Milwaukee County Labor Council AFL-CIO

May 26, 2016

In The News

How Fred Kessler gets under GOP skin

By Dominique Paul Noth
Editor, Milwaukee Labor Press
Posted August 1, 2012

Rep. Fred Kessler, a former judge and still a nationally known mediator on such legal matters as districting and labor relations, is married to state appeals judge Joan Kessler. They lovingly put together a nice home in District 12, where he has been serving for years as an active incumbent - and also as a rainmaker and recruiter for progressive Democrats, helping lead both the funding and strategy tactics.

Could that be why the GOP redistricting carefully carved out his home block, dumping the house where he and Joan lived from the district and sticking it in a district where he couldn't win?

If so, they sure underestimated the Kessler stubbornness. He is staying in District 12 whether he has to rent or buy anew because the voters know his accomplishments.

Now he's busy talking to the neighborhoods added to District 12 and reminding them of his fascinating long record of public service (which actually began when at age 21 he became the youngest member of the state legislature before becoming a judge).

Recently, Kessler noted one of the ironies of having new voters, particularly older African Americans who remember something most young citizens don’t – when the most notorious judge in Milwaukee was named Christ Seraphim, who had long ridden a false reputation of being tough on criminals to demean blacks, disabled Vietnam veterans and others who appeared in his misdemeanor court.

His behavior was so bizarre in his early years that a popular alternative newspaper of the time, Kaleidoscope, devoted a regular column to factually reporting his behavior in court. Later Seraphim rode conservative popularity to win a seat on the circuit bench.

“The strange thing,” Kessler noted this July, “is that when I tell the new voters – I mean new to the district, they clearly have been around a long time as I have – that I’m the guy who beat Christ Seraphim for Circuit Court, their eyes light up.” That may have been back in 1986, but the memories demonstrate not only the consistency of the residents but the consistency of Kessler’s pioneering progressive reputation.

His only opponent on Aug. 14 has a D after his name on the ballot but a strange history. Mario Hall never signed the recall against Scott Walker; he is not registered on the Milwaukee Democratic Party roster. He reportedly has attended "school choice" training in D.C.

All that raises fears that the American Federation for Children network and other conservative groups, with a habit of flooding in last minute untraceable campaign money and attacks, may yet cut loose in August to target a noted Democratic fund-raiser.

It would be an echo of what just happened this week in nearby District 11, when the American Federation for Children, a voucher network of outside money noted for supporting Republican candidates in the past and attacking hard-charging Democrats, flooded doorways with flyers pretending they were Democrats advocating for Democrat Jason Fields over progressive challenger Mandela Barnes.

The flyers misleadingly called on fellow “Democrats’ to support one of their own, reminding observers that the days of the GOP employing a “fake Dem” strategy didn’t end with the recall protection movement.

Failing such a last-minute bizarro blitz, Kessler is regarded as a runaway favorite.

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