POLITICAL STOCK REPORT --A collection of insider opinion-- (April 7, 2009)
Democrats and allied groups: The political winds continue to blow left as top liberal candidates win in a trio of big races with the help of big labor and Dem-leaning groups like the Greater Wisconsin Committee and Planned Parenthood. Shirley Abrahamson breezes to victory as expected for another 10-year term as the Supreme Court's chief justice. Tony Evers moves from No. 2 at DPI to the superintendent's office come summer, beating Rose Fernandez. And Dane County Exec. Kathleen Falk survives attacks on her management of the 911 center and other issues to prevail over conservative Nancy Mistele. There are TV and radio ads, of course, but much of the resources went to mailers, robocalls and old-fashioned door-knocking to get dependable liberal voters to the polls. Insiders say it bodes well for Dems' chances in November 2010.
WEAC: The state's largest teacher's union spent hundreds of thousands of dollars securing a Dem-run Legislature, and now it spends more than $550,000 in helping an ally once again occupy the state school superintendent's office. Sweet revenge, say some observers, in that the union beat underfunded virtual schools advocate Rose Fernandez, whose former group helped hand the union a tough legislative defeat over virtual schools. WEAC also backed Shirley Abrahamson in her victory.
Shirley Abrahamson: At age 75 and on the court since 1976, the Wisconsin high court's first female justice wins another 10-year term handily over Jefferson County Judge Randy Koschnick. Abrahamson started her campaign early, raised money aggressively and made it less appealing for conservative groups to try and topple her to widen their control of the court. In the end, some observers say, a good conservative candidate was left without adequate support. For Abrahamson, she's on to making history -- becoming in the upcoming term the state's longest-serving and oldest justice. She also may end up setting the fundraising record for a Supreme Court campaign. Abrahamson had raised just more than $1.3 million with two weeks left to go in the campaign, approaching the $1.45 million Annette Ziegler raised in 2007. The difference is Ziegler pulled more than half of that from her own pocket, while Abrahamson has received the lion's share of her funds from others.
Tony Evers: His campaign never got much respect from insiders, but the longtime educator and administrator will succeed Libby Burmaster this summer as head of the Department of Public Instruction. While detractors tried to paint him as an uninspiring bureaucrat who will maintain the status quo, admirers say the cancer survivor earned this promotion from the deputy DPI post and will blossom once he moves into the top spot.
Kathleen Falk: Winning perhaps her toughest contest in years, the three-term incumbent gets another four years at the helm of Dane County despite the 911 center controversy and broadsides from conservative Nancy Mistele. Madison voters secure the victory, swamping Mistele's rural support. The conservative also hammered Falk on commuter rail and past pursuits of higher office, but Falk avoids reporters' questions on Election Night over whether she'll make another bid for statewide office (she's lost a 2002 primary race for guv and the 2006 AG's race), sticking to the talking points that got her elected.
Leggies: A legislator and an ex-leggie turned up losers Tuesday. But another advanced to fight another day, and one former lawmaker was easily re-elected town chair. Dem state Rep. Terry Van Akkeren lost the Sheboygan mayoral race to Ald. Bob Ryan. In Racine, ex-Dem state Sen. Kim Plache failed to make the final cut in an 11-way special mayoral primary to fill the seat of a disgraced former mayor Gary Becker, forced to resign after a sex sting. Plache did a win a school board seat that she didn't run for, however; state law kept her from removing her name from that part of the ballot even after she decided on a run for mayor. In the mayoral race, Dem state Rep. Bob Turner advanced and will square off with Realtor John Dickert, who once challenged Turner in the Dem primary for his Assembly seat. Dickert picked up 23 percent of the vote to Turner's 17 percent with the general set for May 5. Meanwhile, former state Rep. Joe Handrick was re-elected chair of the Town of Minocqua in a re-match of his 2007 race against Dave Huber.
School spending issues: With the economy flagging, it's hard getting people to raise their own property taxes -- even in the name of better schools. In February, on primary day, all school spending issues went down. On spring election day, it was more of a mixed bag for school referendums. Voters in the Middleton-Cross Plains District, west of Madison, rejected three issues totaling a state- topping $71 million and voters split on dual issues in West Bend totaling $69 million. Overall, voters approved just more than half of the 45 referendum questions on the ballot, signing off on an additional $95.1 million in spending. But they rejected some of the bigger spending requests, turning back requests to spend another $165.6 million.
Turnout: Some 800,000 Wisconsinites headed to the polls yesterday, just less than 20 percent of the state's voting age population. That's also just short of the pre-election predictions put out by state officials and about what Wisconsin normally sees in an election featuring a couple of statewide races at the top of the ballot. Still, some lament that there wasn't more interest in the races, especially when compared with the more than two-thirds of voters who turn out for a presidential election in Wisconsin. Some had advocated eliminating spring elections to make sure more people are weighing in on these races. But that offers drawbacks, too, with the likelihood that local races would get lost in the shuffle with races for president, the governor's office and others at the top of the ticket.
Conservatives: With WMC concentrating on the budget, conservatives' fire power seemed lacking across the board in the big races. The candidates in the trio of most-watched contests all were underfunded, insiders note. Rose Fernandez had a reformers' campaign but not the significant third-party backing (save an Americans for Prosperity radio ad) to tell enough people, conservatives lament. Nancy Mistele raised some late money in Dane County, but couldn't crack Madison's liberal base and Kathleen Falk's well-funded operation, they add. Randy Koschnick didn't attract the attention the past two victorious conservative candidates had, largely because he was up against a well-funded, long-term incumbent and because conservatives already had control of the court. While some Republicans wonder where the conservative firepower was, others point out support from the likes of WMC isn't a birthright for any candidate who gets on the ballot under the conservative label. Besides, they argue, all three faced long odds even if third parties had weighed in on their behalf and there are better places for conservatives to put their money right now.
Brenda Konkel: You can be too liberal even in Madison, joke election watchers, as current Mayor Dave Cieslewicz, two predecessors and others team up to bounce the independent-minded Progressive Dane leader off the council after four terms. The winner is more moderate Bridget Maniaci, a recent UW-Madison graduate and Cieslewicz intern.