Such contests look so infinitesimal in comparison to the fall biggies – and they are tiny in terms of number of races and turnout. Yet these are precisely the contests in which democracies shape themselves on the neighborhood level. These itsy bitsy elections have impact that can linger for generations.
Reality may say there is only one statewide race to look at April 2 – but what a race! It will have reverberating impact on state politics for generations.
And it ought to be a slam dunk for a real progressive justice for the Wisconsin Supreme Court, Lisa Neubauer – despite the fact that her opponent is, like her, a sitting appeals court judge. But Brian Hagedorn keeps exposing himself as the least qualified candidate imaginable for the high court – especially in terms of having already made up his mind on social and political issues.
His campaign is trying to explain why routine hard-core GOP supporters like the Realtors and the Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce are deserting him. It’s all tied into his political past and continuing behavior, include writings equating homosexuality with bestiality. That was in his twenties and he is now in his early forties and proudly owns the writing. His defense? He accuses critics of being anti-Christian!
He has never faced the voters, since he ran unopposed after Scott Walker appointed him. Neubauer was appointed by Jim Doyle but then faced the voters along her way to becoming chief judge on the same appeals court he sits on.
He was named to that appeals court four years ago by Walker after having helped concoct Act 10 and other Republican nasties in the legislature. A judgeship was openly his reward and it is unlikely that the state voters want to continue that farce. Especially when he indicates he won’t recuse himself if Act 10 comes before the high court, which is looking more likely every day. Yet he helped draft Act 10!
Neubauer is clearly the only progressive choice to replace Shirley Abrahamson who is retiring. Her election won’t change the 4-3 conservative edge people talk about on the high court, but it sets the plate for 2020 when the balance can be changed. That’s when another Walker unknown who has never faced the voters, Daniel Kelly, is forced to defend his appointment on the same date in 2020 as the Democratic presidential primary. (The legislature tried to change that date in its lame-duck session but was stopped cold.)
The motto of people supporting Neubauer is to look around the corner and elect her, then defeat Kelly -- “one important step at a time.” Her campaign supporters are taking her election seriously, aware that Wisconsin is still considered a battleground state for Republican right wing forces -- despite the flight of big money backers.
In Milwaukee, there is only one competitive contest for a Milwaukee County circuit court seat, stemming from Rebecca Dallet’s elevation to the high court, which opened her Branch 40 seat. And it is a progressive voice against a Walker fill-in.
Walker moved quickly after last April’s election to fill Dallet’s post with a lawyer of his liking the public had never heard of, Andrew Jones. Now a progressive black woman, Danielle Shelton, is challenging him April 2 for the seat.
The city of Milwaukee also has a chance to elect a unified progressive slate to the Milwaukee Public Schools board. (More on those non-judicial contests later.)
What is unusual about both the Neubauer and Shelton races is the mode of attack the Republicans have chosen in these supposedly nonpartisan contests.
Nowhere is this clearer than in Hagedorn against Neubauer. His plea to voters is basically “I’m not the ogre being painted” since he and his wife adopted a child with opioid problems (why that makes him a choice for justice is beyond me). But mainly his campaign is attacking Neubauer for what he is doing in debates and in every piece of campaign literature, accusing her of partisanship.
Neubauer is being attacked for being a Democrat who dared in 2007 to openly participate in a climate change march! This attack probably added to her vote totals since it indicates a lifelong commitment to taking the role of science seriously.
His campaign has tried to use family stuff against her, such as being the mother of a Democrat in the Assembly, Greta, and being married to a former legislator. They keep coming up empty. Her role on the bench is largely blameless and full of tough decisions often agreed with by other noted conservatives, including several supporting him now who supported her in the past as one of those “sensible Democrats” they could work with.
She is also now getting support from former US Attorney General Eric Holder based on her record and solid approach to the bench. Curiously it is not the help she sought or even wants, telling reporters: “I called on the outside money to stay out. I believed in that then, I believe in that now, so I've been consistent all along."
She may know her opponent’s kneejerk reaction better than those outside forces do. In the minutes after Holder’s visit to Wisconsin, Hagedorn went up with a commercial accusing Neubauer of being a tool of liberal interests.
Yet many who have worked with her over the years confess they didn’t even know she was a Democrat because she avoids political discussions, like a good judge should.
But someone in his camp reached out (by FAX machine?) to local media to remind them that Shelton 20 years ago been arrested for disorderly conduct in Oconomowoc (which seems in retrospect a case of arguing on the street while black). The newspaper articles glanced past her work as a single mother of two grown young women, a military veteran, a public defender, an activist for restorative justice and her work with immigrant mothers.
(I talked briefly with Shelton at a fund-raiser in Shorewood, where she lives, and she confessed to mystification at the tone of that news coverage.)
As far as I can tell, the only criticism against her is being feisty while black. Last week, out of embarrassment, Shelton took down a celebrity endorsement from a parent caught up in that national college admissions scandal.
Turning to the MPS races, I pretty much agree with the recommendations of the Working Families Party (agreeing is not always the case with me). They were recommendations echoed by Citizens Action of Wisconsin.
This is the first time in years that strong supportive voices for Milwaukee public schools are running as a bloc, as opposed to the shenanigans and curious hidden campaign processes of voucher and charter schools dabblers. Those dabblers have long hidden behind state funding methods that allow them to pretend to be a part of MPS and run candidates who are in their hip pocket.
His wife, Barbara Miner, a noted photographer and author, wrote one of the definitive texts for anyone who wants to learn about the history of Milwaukee public schools, the 2013 “Lessons From the Heartland: A Turbulent Half-Century of Public Education in an Iconic American City.”
He is being opposed by a personable mother of three public school children, but Stefanie Dugan’s campaign seems largely built on the current interest in female candidates and of mothers stepping outside of that domestic role to run for office. Which is great when they’re qualified.
In her case that is an amateur experience by someone who can’t explain what a board member does, at least in video I have seen. Her knowledge pales in comparison to Peterson’s writings and lifelong interest in public education
Dugan has won endorsement from AFSCME Council 32’s People committee but the larger collection of labor groups including AFSCME, the Milwaukee Area Labor Council, has enthusiastically endorsed Peterson. While Peterson has not been campaigning on the endorsements but on his ideas, it is notable how quickly US Rep. Gwen Moore came out to support his campaign.
This time she is running against Shyla Deacon, an MPS product and former policy maven at Next Door Foundation. It’s becoming an important race between a veteran agitator for public schools, Herndon, and a newer voice trying to establish a foothold. Herndon is getting my nod because I frankly think the MPS board needs someone who has been attacking them from the outside to finally get inside. Her views have proven correct over the long haul anyway.
Over in District 2, the progressives have taken hard aim at someone they supported in the past, Wendell Harris. He has tried to simplify their disagreement as his support of Carmen School, a charter taking root at Pulaski High School, but if you talk to teachers and other interested champions for public education, the dispute is far deeper. Harris seems to have been talked out of the principles that first got him elected.
A dynamic substitute has stepped forward, Erika Siemsen, for 31 years an educator at Neeskara Elementary School (an MPS school in the Washington Heights area). She comes from an active teaching family. She wants “learning environments where students have the opportunity to participate in art, music and physical education and where teachers have time to teach and are supported with appropriate resources.” That falls directly into the wheelhouse of what all the districts desire.
In District 8, it is a mother of two MPS students, Megan Halloran, who is getting my endorsement since she has been heavily involved as a community activist including a sanctuary school district, fund raisers and rallies. She has proven far more understanding about the realities of MPS finance and decision-making than her opponent, who carelessly picked up figures from a right-wing source and was called out by an unopposed MPS board member in his blog.