensed to have, no one is going to know because there is no one watching over any of it. That’s the start of privatization and how they will destroy the food supply, etc and people will starve. Who is being given the money for the lottery we spend millions on in this state, where is the money going for all the program cuts including education? All in the pockets of the politicians and the dark money investors, I can almost assure you of this. It’s not going to get better until people wake up. Walker is a piece of crap and his followers don’t have a brain in their head to be allowing this garbage to continue to run this state.

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