Bruce Murphy
Murphy’s Law

17 Election Winners and Losers

Beyond the election results, who were the other people, groups and trends that won or lost?

By - Apr 5th, 2023 12:32 pm
Gov. Scott Walker delivers remarks at the Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce's Business Day in Madison, 2013. Photo from the State of Wisconsin.

Gov. Scott Walker delivers remarks at the Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce’s Business Day in Madison, 2013. Photo from the State of Wisconsin.

For Dan Kelly, the race for Wisconsin Supreme Court may have been lost before he ever declared his candidacy. The June 2022 Dobbs decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, striking down the 1972 Roe v Wade ruling which had made abortion legal for half a century, meant that abortion would be on the ballot in the high court race in Wisconsin. And as polls showed a significant majority of Wisconsin voters supported abortion, a hard-right abortion opponent like Kelly probably never stood a chance.

In an election that got tremendous national coverage, Kelly was crushed by abortion rights proponent Janet Protasiewicz, who won by more than 200,000 votes, with 55.5% versus Kelly’s 44.5%.

So yes, abortion rights advocates were big winners in this election. Who and what else were winners or losers in this watershed race?

Loser: Good sportsmanship. In normal elections, the two candidates shake hands before and after a debate. Kelly and Protasiewicz refused to do so in their one debate, which was filled with bitter attacks by both. But Kelly offered a final salvo in his concession speech that hit a new low in ugly rhetoric. “I wish I would be able to concede to a worthy opponent,” he declared. “But I do not have a worthy opponent…. This was the most deceitful, dishonorable, despicable campaign I’ve ever seen run for the courts… It was truly beneath contempt. My opponent is a serial liar… She’s demeaned the judiciary with her behavior.”

He also took a shot at Wisconsin’s voters, declaring they “chose the rule of Janet” over “the rule of law.” What a class act.

Winner: Better Wisconsin Together: Their ads targeting Jennifer Dorow, the more moderate conservative in the primary race for the state Supreme Court race, took out the candidate the Protasiewicz campaign most feared. Along with the abortion issue, the defeat of Dorow was probably the second most important factor in Protasiewicz’s victory.

Winner: Crime Ads. You would have thought that sexual assault was the main issue the Supreme Court rules on given all the ads about this, when in fact the court almost never issues a decision on this. But the onslaught of ominous soft-on-crime ads helped defeat Dorow and was essentially a tie between Kelly and Protasiewicz. This was the election where liberals employed the same weapon conservatives have used in court races for years, proving that any candidate can be slimed if you cherry pick a couple court cases in the past.

Loser: Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce: No person or group in Wisconsin has done more to ratchet up the cost of court races in this state, or to make doom-ridden crime ads the focus of the campaigns. The irony is that this group isn’t concerned about crime rulings but seeks a court that will rule in favor of big business in civil cases. The WMC’s cynical approach was matched by liberal groups who held their nose and ran soft-on-crime ads against Dorow and Kelly. The other losers were the TV viewers subjected to these ads.

Winner: Ben Wikler. Republican Party Chairman Brian Schimming has called state Democratic Party Chair Wikler a “master” at raising cash from out-of-state donors, and he proved to be in an election that was the most expensive for a state high court in U.S. history. All told, Protasiewicz had more money backing her than Kelly, when all campaign and third party spending was included.

Loser: Judicial and Bar Association Endorsements. The old days of court races being decided by Bar Association ratings or which candidates were backed by the most judges and attorneys are long gone. Nowhere was that clearer than in the Appeals Court race where incumbent William Brash had the backing of just about any judge who made an endorsement, along with a long list of attorneys, and still lost in a landslide to challenger Sara Geenen. Milwaukee county voters simply chose the more liberal candidate and ignored any other factor.

Winner: Patrick Guarasci. The campaign consultant, who ran the successful campaigns of longtime Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, quietly guided the campaign of Protasiewicz, which made few mistakes and pounded the key issue of abortion.

Loser: Conservative Disunity. The squabbling between Kelly and Dorow and their conservative supporters in the primary election helped the divide the right wing, with talk radio host Mark Belling calling on Kelly to drop out of the race and Kelly and Supreme Court Justice Rebecca Bradley attacking Dorow. While Dorow said she would support Kelly in the general election, she was invisible after the primary and the rancor between the conservatives was not a help to Kelly’s cause.

Winners: Rich Out-Of-State Donors. Races have become so nationalized that we now have liberal fat cats like George Soros spending a million and Hollywood hot shots Steven Spielberg and his wife, actress Kate Capshaw, together spending $250,000, all to elect Protosiewicz. Compared to that, your one vote in the race doesn’t seem so important.

Loser: Rich Out-Of-State Donors: There were just as many wealthy conservatives from outside Wisconsin spending millions on the Supreme Court race, but nobody spent more than Dick and Liz Uihlein, who are actually Illinois residents though their company, Uline, is located in Wisconsin. Dick Uihlein has complained over the years about getting bad advice and spending millions on losing candidates. Dick, you’ve done it again.

Losers: Slumlord Youssef Berrada. He donated the maximum, $6,000, or 54% of the money raised from others by Lena Taylor in her campaign for the Milwaukee Municipal Court. But Taylor lost in a squeaker election to Molly Gena. Rather than getting a judge he hoped would be sympathetic to him when the city assessed fees for building violations, Berrada’s donation created controversy that may have helped elect Gena, a Legal Action of Wisconsin attorney with a long history of defending tenants facing eviction notices from Berrada’s companies.

Winners: Women Judges. The victory by Protasiewicz and Geenen makes the judiciary in Wisconsin less male dominated and in the case of the Wisconsin Supreme Court, continues its record as the state high court with the highest percentage of women justices in America. Protasiewicz will also make the fourth liberal woman justice on the court, joining Ann Walsh Bradley, Rebecca Dallet and Jill Karofsky, all three of whom were celebrating with Protasiewicz at her election headquarters last night.

Loser: Rebecca Bradley. Besides doing all she could to divide conservatives in the Supreme Court race, she offered some sour grapes at Kelly’s campaign event last night declaring that “We will now have four people on the Supreme Court of Wisconsin who will take away the power of the people to rule themselves, to govern themselves and the Legislature.” So even before Protasiewicz takes her position, Bradley is criticizing her, something she has done repeatedly to her fellow conservative on the court Brian Hagedorn. That’s a good way to make sure no one on the court wants anything to do with you or your opinions.

Winner: A Senate Supermajority. Republican Dan Knodl’s win in the open 8th Senate District race gives the GOP a supermajority in the state Senate, and the power to impeach state officials. Knodl has already said he would consider voting for Protasiewicz’s impeachment. If it comes after the new justice votes for abortion rights, Knodl may find he faces a recall election in his own district. Ultimately the threat of impeachment may remain only that for the senate, but even that is a weapon in the state’s ongoing partisan wars.

Loser: Scott Walker. Back in 2015 he could have picked from a couple solid conservative Republicans to appoint to the state Supreme Court, but instead chose the most rabidly radical applicant, Dan Kelly. Kelly was so extreme he couldn’t win election to the court in 2020 and has lost again. Meanwhile, Walker published op eds opposing Protasiwiciz that had no impact, and some of his old campaign operatives ran Brash’s campaign and botched it. Walker’s announcement that he wouldn’t run against Democratic incumbent U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin in 2024 was just another sign of his ever fading impact in Wisconsin.

Loser: Charlie Sykes. Sykes wrote a column for The Bulwark lamenting the end of the independent judiciary in Wisconsin and the rise of partisan candidates like Protasiewicz and Kelly. There’s no doubt the end of truly nonpartisan races in Wisconsin is a sad thing. There’s also no doubt about who is most responsible for this, something Sykes hopes we forget as he does everything possible to excuse and bury his ugly past. It was the WMC and its big spending and Charlie Sykes and his outsized megaphone as talk radio host for WTMJ who were the key killers of nonpartisan races. Sykes could be counted to savage any candidates for the court who weren’t right wingers and attack moderate Republicans as RINOs or Republicans in Name Only. Who better to lament the corpse of nonpartisan elections than the man who stuck the knife in so many times?

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Categories: Murphy's Law, Politics

7 thoughts on “Murphy’s Law: 17 Election Winners and Losers”

  1. kmurphy724 says:

    Appreciate the effort at remembering the bad Old days of Sykes’ AM radio domination of Milwaukee area politics. While I’m glad the Trump bridge was one too far for him, if his Road to Damascus turn is sincere, and not just a reinventing of his brand, he has a lot to make amends for. I’m reading and listening to see if he does.

  2. Catman says:

    So true! All of it. Thanks.

  3. ringo muldano says:

    Kelly cowardly alluded to running away from Wisco and was crying out his asshole due to his humiliating loss last night. G’bye Dan.

  4. Ryan Cotic says:

    Suprised we elected someone who abused elders

  5. frank a schneiger says:

    There was another significant loser in this race. It was an additional loss for the perceived legitimacy of the judicial system. Like the U.S. Supreme Court whose legitimacy is now openly questioned by many, the legitimacy of this court’s decisions – especially if they are narrowly decided – will be rejected by the far right, just as those of the Supreme Court already are by those not on the right.

    Legitimacy crises have two very important qualities: you rarely know when they begin, and nobody really knows how you get out of them. In the old western series Cheyenne, the hero is hauled before a kangaroo court. At some point, the judge demands, “Are you showing contempt for this court?” To which Cheyenne responds, “No judge, I’m trying to hide it.” That may be where we are at.

  6. lobk says:

    Kelly and others have learned from the moral playbook of our recent commander-in-chief. How do we teach sportsmanship to our children with these examples of taking the ball and going home because we lost?

  7. gerrybroderick says:

    Kmurphy said it for me, Bruce. MSNBC seems curiously unaware (or in denial) of Charlie Sykes’ consistent past efforts to fertilize the Trumpian fields in preparation for his saviors arrival. Those weren’t palm leaves that he was spreading around back then…more like rhetorical landmines that he now would have to explain if someone was to resurrect them and hit “playback.”

    In that event the Bulwarks would be breached and a flood of historical reality poured onto all the current posturing and pretense Charlie currently exudes. “Rachel, Rachel, I’ve been thinking…..”

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