In what is viewed as a victory for Governor Scott Walker and his attempt to limit the power of government unions, it appears incumbent David Prosser has defeated challenger JoAnne Kloppenburg in the race for a seat on Wisconsin’s state supreme court. Angry state Democrats fought vigorously to turn the supreme court race into a referendum on Walker’s legislative maneuvers, but their efforts now appear to be a lost cause. More importantly, Prosser’s victory will preserve the conservative tilt of Wisconsin’s supreme court, paving the way for the controversial union legislation, currently facing legal challenges, to be enacted into law.
Judge Prosser’s margin of victory was 7,316 votes out of nearly 1.5 million cast, which provides Ms. Kloppenburg the right to challenge the results, as state law allows for such if a candidate’s margin of victory is less .5 percent of the vote. Mr. Prosser’s edge was 0.488 percent. The Wisconsin Government Accountability Board (GAB) won’t certify the results until a recount is completed, or Ms. Kloppenburg declines the opportunity to have one conducted. She has until April 20th at 5 pm to make up her mind.
Last Monday, Prosser declared himself the winner. “A funny thing happened to me on the way to my concession speech,” he said. “The people of Wisconsin told me to tear it up, and go back to work.” The concession to which Mr. Prosser was referring involved the victory speech given by Ms. Kloppenburg the day after the election, when it was initially reported that she had prevailed by 204 votes. “You know the numbers show that we won, and we are gratified to have that victory in hand,” said Ms. Kloppenburg at the time. Those tallies, however, were unofficial, and it was the official vote that defeated Ms. Kloppenburg. Because of the substantial difference in the current totals, Mr. Prosser made it clear he considered a recount unnecessary. “Admittedly the election was uncomfortably close,” Prosser said. “My opponent ran a very effective campaign. But now that all 72 counties have completed their canvasses, the result of the election is not in doubt.”
Prosser campaign advisor Brian Schimming was even more direct: “We don’t feel that there is a need for a recount,” he said. “The largest number of votes–statewide–that’s ever been turned around is 489 votes, and we are now at 7,316? So we really don’t see the need for a recount right now. It would be enormously costly, and there’s just no evidence there to suggest that a recount’s needed.” Melissa Mulliken, Kloppenburg’s campaign manger, refused to reveal her candidate’s intentions. “State statute clearly contemplates recounts when the margin is less than one-half of 1 percent, as it is in this case,” she said.
The vote turnaround occurred when Waukesha County Clerk Kathy Nickolaus reported on April 7th that, in her initial count, she had omitted 14,315 votes from the city of Brookfield which she had failed to save on her computer. The GAB investigated, but Democrats demanded an expansion of that investigation, citing a 2006 attorney general race in which the results showed 174,047 votes, but only 156,804 ballots cast. Yet Kevin Kennedy, director of the GAB, while conceding that there was “negligence in the way things were handled on Election night,” reported that the board hasn’t found any evidence of vote fraud. Mr. Kennedy added that they were already looking into 2006, explaining that the vote discrepancy then was the difference between votes scanned by Wisconsin’s voting machines and those that were hand counted. Less widely reported about the current election was a correction in the county of Milwaukee, where 409 votes were added for Prosser and 398 for Kloppenburg, a net gain of 11 votes for Prosser. That discrepancy was due to the fact that two wards on Milwaukee’s south side had reported totals for absentee votes only.
As most Americans know, this race was the latest chance for Wisconsin voters to weigh in on that state’s attempt, led by Governor Walker and the Republican-controlled state legislature, to restrict the collective bargaining power of the state’s government unions solely to wages, and eliminate mandatory dues collection. That effort led to weeks of protests, the flight of 14 Democrat legislators from the state in order to prevent a vote on the issue, a torrent of hate mail and death threats directed a Republic state legislators, as well as a disturbing letter sent to a local businessman by union members demanding he rescind his support of Governor Walker or face a boycott.
Unsurprisingly, as reported by the Brennan Center for Justice, a record amount of spending on television ad campaigns was underwritten by “special interest groups” whose focus was largely centered on negative and attack ad campaigning. The center also notes that only Pennsylvania has spent more on state supreme court elections between 2007-2011.
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