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.
There was only one contested race in the Outagamie County Town of Liberty Tuesday, and that contest showed the power of one vote.
When the ballots were counted in the at-large board supervisor race in this rural township near New London, incumbent William Jurack and challenger Scott Retzlaff were tied -- 48 votes each.
Town officials called the county clerk's office to find out what to do next. According to the town's chief election inspector Helen Thern, they were told they winner could be determined through drawing lots.
The candidates agreed that the winner would be determined by drawing the name out of a hat.
"It doesn't seem fair, but that's the way it is, I guess," said Thern, who said that a tie had happened once before in Liberty, in a town chairman election.
Thern noted the low turnout was and some of the candidates neighbors and friends failed to cast their ballots.
"People think that one vote doesn't matter, but I guess this shows it does," Thern said.
Government Accountability Board Director Kevin Kennedy said there were six other tie votes around the state yesterday.
During the February primary, voters rejected every school referendum put before them, and observers generally chalked it up to a hesitancy among voters to pay more taxes as they struggle to make ends meet.
The Middleton-Cross Plains School District posed $71 million in three referendums to voters, the largest in the state for this election. All three were defeated with at least 52 percent of the vote.
West Bend, which had the second-largest referendum total on the ballot, saw voters split on two referendums.
The larger of the two referendums, covering $41.5 million, was rejected by 53 percent of voters. But on a $27.4 million ballot issue, 5,971 voted in favor compared to 5,897 voting against, according to unofficial returns.
Among other large referendums:
*Oshkosh passed a $6.5 million measure while rejecting two others totaling $17.5 million.
*Both referendums in the Medford Area School District failed, totaling $13.4 million.
*$12 million in two referendums passed in the Maple Dale-Indian Hill School District.
*Voters in Reedsville also passed two referendums, totaling just over $11 million.
All the returns from yesterday's races aren't in yet this morning. But here are a few updates on the top races:
With 93 percent of precincts in, Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson has 59 percent of the vote to 41 percent for Jefferson County Judge Randy Koschnick.
With the same total in, Tony Evers has 57 percent of the vote for superintendent of Public Instruction compared to 43 percent for Rose Fernandez.
And Dane County Exec Kathleen Falk is winning with 59 percent of the vote compared to less than 41 percent for Nancy Mistele. There were 35 wards in the city of Madison that hadn't been reported yet on the Dane County Web site. If they follow the pattern of the rest of the city, Falk should end up winning re-election with more than 60 percent of the vote in a race many expected to be tight.
DPI Deputy Superintendent Tony Evers earned a promotion Tuesday evening, defeating Rose Fernandez for the right to take over as state superintendent in July.
Evers told dozens of supporters at Madison's Inn on the Park hotel that he determined to "leave this world a better place than (I) found it," citing his battle with cancer last year.
"Now the hard work begins," Evers said. He mentioned Milwaukee Public Schools, a frequent point of contention during the campaign with Fernandez, and distributing federal stimulus money as two pressing issues when he takes office.
Evers congratulated Fernandez on her campaign and pledged to continue his conversation with her going forward.
"(She) brought issues in a forceful way that made us all better," Evers said. "She's an energetic person, and she loves kids."
But Evers said the part of the campaign he would not accept was the constant criticism of the Department of Public Instruction. He thanked his colleagues at the agency, where he has worked for the last eight years.
"I know it's just damn hard when you have somebody running against you saying, 'Let's change the DPI,'" Evers said. "To me, that sends a signal that the work of the DPI isn't valued."
Evers was joined at the podium by granddaughter Tessa, a kindergartener in Watertown, who he said has been a key part of his campaign speeches.
"What I want for Tessa is what you want for your children and your grandchildren," Evers said. "And that's to make sure that they have the same opportunity that we did."
Evers got a huge boost from WEAC as the state's largest teacher's union spent at least $550,000 on TV and radio on his behalf between the February primary and the April general election. Evers also benefited from union support in his fundraising efforts and was able to do TV buys for both the primary and general election.
The closing message for both the union and Evers centered on his experience after more than three decades in public education compared to Fernandez's resume. A nurse by trade, she has never worked in education.
At her Election Night party in Waukesha, Fernandez lamented her lack of resources that prevented her from getting up on TV and a lack of outside groups lining up behind her campaign.
"Of course, we had hoped that more folks who tout the need for private sector growth and public sector restraint would invest in our efforts," she said. "But tonight is not a night to analyze what didn't work out."
Fernandez consistently touted herself as an outsider throughout the campaign and said she was an "underfunded underdog from day one" who couldn't compete with Evers' money.
"In an era where there is less and less in-depth coverage of the issues, television advertising is king, and we couldn't afford TV," Fernandez said.
"We could not compete with our opponent, but most importantly we could not fully counter the nearly three-quarters of a million dollars WEAC spent on his behalf, but we sure gave them a run for their money."
Evers told WisPolitics before his victory speech to supporters that his experience in public education made the difference, but that voters were not necessarily discounting the need to reform public education in the state.
"People do believe that the state superintendent has to have a level of experience and expertise," Evers said. "They understand how important education is, and to have a person in charge of the system that will hit the ground running in July."
He said his victory reflected voters' trust in him to affect positive change in the agency, rather than an indication of the public's satisfaction with public schools.
Supreme Court Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson declared in her victory speech tonight that her win proves campaigns "are not an excuse to appeal to dark angels."
Abrahamson, who has been on the court since 1976, said voters made "a choice between a campaign who used labels to try and mislead" and a campaign "that used ideas to bring us together instead of dividing us."
With 56 percent of the precincts in, Abrahamson was pulling 59 percent of the vote over Jefferson County Judge Randy Koschnick, who had constantly criticized the incumbent as an activist who had sided with criminals more than anyone else on the court.
Abrahamson, 75, noted it was her fourth election victory and said "This time, the result is particularly gratifying."
She noted in the two most recent Supreme Court elections "a concerted effort to reshape the face of the court so it satisfied the expectations of a few against the hopes of many."
Abrahamson had raised more than $1.3 million for her re-election campaign with a little more than two weeks left in the campaign, putting her on pace to challenge the record $1.45 million that Annette Ziegler raised for her 2007 campaign.
While Abrahamson impressed court observers with her fundraising prowess, Koschnick struggled to gain traction on the fundraising front. And unlike conservative candidates in the past two campaigns, no third-party groups stepped forward to run TV ads on his behalf.
Abrahamson dominated the airwaves in the run up to the election with positive ads touting her record, and the liberal Greater Wisconsin Committee kicked in a few spots to take shots at Koschnick. The Jefferson County judge got up a small TV buy in the waning days of the campaign.
Koschnick, who watched the returns from his home, told WisPolitics that the fundraising disparity was a significant factor in the outcome. He said he expects the final numbers will show he raised about $180,000 for his campaign and said his showing was respectable considering the difference in how much the two sides raised.
"Money played a major role," Koschnick said. "I think the amount of TV and radio advertising you can do obviously has a significant impact on the outcome."
Koschnick said he plans to run for another term on the Jefferson County in 2011, but he said he was open to another statewide bid down the road, though he wasn't planning on one now.
Conservative Justices David Prosser and Pat Roggensack are up for re-election next in 2011 and 2013, should they choose to run again. Liberal Ann Walsh Bradley faces re-election in 2015.
Koschnick said he didn't know what to expect in terms of third-party support heading into the campaign. But it was difficult to see third-party ads targeting him with "false statements."
"I'm proud of the fact that I ran a clean campaign and didn't have to resort to any type of negative or unfair attacks," Koschnick said.
Realtor and former Assembly candidate John Dickert is leading in the 11-way Racine mayoral primary, with 23 percent of the vote. Dem state Rep. Bob Turner is in second place with 17 percent of the vote.
Ninety-four percent of the vote is in.
The next closest candidates are former Dem state Sen. Kim Plache and Ald. James Spangenberg, who are at 13 and 12 percent, respectively.
UPDATE: With 100 percent reporting, Dickert captured 23 percent of the vote to Turner's 17 percent.
The next closest were Plache and Spangenberg, each with 13 percent. Ald. Greg Helding capture 12 percent.
The special election is May 5. The winner will replace former Mayor Gary Becker, who resigned after he was caught in an Internet sex sting.
Dane County Exec Kathleen Falk has declared victory in her re-election campaign against conservative Nancy Mistele, who has conceded.
In her speech at a downtown Madison bar, she told supporters the win belonged to all of them who had worked so hard for her campaign.
And she reached out to those who didn't vote for her.
"I renew my pledge I made 12 years ago," she said. "I want to hear your ideas. I ask you to be at the table as we discuss and decide these critical issues that affect the lives of our citizens and the future of our county."
Mistele asked her supporters to stick together despite her loss and target other seats in the county, a liberal stronghold.
"We just need to really work hard to make our voices heard in Dane County," she said.
Just after 10 p.m., Falk was winning with more than 56 percent of the vote and large sections of the city of Madison still out.
Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson is cruising toward another 10-year term on the Supreme Court.
The Associated Press has called the race for the incumbent, who was pulling down about 58 percent of the vote with more than one-fourth of precincts reporting.
Dems checking returns from around the state are projecting she will finish the night with more than 60 percent of the vote.
"We had a great candidate with a great message," said Abrahamson campaign manager Heather Colburn. "We were able to talk about how a Supreme Court justice makes a difference in everyday Wisconsinites. That was the essential part of our message."
Five polling places on Madison's near west side ran out of ballots this afternoon.
Government Accountability Board Director Kevin Kennedy said voters at those polling places were still able to vote. But some had to use photocopied ballots, which would have to be counted by hand.
Kennedy said the polling places -- in areas around West High School, Midvale, Van Hise and Odana -- are all normally high turnout sites.
Dane County Clerk Bob Ohlsen said he was not aware of any ballot issues in the city of Madison, and turnout was at just 15 percent for the city around 4 p.m.
Kennedy said the election was running fairly smoothly otherwise, other than a few minor glitches.
In Racine, there were reports of a film crew taping at various polling sites. After checking things out, city officials learned it was a Japanese film crew that was shooting a documentary because of some tie to one of the 11 candidates in the primary. The candidate was leading the crew to the various sites to shoot.
"Hopefully, we put a stop to that, at least his involvement in that," Kennedy said.
There was also a slight problem at a Stevens Point polling place in a public housing project. The doors automatically lock at 6 p.m., and poll workers didn't realize it until 6:10 p.m., when the problem was taken care of.
Kennedy also said he believes the state is going to come close to the 20 percent turnout that the GAB projected going into today.
Two late election mailers from Planned Parenthood Advocates of Wisconsin separately slam DPI candidate Rose Fernandez and Supreme Court candidate Randy Koschnick.
The negative mailer on Koschnick shows a photo of a woman and a child with the question "Who will protect your rights on our state Supreme Court?" Inside, the headline reads "Randy Koschnick won't protect your rights" with text that reads "Koschnick is endorsed by an extremist group that wants to outlaw all abortions, even for victims of rape. ... Koschnick is affiliated with the Promise Keepers, a male supremacist group that opposes equal rights for women in the home and workplace."
It ends with an appeal to vote for Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson, saying "She will stand up for you."
The mailer against Fernandez reads "Rose Fernandez wants to keep teens in the dark. ... Tony Evers will turn the light on in the classroom to make sure our teens have all the facts to make healthy decisions.
"This fact is clear: comprehensive sex education that includes information about abstinence and birth control helps prevent teen pregnancy and disease."
As of noon, 14 percent of voters in Sheboygan had cast ballots, according to Cheryl Smith in the city clerk's office there. Officials had projected 50 percent in the city with a mayoral race between fourth-term Dem state Rep. Terry Van Akkeren and Ald. Bob Ryan.
Two statewide races on the ballot plus a hotly contested county executive's race hasn't exactly resulted in a rush to the polls in the Capitol City this morning.
Dane County Clerk Bob Ohlsen said turnout as of 11 a.m. in Madison was about 7 percent. Ohlsen said he is expecting 20 percent to 25 percent for the day.
In Middleton, where the Middleton-Cross Plains School District is proposing three referenda totaling $71 million, turnout is a little more brisk. According to a worker in the clerk's office there, polling places were running at about 500 ballots cast as of 11:30 a.m. There is also a mayor's race in Middleton.
Ohlsen said the county doesn't track poll numbers throughout the day except for in Madison.
Racine City Clerk Janice Johnson-Martin was expecting turnout in the range of 40 percent to 45 percent, but her visits to polling places this morning found the action slow to this point.
Voters in the Dem-heavy city face a wide-open 11-way primary for mayor. Candidates include, in part, state Rep. Bob Turner, former state Sen. Kim Plache, three city aldermen, a former alderman, and two former county supervisors.
Johnson-Martin said some of the polling places had about 130 ballots turned when she did her checks this morning, but some smaller polling places were only at about 20 ballots cast.
"I was expecting a big turnout, but I'm not sure what the final number will be," she said, adding that there could be a rush between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m.
West Bend City Clerk Amy Reuteman said as of about 11:30 a.m. about 10 percent had voted citywide, which she said was a little slow to this point. Reuteman had expected 50 percent based on two school referendums totaling asking voters to approve $69 million in additional spending.
Reuteman based her projection on 2007, the last time voters faced a referendum there. In that referendum, voters rejected $119 million in additional spending.
The candidates in top spring races are using all available tools going into tomorrow's election.
Supreme Court Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson has two robocalls going out to voters in which she touts herself as a fair, independent and nonpartisan chief justice.
In one call, she promises that "I will continue to keep politics out of our courts."
The second touts her work developing mortgage foreclosure mediation to "help Wisconsin families."
Meanwhile, Dane Co. executive candidate Nancy Mistele is touting her endorsement by Wisconsin Right to Life in a new robocall going out today.
Mistele's campaign manager Jon Horne said the call went out to between 20,000 and 25,000 phone numbers today. But he declined to release the full text of the call.
According to a partial text of the call obtained by WisPolitics, Mistele says:
"I am running for County Executive because I don't believe government has the moral standing to tackle other big issues if it's not willing to protect our littlest children. That's why I'm committed to fighting for the rights of the unborn. And that's why I've received the backing of Wisconsin Right to Life.
"I hope I can count on your vote on Tuesday, April 7. I know there are some things more important than politics and a child's right to life is one of them. This call is paid for by Mistele for County Executive, Gerald Luebke, treasurer."
Supreme Court Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson, DPI Superintendent candidate Tony Evers and Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk will all host election watching parties tomorrow evening in downtown Madison.
Meanwhile, Abrahamson's opponent Jefferson County Judge Randy Koschnick will watch returns at home with friends and family, while Falk's challenger Nancy Mistele will gather her supporters in Waunakee and DPI superintendent hopeful Rose Fernandez will be in Pewaukee.
The airwaves hadn't been as heated as they have for recent spring elections. But WisPolitics has collected a series of spots that have run in the Supreme Court and superintendet of Public Instruction races.
The races for state Supreme Court and superintendent of Public Instruction are at the top of tomorrow's ballot. But a number of local races could drive local turnout and have an impact on the outcome of those state campaigns.
Here's a quick look at some of the races on the ballot that could drive turnout.
-- Dane County executive: Kathleen Falk, who has served as county executive since 1997, has been easily re-elected twice to the post, in between runs for governor and attorney general. But in the aftermath of several high-profile problems involving the county's 911 center, backers of conservative challenger Nancy Mistele believe they have an issue to score an upset Tuesday.
-- La Crosse: Mayor Mark Johnsrud was crushed in the primary, finishing fifth out of seven candidates on the ballot. Voters will now choose between newcomer Matt Harter, age 24, and Common Council member Dorothy Lenard.
-- Manitowoc: The city has an open mayoral seat, with incumbent Kevin Crawford not returning to the office. The general election pits two members of the city's common council against each other: 22-year-old Justin Nickels, who scored a narrow primary victory and has been endorsed by Crawford, and Dave Soeldner.
-- Sheboygan: First-term incumbent mayor Juan Perez was dispatched in the primary following an unsuccessful recall attempt in 2006. The race now pits fourth-term Dem state Rep. Terry Van Akkeren -- who won the primary -- against Ald. Bob Ryan.
-- Oshkosh: First-term incumbent Frank Tower faces Common Council member Paul Esslinger.
-- Racine: Voters in the Dem-heavy city face a wide-open 11-way primary to replace disgraced former Mayor Gary Becker, who resigned after facing charges stemming from an Internet sex sting. Candidates include, in part, state Rep. Bob Turner, former state Sen. Kim Plache, three city aldermen, a former alderman, and two former county supervisors.
-- Fond du Lac: Five candidates are running for three city council posts in Fond du Lac, with the city's new smoking ban at the forefront of the race. The results of the council elections could determine whether the ban, which passed the council by a single vote and went into effect Feb. 2, remains in place.
Court of Appeals Judges Kitty Brennan (District I) and Michael Hoover (District III) are up for re-election, and 74 circuit court seats will be on the ballot Tuesday. Of those, four are vacant and two -- in Green and Kenosha County -- are new seats.
Perhaps the most high-profile court race has been for Milwaukee County's vacant 15th branch, where county prosecutor Daniel Gabler and Fox Point Judge J.D. Watts have exchanged harsh attack ads on local media.
Gabler sparked the controversy in the primary with a mailer that criticized his opponents for protecting criminals. Watts fired back with a TV ad last week comparing Gabler to indicted former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, failing CEOs, and athletes on steroids.
Thirty school districts throughout the state will pose school spending issues to voters, worth a total of more than $256 million. With the economy in such rough shape, voters may be especially reluctant to part with additional tax revenue; all of the school spending referendums on the February ballot failed.
The largest spending measure will be held in the Middleton-Cross Plains School District outside of Madison, which has proposed three ballot initiatives totaling $71 million.
The West Bend School District in southeastern Wisconsin falls just shy of the lead, with school officials asking for $69 million in additional spending from voters in two referendums. That total is down from a 2007 referendum, when voters rejected $119 million in additional spending.
Other districts holding large referendums are: Oshkosh (three referendums totaling $24 million); Medford Area (two referendums totaling $13.4 million); Maple Dale-Indian Hill (two referendums totaling $12 million); and Reedsville (two referendums totaling $11 million).
WisPolitics has been collecting newspaper endorsements in the race for the state Supreme Court and superintendent of Public Instruction. The following is a list of the endorsements and a link, if available.