Wednesday, April 4, 2018


By Dominique Paul Noth

JS expert photographer Rick Wood caught Dallet and her family
at her April 3 victory party.
It was rainy and cold throughout Wisconsin Tuesday but that did not deter the forces behind Rebecca Dallet from leaping in puddles, doing handsprings and yelling eureka! when she was the obvious winner with only half the vote counted over Michael Screnock for a 10 year term on the state’s highest court.

There were reasons for the Democrats to revel in glee in what is on paper a nonpartisan race.  Screnock had open backing from what has become in many minds the evil triumvirate – the NRA, the Republican Party and the conservative juggernaut disguised as Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, literally flooding his campaign with dark money. 

Dallet had her own liberal backers and some big out of state names that usually ignore our high court race. But it was not just Joe Biden and Eric Holder making the race a national media story.  Ever since Trump, there has been a David vs. Goliath feeling to Wisconsin elections, so dominant has been the GOP grip on the state government and the state’s sad emergence as a national test tube for Trumpian ideas.

For many her win is the start of retrieving respect and balance for the high court. Even Gov. Scott Walker regarded Dallet’s win as the first surge of a Blue Wave.

It did not escape notice that part of Dallet’s victory was in Paul Ryan’s House District 1 where (except for Waukesha County) she won or basically tied in the other four counties, part of a district gerrymandered to remain Republican. Dallet’s reputation is not just as a liberal values judge but a judge with law and order credentials, which could explain the size of her win.

But much of it spells hope for less well heeled candidates running against Ryan in November -  if he decides to run (the polls have moved him from sure thing to threatened and as of this writing he had not announced his decision on his future).

The 12 point margin of her victory also suggested, as many elections around the country have recently done, that the one-time sure hold the Republicans believed they had on rural territories has evaporated.

Not that superior money doesn’t make a difference, but it is no longer the guarantee it once was in elections.  Nor are the usual outbreaks of slimy television ads, such as the one WMC increased showings of after the prosecutor and the named family in the case protested this perversion of the facts and invasion of privacy.  The ad reminiscent of the infamous Willie Horton commercial tried to paint the two-year sentence that Dallet had given as some kind of weakness. 

Louis Butler
The public wasn’t buying it, but it scared folks with long memories. Ten years ago Michael Gableman, who wisely decided not to run again, won his seat on the high court largely because of a Willie Hortonesque ad that was even more misleading but probably cost Louis Butler his incumbency on the court. Even today, Butler’s decisions and reputation on the court survive, but the ad robbed him of his career.

The public seems to have grown up – in most parts of the state.  In Milwaukee, County Executive Chris Abele, a rich man in his own and his father’s right, spent a fortune trying to reshape the county board to his preferences.

In the cases where he spent the most money, he lost handily, even suggesting that Oak Creek is fertile territory for a more progressive candidate for the legislature. Abele lavished more than $160,000 in flyers and campaign activities on his District 8 candidate, James Davies, who lost handily (56%-44% out of 7,682 votes) to public educator Steven Shea, endorsed by progressive groups.

In the race where Abele shoveled the most money – District 1 against board chairman Theodore Lipscomb Sr. – opponent Casey Shorts took advantage of the Abele LeadershipMKE’s $178,328 in anti-Lipscomb mailers and canvassers.  Shorts had entered the race on his own hook, but certainly didn’t deny the money help that gave him 48% of the vote, far closer than he would have gotten on his own steam.

Another Abele supported candidate, Patti Logsdon, benefited from $129,000 in his money to edge a conservative supervisor (Steven Taylor) in District 9, but with only 23 votes separating the candidates, expect a recount.
(Ed Note: Later results put the race 500 votes out of reach.)

Most successful was Abele’s support of incumbent Deanna Alexander over Sparkle Ashley in District 18, which retains on the county board his lone, very conservative and Trump-style supporter.  Abele also supported Alexander with campaign money, but Ashley did not provide a strong enough counter in a district ripe for change.

Abele’s money combined with pitiful turnout to defeat Supervisor Peggy West in the Latino dominated District 12, where his $63,945 effort paid enormous dividends, a sad comment on the Latino community where the voter turnout was a pitiful seventh of what District 1 drew.

The winner, Sylvia Ortiz Velez, may have run behind in the district before but never refused Abele’s help this time, though she told interviewers that she does not support all his  policies. But she clearly owes him her seat, so it will be interesting to see how she votes on the board.

The District 12 story, where only 1,417 turned out to vote, spells difficulty for many grassroots groups that supported West.   Whether it is the specter of Trump, Sessions and ICE or whether other factors, the US citizens of Hispanic heritage in this district are painfully reluctant to engage in local elections. 

In the District 7 race for an open seat, as all sides predicted, Felesia Martin won with a whopping 79% of the vote.

The sparse impact on the county board, most of whom did not face opposition, suggests that Abele is good at wasting money, not exactly the image he is working toward.   

Some will reduce the victories to progressive over moderate as they turn to thinning the field against Walker in the governor’s race.

But across the state there may be a different lesson.  Dallet’s main appeal was competence, experience and social values but in a form moderates also found appealing.  Putting absolutism in ideology first is not as smart as listening to the electorate.

About the author: Noth has been  a professional journalist since the 1960s, first as national, international and local news copy editor at The Milwaukee Journal, then as an editor for its original Green Sheet, also  for almost two decades the paper’s film and drama critic. He also created its Friday Weekend section and ran Sunday TV Screen magazine and Lively Arts as he became the newspaper’s senior feature editor. He was tapped by the publishers of the combining Milwaukee Journal Sentinel for special projects and as first online news producer before voluntarily departing in the mid-1990s to run online news seminars and write on public affairs and Internet and consumer news. From 2002 to 2013 he ran the Milwaukee Labor Press as editor. It served as the Midwest’s largest home-delivered labor newspaper, with archives at  In that role he won top awards yearly until the paper stopped publishing in 2013. His investigative pieces and extensive commentaries are now published by several news outlets as well as his culture and politics outlets known as Dom's Domain.  He also reviews theater for Urban Milwaukee. 

1 comment:

  1. Excellent analysis. The people woke and then they spoke. Dallet on the ballot. Rise and shine!