Chisholm For Governor?
Will District Attorney run against Walker? DA's son encourages speculation.
A full house packed the Jackalope Lounj Tuesday, March 14th, for a 54th birthday party celebration for District Attorney John Chisholm, but the gathering was about more than his date of birth. Although he does not face re-election until November, 2020, Chisholm nonetheless brought a little basket and a stack of pre-printed envelopes to the event. By the end of the two-hour celebration (guests had to clear out by 7 p.m. for Trivia Night) the envelopes were filled and the basket was overflowing with campaign contributions.
The event drew a considerable number of Courthouse folks, including prosecutors, defense attorneys, judges and even County Executive Chris Abele. A few made it there from out of town, including former Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager.
Lautenschlager invited all and sundry to meet her son, Joshua L. Kaul, a litigator with Perkins Coie, a Madison law firm. Kaul, for his part, announced his intention to be the Democratic candidate for Attorney General in 2018. This was news to many in the crowd, some of whom expected Chisholm would make a run for the office, which he could do without risking his District Attorney job.
Apparently Chisholm will cede the candidacy for that position to Kaul, a 2006 graduate of Stanford University Law School and a former federal prosecutor in Baltimore.
Since his return to Wisconsin, Kaul has been involved as a plaintiff’s attorney in the lawsuits against Wisconsin’s Voter ID law, which is championed by current Attorney General Brad Schimel. “Restricting access to the ballot box was not a consequence, but rather the very purpose of these laws,” Kaul said in his successful argument.
How Partisan Is Chisholm?
Although he holds a partisan office, Chisholm has never faced Republican opposition in his three successful bids for District Attorney in heavily Democratic Milwaukee County, and he easily fought off a weak challenger in the 2016 Primary Election. Chisholm likes to stress that impartiality is part of his job description and his ethical duty, so he has generally tried to hold himself above the political fray. Indeed, he as prosecuted politicians from both parties.
But Chisholm was increasingly drawn into the partisan vortex when he pursued a John Doe inquiry into the then- County Executive Scott Walker‘s office, which resulted in six convictions, including several Walker staff members. A follow-up probe of possible campaign finance violations and influence by Walker’s gubernatorial campaign peddling ended after the Wisconsin Supreme Court made a controversial ruling shutting down the investigation.
It is not unexpected, then that some people might consider Chisholm to be a potential candidate for governor, and I’ve heard speculation from political insiders as to whether he might run. The there was this Facebook reaction from Chisholm’s campaign manager to the news that 73-year-old former state Senator Tim Cullen [D-Janesville] was considering a run for the office.
I can’t see this working out. We need a candidate from an urban center who can appeal to the urban working class, especially voters of color, and rural voters who went for Trump. Someone with a background of public service and strong progressive stances on labor, voting rights, and criminal justice reform.
Why, whomever could this possible candidate be? The description seems tailor made for Chisholm, especially the working class part. Chisholm got 311,783 votes in his uncontested campaign in the fall general election, while Hillary Clinton only got 288,986 in Milwaukee County. Clearly, Chisholm appeals to a wider group of voters, perhaps including some Trump voters.
It should also be noted that the seasoned campaign adviser who offered this terse analysis of an unnamed, ideal candidate is Ted Chisholm, the 19-year old son of the D.A., his campaign manager and a current honors student at Macalester University, where he is studying, believe it or not, politics.
Ted worked the crowd like the seasoned hand he is, on a firsthand basis with people thrice his age.
When I said I was going to write up this event as a possible introduction to a John Chisholm bid for governor, Ted waved in assent and said, “Go ahead!”
A Question for the District Attorney
Caught up in the moment, and in the midst of the crowd, I found myself thrust into the presence of John Chisholm, where I asked him a hypothetical campaign finance question. Mindful of the pile of checks in envelopes in the basket at the front desk, I asked him if it would be possible for a candidate for District Attorney to shift his contributions to a campaign for, say, Governor of Wisconsin?
Of course, it would take more than a softball question like that to throw an experienced prosecutor off his feet. Chisholm laughed, evaded the question and instead alluded to the point of his investigation of Walker’s murky campaign finances. “Who knows nowadays what you can do?”
Update 10:25 a.m. March 16: Sachin Chheda, spokesperson for Chisholm for Milwaukee, reacted to this story wth this comment: “John Chisholm is not, and will not be, a candidate for Governor in 2018 — period.”
Among the Attendees
The Jackalope Lounj is not a large place, and it was filled to capacity for the Chisholm event. Judges Jeff Kremers, Janet Protasiewicz, Jean Kies, Valarie Hill and John Siefert were among the members of the third branch of government to make an appearance. Siefert is giving up his Branch 47 seat, which is being contested by Scott Wales and Kashoua Yang, who are to appear at a Milwaukee Bar Association forum Thursday, March 16th. Bill Ward was there representing the Milwaukee Police Association, while political advisor Sachin Chheda and Democratic National Convention delegate Craig Mastantuono made an appearance. His law partner Rebecca Coffee was also there offering support to Chisholm. Criminal defense attorneys rely on Chisholm to not prosecute in cases where the arrest or subsequent police actions may have been suspect, so support from this quarter is of interest.
Julilly Kohler, herself a former Milwaukee County prosecutor was at the event. Her daughter, Issa Kohler-Hausmann is a professor at the Yale Law School who has been much quoted in the New York Times and elsewhere on her award-winning studies of racial disparities in policing and the administration of justice.
Retired ACLU director Chris Ahmuty, whose former organization is suing the Milwaukee Police Department alleging illegal stops of minority citizens, was there talking with political activist Keith Schmitz. Prosecutor Irene Parthum was there, along with Atty. Mike Plaisted and Matt Flynn, who commented that he is a regular Urban Milwaukee reader. Also in the audience was Vince Bobot, a former municipal judge, commercial real estate figure Tom Gale, and Urban Milwaukee writer Dom Noth, who that day was announced as a Milwaukee Press Club Excellence in Journalism Award winner for his theater reviews in Urban Milwaukee.