In The News
The Supreme adult stands up election night whatever the outcome
By Dominique Paul Noth
Editor, Milwaukee Labor Press
Posted April 6, 2011
No one knows how it will turn out, but if judicial temperament is how you behave under pressure, JoAnne Kloppenburg won handily in the wee hours when the vote count was actually trending her opponent’s way before correcting itself in her slight favor by Wednesday midday April 6.
She came out smiling to thank her supporters in Madison and say it all wouldn’t be decided until the next day. No posturing about the high quality of her campaign, no restatement of the issues, no speech about the obvious incredible reversal of fortunes in her charge from the back of the pack. Just thanks and see you tomorrow.
Prosser came out about 1:40 a.m. at his headquarters to immediately sit on the pity pot, portray himself as the underdog (the elected incumbent an underdog? One hasn’t lost in Wisconsin in 40 years!), and state with remarkable lack of memory: “I'm very pleased we have sustained the most difficult assault on a person's character in the whole history of the Wisconsin judicial system... I've weathered the nuclear blast and I'm still standing.”
The reason he’s fighting from behind is, of course, because he reinforced the largest assault on judicial character in Wisconsin history.
Many of Kloppenburg’s backers knew well how his vote on the Supreme Court allowed Justice Michael Gableman to escape uncensured in concocting a direct slur on former Justice Louis Butler to win that contest. It was Prosser’s vote to give Gableman a pass on a campaign ad in which he directly and falsely characterized Butler as freeing a pedophile that has helped Kloppenburg stir such ardor against Prosser, further compounded by Prosser’s cleaving to his GOP colleague Scott Walker and calling the chief justice a “bitch.”
It is an irony of this campaign that a third-party ad from a liberal group attacking Prosser’s behavior as a DA investigating a pedophile priest is now cited by the incumbent as a falsehood, because the victim of the crime who years ago criticized him now criticizes the ad. Obviously Kloppenburg had nothing to do with this, while Gableman’s campaign coffers created the pedophile ad against Butler that Prosser refused to censure. Only self-delusion, and trust that his voters believe in conservative philosophy to the point of self-delusion, allow him to make this fight an issue of his character versus Kloppenburg’s.
But it’s all fairly typical of Prosser’s decision to play the victim card throughout the last weeks of the campaign. How an established incumbent gets away with this involves several factors. One is the claim that it is unfair to link him to Walker’s agendas, both anti-union and extreme cuts in education, transit, health care and other services.
In a way that’s true. You have to think of the conservatives on the Supreme Court as something of a three-cushion billiard shot in how they interpret the laws and vote. It’s not a direct connection to Walker’s agenda, but the governor’s flouting of the law has given those justices and their votes that taint. No one can guarantee how Kloppenburg will vote though Walker foes keep suggesting (hint hint) that she’s on their side. The truth is, as she’s made as clear as judicial ethics allow, she’s on the side of reading the law fairly. The strong vote for her suggests how many in the state suspect Prosser won’t. So he is a victim of his own past votes and attitudes.
The GOP also combined deliberate amnesia with a sudden surge of third party ad money (two to one on his side) to remind their base he was the “victim” in trouble. The deliberate amnesia was failing to mention how far ahead he was two months ago, because emphasizing that simply reminds people why the voters woke up and changed their minds.
The local media seemed to suffer from the same amnesia since it has been so quick to accept the Prosser view that he’s unfairly under attack without recognizing his record, and the feelings on the street that caused the attack. Of course, the media is making a ton of money from those third party ads, so it is self-serving to credit that ad money with the high voter turnout, as opposed to simple anger in the electorate. But let’s not forget that two months ago, Kloppenburg was the unknown assistant attorney general who barely survived a primary, and he was a 40-point favorite in the race, expected to sail to victory. The abnormality is ever portraying him as an underdog.
Another reason for Prosser to play the victim card -- and expect it to show up again and again in the inevitable recount, which at this early stage is taking on the ugliness of that Bush-Gore entrenched battle – is that he needed to manufacture false outrage rather than tackle the public issues directly.
That false outrage was apparent when he blamed the female judges on the Supreme Court for goading him into invective explosion. Or when he attacked another her, his opponent, for a third-party ad while his own third-party networks fabricated charges that she had jailed an 80-year farmer or was unfeeling toward victims of crime. Or his debate accusation never explored that she was a secret ideologue while he, on the other had, was an open ideologue and proud of it. And on and on.
Even on election night, when the race was too close to proclaim victory, Prosser sent to his headquarters platform political operative Brian Schimming to sneer at the opposition, proclaim victory wherever possible and in effect launch the recount strategy of suggesting that some dark liberal forces were lined up against Prosser. Long after Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett had told a TV audience that all the city’s absentee ballots had been counted and included, Schimming still hinted they were sitting in a bag someplace to surprise Prosser.
He also then reversed course and said that whatever votes came in would not change Prosser’s advantage at that point of some 500 votes.
Of course, when they came in he was 200 votes behind.
No one should forget that this whole election was a stunner and a remarkable expression of the general (not union) anger at Walker’s policies. Anyone who tells you the vote wasn’t about Walker has been smoking something funny.
In Milwaukee, Chris Abele blew away Walker buddy Jeff Stone with 61% of the vote. The state turnout was twice what most election experts had predicted and GOP districts in 2010 changed sides even in rural Wisconsin.
The inevitable recount will keep the electoral pot boiling even as recalls continue in earnest against GOP senators. The courts have delayed Walker’s bargaining rights bill to the point that now Walker’s advocates suggest they will simply stick it into budget legislation. But looking at the votes, GOP moderates are balking at his budget ideas and he may no longer have the votes to pass his union measure as a stand-alone bill.
Kloppenburg’s thin margin of advantage may still be overturned. A sad reality of elections is that there are only victories, not moral victories, though this one sure comes close for her supporters whatever the final outcome.
But if you just want to measure which candidate behaved more like the sort of judge you want, you got the answer election night and following morning, with Prosser on the pity pot while the supposed campaign novice behaved like the grownup, just thanking her supporters and telling them to get a good night’s sleep and be ready for the future.