Why the Wisconsin's Supreme Court Race Matters

Tuesday's election turnout was off the charts, and in some districts it doubled turnouts in past spring-time elections.  No doubt Governor Scott Walker's collective bargaining bill energized some folks, but it's a lot more complicated than that.  To simplify things, I broke down the reasons for Tuesday's high turnout to three key factors:  miscalculation, misinformation, and a whole lot of special interest money.


The Walker Administration made miscalculations on a number of important levels.  First, some believe that Walker erred in the same way President Obama did by moving too fast.  Hindsight dictates that Walker should have moved bills like Voter ID and School Choice reform through the legislature right away while focusing on collective bargaining after the election.  And of course, not all the blame belongs to Governor Walker; Republican leaders in the legislature are equally blameworthy.  By waiting a little longer, Justice Prosser wouldn't have been dragged into a bitter partisan fight.  Patience would have been a big virtue here.

Second, Walker and Republican leaders let Democrats frame the debate - or rather lack of it - when they allowed 14 Democrat Senators to hold the legislative process hostage for three weeks.  From the beginning, Republicans knew they could have carved out the collective bargaining portion from the budget-repair bill and passed it separately.  But they waited 3 weeks before deciding to move forward.  And during that time, labor unions from all over the county stockpiled into Madison soaking up media attention.

Third, Chief of Staff Keith Gilkes harmed Walker's reputation with two fateful missteps.  First, he allowed Governor Walker to accept a phony phone call from a blogger posing as billionaire contributor David Koch.  The recorded conversation was plastered all over the web, which could have been disastrous if Walker had deviated from his message.  Gilkes should have been suspicious when a billionaire supposedly loses his cell phone in the wash machine because of his underpaid, undocumented maid.  The moral of the story is always require a call-back number to verify that people are who they say they are.  Of course, there is also the most recent embarrassment of hiring the son of a major contributor who has no experience, no college degree, and two OWI's on his driving record.  Passing up two highly qualified candidates - one with an engineering degree - was a foolish mistake.

And the fourth mistake was losing the PR battle.  From day one, Walker should have hit the local media giving his side of the story daily.  Framing the debate as private sector workers versus public sector workers turned unions into victims.  Walker should have focused more on our budget crisis and explained why local communities absolutely needed his bill to pass.  Too many people thought that a vote against Prosser would stop Walker's austere fiscal medicine, when in fact local communities will get the medicine regardless of whether the collective bargaining bill passes.


Before the Supreme Court race, Justice David Prosser was considered a good and fair judge who used the state constitution as the benchmark for his rulings.  Even the left-leaning Milwaukee Journal Sentinel endorsed him for being the best choice in all matters of jurisprudence.  Yet by April 5th, opinions had changed.  One special interest group called the Greater Milwaukee Committee spent $1.3 million besmirching Justice Prosser.  Their message was two-fold: Prosser voted with Walker, and Prosser was soft on crime.

At this point, it's hard to tell what strategy hurt Prosser the most.  We were told that a vote against Prosser was a vote against Walker.  Well yes, that's true in some sense, but there is a lot more to it.  A Prosser election loss will sting a lot longer than passage of a single collective bargaining bill.  Without Prosser, the Walker Administration will be hamstrung at will.  Regardless of partisan politics, the fact is that budgets need to be balanced; and we can't kick the can down the road anymore.

The second prong of misinformation was drudging up an old court case accusing Prosser of letting a priest off for abusing two young boys.  The political attack ad was so distorted that even the victim in the case came to Prosser's defense. Troy Merryfield, the victim in the case, said if he had still lived in Wisconsin that he would personally vote for Prosser.  The Greater Milwaukee Committee, despite pleas from the victim, refused to remove their ad.

A Whole Lot of Money

And of course, there is the matter of money.  As the old saying goes, the love of money is the root of all evil.  That's because money wields enormous power, but it also wields corruption.  We saw this on both sides of the isle this past week.  Tuesday's Supreme Court election broke Wisconsin spending records tallying up to more than $3 million in campaign ads.

As it stands, Joann Kloppenburg has a 204 vote advantage on Justice David Prosser, which will almost certainly lead to a state-wide recount.  Recounts are unfortunate because whoever emerges as the winner will be stigmatized for election theft.  The Florida election with all of its hanging chads reminds us how politicized it can become.


A Prosser loss could have been avoided.  Governor Walker's Administration - including GOP leadership in the legislature - made a series of missteps ultimately losing them PR battle.  Labor unions across the nation descended upon Wisconsin for one simple reason: compulsory union dues.

Currently, the state of Wisconsin siphons union dues out of the checks of government employees represented by unions for the sole benefit of unions.  Walker's collective bargaining bill, among other things, removes compulsory due collection making workers responsible for paying their own dues.

In Utah and Indiana, compulsory union dues were axed bringing about stunning results.  An average of 5% of all public sector union members voluntarily paid their union dues.  Without compulsory union dues, labor unions can no longer force their members - including Republican and independent members - to fund the Democrat Party.  (I know because I'm also a union member whose dues are also used to fund Democrat candidates.)

In the past few months, labor unions recognized the threat of removing compulsory union dues; and they decided to go all in.  They appear to have won, or have they really?  The next month should provide us some clue who will come out victorious.


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