Op Ed

Evangelicals Won Race for Hagedorn

And liberals made it happen by waving a red flag: ads decrying his anti-abortion, anti-gay views.

By - Apr 5th, 2019 12:46 pm
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Brian Hagedorn. Photo courtesy of the Friends of Brian Hagedorn.

Brian Hagedorn. Photo courtesy of the Friends of Brian Hagedorn.

Tuesday’s Wisconsin Supreme Court election cast a familiar pall over the hopes of Democrat and progressive citizens of Wisconsin. We had hoped the skin-of-their-teeth election of Tony Evers, Mandela Barnes, and Josh Kaul to some of the top political jobs in our state signaled a turning of the tide.

But the skin-of-his-teeth election of Brian Hagedorn to die-hard liberal justice Shirley Abrahamson’s seat demonstrated the strength of the conservative vote in Wisconsin.

As chief justice of the Wisconsin Court of Appeals, Lisa Neubauer had the experience, the endorsements, and the money. According to Ballotopedia, Neubauer raised more money than Hagedorn did. She had the endorsement of law enforcement groups and an impressive, 300-strong list of her fellow jurists. In another era, Neubauer would have been a sure winner.

One of the biggest spenders in the campaign was The Greater Wisconsin Committee, a Madison-based progressive PAC, which spent $835,000 in support of Neubauer’s candidacy. Without them, she might even have won this election.

Brian Hagedorn, who was Scott Walker’s chief legal counsel before being appointed by him to the Court of Appeals, is no fool. Early on in the race, he took to the airwaves with touchy-feely commercials about his adopted daughter, who was born addicted to opiates, smartly borrowing a page from Tammy Baldwin’s 2018 playbook. His TV ads never talked about gay rights, the issue he became most associated with in the minds of voters thanks to GWC’s commercials.

The progressive PAC’s “Hagedorn-is-anti-gay” TV commercials demonstrated the strength of one of the oldest clichés in our language, i.e.: Never wave a red flag at a bull. I would argue that those commercials did more to get out the pro-Hagedorn vote than any other single factor in the election.

The commercials made the argument that discrimination against all groups is wrong by linking the successful battles of the Civil Rights era to bias against the LBGTQ community. Then they focused on examples of anti-gay bigotry on Hagedorn’s part, like the fact that he sits on the board of a Christian school, the Augustine Academy, that explicitly bars gays.

For the solid chunk of Wisconsin voters who are members of the evangelical community, GWC’s argument fell on deaf ears. According to this community, your “orientation” is the gender assigned to you at birth by your genitalia, and anything else is just plain sin. These folks are not as noisy as evangelicals in other states. They don’t start fights over gay wedding cakes or who goes into which bathroom. They have their voucher schools, their private Christian lending institutions, and their Christian plumbing contractors and electricians. They are a nation unto themselves, one that believes Oprah is a racist, abortions are routinely performed in the ninth month of pregnancy, and God wants Donald Trump to be president.

GWC apparently believed Wisconsin had changed radically since 2006, when 59 percent of voters decided that gay marriage should never be legal in this Wisconsin, even if the state constitution had to be amended to ensure it. Many progressives seem to believe that the U.S. Supreme Court’s invalidation of gay marriage bans nationwide was enough to change all those hearts and minds. Once something is legal, the argument goes, it becomes more accepted.

Has anyone ever heard of the anti-abortion movement?

Out here where I live, in Waukesha County, support for Hagedorn was everywhere, but particularly on the lawns of people who hold bible studies in their homes (and there are lots of them) and demonstrate their allegiance to voucher schools with yard signs. Waukesha County also has several bible-based evangelical mega-churches, like River Glen, Elmbrook, and Springdale, and a whole slew of more traditional places of worship in the Baptist and Evangelical Lutheran category.

And now we have another homophobic state supreme court justice. In Waukesha County, Brian Hagedorn won by 68.5 percent. He turned out voters in northeastern and north central Wisconsin who evidently stayed home during the 2018 Supreme Court race. Massive turnout in Madison and solid turnout in Milwaukee and other municipalities were not enough to hold him off.

Most Dems and progressives expected Neubauer to be the clear winner. She had the money, after all, and wasn’t it the money that won all those elections for Scott Walker?

Many Democrats are evidently unaware that evangelicals are a significant voting bloc in this state, especially in the collar counties. A woman I know is an active Democratic fund-raiser who has recruited a number of candidates to run for state and local office. When I asked her how the party should address the “vast” number of citizens who vote their religion, she said, “Oh, come on. There are not that many evangelicals in Wisconsin.”

In the Democratic Party we are currently obsessed with organizing, with canvassing and phone-banking, with collecting the data and getting out the vote. If we can only get out the vote, it is said at party meetings, we can win. Steven Bower is the chair of the Jefferson County Democrats. He and his wife knocked on 1,000 doors for Lisa Neubauer. The efforts of Bower and his wife were heroic. Trust me on that one. It takes me three hours just to hit 40 or 50 doors out here. But how exhausting is that? Just to lose to a TV commercial?

Of course, progressives generally don’t mind losing on the issues. But in this case, we lost a lot. I don’t know how many votes on gay rights are going to come before the state Supreme Court. But I do know that this election has imperiled our right to clean water; has put our rivers, lakes, streams, and wetlands in serious jeopardy; will wreak havoc on the rights of individual property owners; endanger women’s rights to reproductive healthcare; and will most likely set off a continuing round of draining legal fights that we now have much less hope of winning.

Christianity and corporate interests walk hand-in-hand in Wisconsin. All it takes is one look at Brian Hagedorn’s smug, self-satisfied face to know, they ain’t worried. And we need to adjust our strategies accordingly.

Otherwise, we will probably continue to win a battle here and there. They never totally wipe us out. And you meet a lot of nice people on the marches. But the very term “resistance” implies that we are fighting against a unified force nearly overwhelming in its might. This is God’s army (at least, they think so) and they are going to keep on coming for us.

RT Both writes the Wiscoland blog, where you can find more of her columns. 

Categories: Op-Ed, Politics

3 thoughts on “Op Ed: Evangelicals Won Race for Hagedorn”

  1. Duane says:

    I agree 100 percent, the Neubauer ads bludgeoned the viewer with that single gay rights issue, of which I am sympathetic, but if you aren’t on board with gay rights you are now a very motivated voter for Hagedorn. (Plus there are many more issues to be even more concerned with). Meanwhile the Hagedorn ads portrayed him as a kind, gentle soul who even adopted a opioid addicted baby. Now the state has to suffer another corporate friendly judge because of that stupid single issue strategy of the Neubauer camp.

  2. lccfccoop2 says:

    I don’t want to kick Lisa Neubauer when she must still be reeling from a gut wrenching loss. BUT this Supreme Court seat is important to ALL of us.

    People tried to tell her campaign that they needed to work minority majority Milwaukee and the way to do that was:

    Find minority allies.
    Show up in places outside white lib comfort zones
    Hit the Walker/Hagedorn/ Act 10 connection hard.

    They didnt. Further, Neubauer should have accepted the 620 TMJ invite to go on the morning show 4/1. She looked either chicken or snooty not going. Tammy Baldwin could get away with it. Lisa Neubauer couldn’t. Lots of non right wingers tune in and she might have picked up votes. Steve Scafidi isn’t the jerk Sykes was and she could have made her points.

    Religious freedom is becoming the replacement for “law and and order vs soft on crime” wedge issue for Republicans.

    Dems win when the focus on economics and finesse identity politics wedge issues. Particularly in communities where many committed minority voters happen to be evangelicals too.

  3. Jake formerly of the LP says:

    Very good column with tough truths. While I think it was worthy to bring up that Hagedorn was an exclusionary homophobe, it was an error to make it a central focus in a lower-turnout Spring election. And Neubauer never made statements such as “I will stand up for EVERYONE’S rights” to contrast that.

    Never run on “experience” or “qualified.” Run on values and say who you will protect, and who you will hold accountable. Republicans believe in some disgraceful stuff, but they at least signal to their base what they’ll do for them.

    Your last paragraph is especially true – THEY WANT IT ALL, and don’t care how they get that power and who they hurt along the way. And when turnout is limited to 1.2 mollion voters, that allows these fundie goose-steppers a chance to steal it with large turnout, and now this state might be set back even more if this result holds

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