POST-ELECTION POLITICAL STOCK REPORT --A collection of insider opinion-- April 3, 2013
Pat Roggensack: The justice can turn her attention back to the Supreme Court now that her re-election is out of the way. Insiders say Roggensack was never seriously challenged in this spring's race, getting more than 50 percent of the vote in a three-way primary, receiving air cover from conservative groups and outraising her opponent. As much as Ed Fallone tried to make the race about the court's dysfunction, they say he failed badly in trying to lay that problem at Roggensack's feet. The election is barely over, but some are already looking ahead to 2015, when Justice Ann Walsh Bradley would be up for re-election. Conservatives consider her a top target, unhappy with her interjections into this spring's race and viewing her as more culpable in a physical altercation with Justice David Prosser than others have made her out to be. Some conservatives look at the lack of support for Fallone as a sign liberal groups are simply tapped out in the post-Act 10 world. The collective bargaining changes shrank the supply of union dues that could be used for political activities, some argue. Liberals, though, say while they have to keep a closer eye on their money, it'll be there for Bradley if she runs in 2015. Without a clear path to victory, they say, there was no point in spending money on this race. Further, national groups remain a resource for them in Wisconsin elections. They also point out 2015 is a near eternity in politics, suggesting the 2014 elections may shape the political environment before then.
Tony Evers: The state superintendent cruises to re-election, but that’s no surprise to insiders, who saw GOP state Rep. Don Pridemore as an even weaker challenger than Fallone. In another sign of Wisconsin voters' ticket-splitting tendencies, the liberal Evers and conservative Roggensack almost match vote totals even as almost 54,000 fewer votes are cast in the DPI race. Insiders take that as a sign of how poorly Pridemore connected with voters: he had no presence on the airwaves and even some conservatives weren’t comfortable with the idea of him being the state’s top education official. Evers calls his victory an affirmation of voters’ support for strong public schools and says he can now return to lobbying lawmakers for more money to help them. But Evers remains hamstrung by Gov. Scott Walker and the GOP-run Legislature, especially considering their control over the state’s purse strings.
Same-day registration: No one is surprised that voters in the city of Milwaukee and Dane County overwhelmingly endorse keeping same-day registration. No one expects the results to be a major factor in any coming debates on whether to keep it, either. In Dane County, almost 82 percent of voters back keeping the option to register at the polls, while almost three-fourths of voters in Milwaukee support it. The town of Blue Mounds asks a different question on same-day registration, posing to voters whether they should be required to show a state-issued ID at the polls to register in order to keep the option. It’s approved 132-104. Regardless, the biggest factor keeping same-day registration on the books, some say, is the cost. Some Republicans have argued for the elimination of same-day registration, charging it makes the state vulnerable to fraud, but Dems are quick to dismiss such talk as code for GOP desires to make it harder to vote, especially for those who tend to support the other side. Still, Walker has backed away from the issue after estimates that the move would cost millions.
School referendums: The largest school referendums on the ballot Tuesday saw mixed results from spring election voters, according to preliminary results posted by the Department of Public Instruction. The largest overall request on the ballot, in Columbus, went down to defeat as voters rejected a $30.6 million initiative to construct a new high school along with a separate $9.3 million measure. And the largest single referendum on the ballot also failed, with Sheboygan Falls voters rejecting a $33.8 million request to construct a new middle school. Other districts to reject large referendums included Beloit Turner ($28 million), Arcadia ($23.4 million), Johnson Creek ($22 million), and East Troy Community ($19 million). Several other large spending measures, however, gained approval from voters. The Menomonie Area School District, which proposed the second-largest spending total on the spring ballot, saw both its referendums pass for a total of $36 million. Voters also backed referendums in Menasha ($30 million), Hortonville ($25.5 million) and the Blair-Taylor School District ($17 million). Another $370,000 referendum in Hortonville failed. Of the more than $375 million on the ballot across the state, voters rejected $212 million and endorsed $163 million.
Turnout: It didn’t come close to 2011, when a Supreme Court race in the midst of Capitol protests drove turnout to 34 percent. But it didn’t exactly bottom out in the spring election, either. About 19 percent of the voting age population went to the polls on Tuesday, in line with the GAB’s pre-election prediction of 20 percent. That’s not bad considering it’s spring break for some school districts, the Tuesday after Easter and neither state race captured voter interest. Going back to 2000, turnout in a spring election featuring a Supreme Court race has only eclipsed 21 percent once, and that was the 2011 Kloppenburg-Prosser race that turned into a proxy war over collective bargaining and Scott Walker. After what has seemed like a nonstop string of elections over the past several years, voters will now have plenty of time to catch their breaths. While there will be another round of local spring elections next year, there will not be another statewide contest until the summer primary in 2014.
Walker-appointed judges: Being one of the guv’s appointees still appears to carry some baggage in Dane County judicial races. But insiders say a connection with Walker isn’t nearly as much of an issue in the rest of the state, not even in heavily Dem Milwaukee County. Only five circuit court incumbents drew a challenger this spring, and all five had a connection to Walker of some sort. In Dane County, Judge Rebecca St. John lost to attorney Rhonda Lanford, who ran a TV ad that knocked the incumbent as a Walker appointee. Lanford's campaign says the race was about experience and the issues, but others see a clear play to tie St. John to a guv whose numbers are less than stellar in the state’s most liberal county. Some conservatives caution the right candidate with the right message and campaign could still win in liberal Dane County, but acknowledge the resentment that remains. In Milwaukee County, Assistant DA Janet Protasiewicz tried a similar tactic against Judge Rebecca Bradley, saying Walker appointed Bradley after she donated to his campaign. But the incumbent fends off the attack in retaining the seat. Insiders on both sides credit her with running a great campaign and note she played up a bipartisan image in touting the endorsements of Dems like County Exec Chris Abele and former DA E. Michael McCann along with ultraconservative Dem David Clarke, the sheriff. That caught the public’s attention more than her past presidency of the conservative Federalist Society. The race also illustrates the importance of spring turnout for Milwaukee County Dems. They couldn't take out Bradley yesterday, but last year, when 16,000 more people in the county voted, liberals were able to pick off a Walker appointee. Elsewhere, Walker appointees to northern Wisconsin circuit court seats had split results. But those races were more about where the incumbents lived prior to their appointments -- one in a different county, another across the state line until a year before his election -- than their ties to Walker. In Ozaukee County, there was a different Walker connection. Judge Tom Wolfgram is skunked after attorney Joe Voiland made the race largely about the incumbent’s decision to sign a petition seeking Walker’s recall. Beyond raising questions of whether it’s appropriate for a judge to sign a recall petition, the move does not play well in conservative Ozaukee County. Some insiders note the results there and in Dane County show the lingering effects of the Act 10 battle from two years ago. While some liberals will never get over Walker’s moves on collective bargaining, some conservatives will never forgive those who sought to recall the guv .
Former lawmakers: Leaving the state Capitol doesn’t necessarily mean an end to a politician’s public life. But it also isn’t a guarantee of success in future campaigns, if Tuesday’s results are any indication. Three former state lawmakers were on the ballot Tuesday and only one comes through -- barely. Former state Rep. Tony Staskunas, D-West Allis, wins a Milwaukee County Board election by just 167 votes, according to unofficial returns. Meanwhile, former Dem state Rep. Terry Van Akkeren loses his bid to hold onto his post as Sheboygan mayor. After unsuccessfully bidding for the job in the past, Van Akkeren had finally won the seat last year in a recall election following a series of alcohol-related incidents that plagued former Mayor Bob Ryan. In southeastern Wisconsin, former GOP state Rep. Curt Gielow loses his re-election bid for Mequon mayor to a candidate who opposed Gielow's vision for development in the community.
Ed Fallone: The Marquette University Law professor could never seem to get his campaign off the ground, insiders say. Liberals had their hopes set on Dane County Judge Maryann Sumi, envisioning a race that would excite the base, lead to an outpouring of resources and set up an epic clash over a host of political issues. But with her sitting it out, liberals didn’t see a path to victory and kept their money on the sidelines, insiders say. Some are critical of Fallone’s candidacy, but insiders on both sides say the lack of judge experience hurt big time. Without that black robe, there was no green to be had. Fallone also had difficulty transferring culpability in the Prosser-Bradley altercation to Justice Pat Roggensack. What’s more, progressives look at turnout as a continued Achilles' heel for them in spring races. While Dems are great at turning out voters in fall elections, they struggle to excite them in the spring. Going back over a decade, turnout for every spring race featuring a Supreme Court campaign has been around 20 percent or less with one exception -- the Kloppenburg-Prosser campaign in 2011. Some liberals argue that drives home the point they need a better turnout pitch to voters in the spring if they ever hope to turn things around in Supreme Court races; Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson has been their only win among the contested contests of the past decade.
Don Pridemore: The GOP state lawmaker didn’t get much help from Republicans in his bid to win the state superintendent’s office, and he takes a little dig at the guv in the aftermath of this failed campaign. The Hartford Republican tried to make hay out of Tony Evers signing the recall petition against Walker, but the guv declined to endorse in the race. Pridemore says he was disappointed in that decision and questions why Walker wouldn’t support someone who’d be a “much friendlier person in this job.” Still, even some conservatives say they didn’t want Pridemore in the post. While he may be more aligned with them philosophically than Evers, they didn’t see him as a viable candidate or someone who could properly carry the GOP message in such a position. Republicans had tried to recruit a conservative-minded school superintendent to run and tout the benefits of Walker’s collective bargaining changes. But those efforts failed. While some conservatives complain about a missed opportunity, liberals point out the other side also came up short four years ago in running a virtual school proponent against Evers in an open seat. It would have been tough for conservatives regardless of who they picked, liberals say.