A Supreme Court justice and two Milwaukee County Circuit judges appointed by disgraced former Wisconsin governor Scott Walker have been turned out of office by voters in the Badger State in a watershed victory for progressive forces.
In the highest profile race of last week’s election, which Republicans insisted be held amidst the pandemic, Justice Daniel Kelly conceded defeat to his progressive challenger Jill Karofsky after it became clear that she would win easily.
“As the campaign comes to its close, the work of the Court continues,” Kelly said, after wishing his opponent well. “My term ends on July 31st, and I will dedicate every day from now until then to finishing well in my service to this state.”
“Although we were successful in this race, the circumstances under which this election was conducted were simply unacceptable, and raise serious concerns for the future of our democracy,” Karofsky said in a statement.
“Nobody in this state or in this country should have been forced to choose between their safety and participating in an election.”
Karofsky’s win narrows the right’s advantage on the State Supreme Court from five members out of seven to four members out of seven.
She will take office August 1st for a ten-year term.
Karofsky received 841,297 votes to Kelly’s 682,657. Her ten point margin of victory stunned Republicans both in Wisconsin and elsewhere.
Democrats were elated.
“In the face of unprecedented voter suppression efforts by Republicans, Judge Karofsky has won the Supreme Court race — a result that speaks to Democrats’ incredible enthusiasm advantage and should terrify Donald Trump and every other Wisconsin Republican,” said DNC Chair Tom Perez. “I know Judge Karofsky will be fair and make decisions based on the rule of law, not a hyper-partisan agenda. Wisconsinites will be well-served with her sound judgement.”
“This victory comes despite Republicans’ best attempts to steal this election,” Perez added. “In the middle of a public health emergency, when hardworking Americans are desperate for leadership, Republicans saw an opportunity to disenfranchise voters and advance their own toxic agenda. It’s unconscionable, and it’s why Democrats are working to ensure no voter should have to choose between risking their health and participating in an election.”
“Republican attempts at voter suppression didn’t work in Wisconsin, and Democrats are fighting tooth and nail to ensure they don’t work in November when we will send Joe Biden to the White House and elect Democrats up and down the ticket,” Perez concluded.
Biden weighed in a short time later with a statement of his own.
“We often speak of the sacrifices that Americans make to protect our freedoms – including putting their lives on the line,” said Biden, who overwhelmingly won the Badger State’s presidential primary. “We saw that American spirit last week in Wisconsin. It’s a testament to how much respect people have for their cherished right to vote. And we saw that courage not only in those who came to vote but in the dedication of those who did the work of carrying out the election.”
“But as grateful as I am for your support, and as proud I am of the commitment and courage shown by so many in Wisconsin – it never should have come to that. No one should ever have to choose between their health and our democracy.”
“Instead, we saw Republicans willing to risk people’s lives for their own political purposes – refusing to work with the governor [Democrat Tony Evers] to find an alternative solution to in-person voting last week,” Biden continued.
“It was more than shameful. It put lives in danger unnecessarily, and I hope no one forgets what the Republicans in the state legislature did come November.”
As of press time, Biden had 570,639 votes in the state’s presidential primary, with 62.94% of the vote. Bernie Sanders trailed with 288,043 votes (31.77%). No other candidate surpassed the fifteen point viability threshold.
Biden’s blowout victory had been expected, although the results were not available on Election Night. Despite not knowing the official results, Bernie Sanders decided to call it quits after voting in Wisconsin ended. He announced the cessation of his presidential campaign the next morning (last Wednesday).
Wisconsin was a Sanders state in 2016, like its neighbors Minnesota and Michigan. All three states have now swung to Joe Biden, the Democratic Party’s 2020 presumptive nominee. The same is true of Washington, Idaho, Alaska, Maine, and Oklahoma. All were for Sanders in 2016; all now favor Biden.
Sanders now also favors Biden. Having withdrawn from the race last Wednesday, Sanders chose today to endorse Biden for the nomination via livestream.
In an amiable conversation, the duo spoke of their plans to set up six task forces hat would allow their campaigns to attempt to bridge their policy divides to the extent feasible. Sanders plans to campaign for Biden for the duration of the 2020 cycle, and Biden wants to partner with Sanders if he gets the chance to govern.
In addition to turning out Daniel Kelly, Wisconsin voters also sent Judges Paul Dedinsky and Dan Gabler packing. Both had been appointed by Scott Walker prior to Walker’s defeat in the 2018 midterm elections. Dedinsky was seeking to be retained in the Court’s fifth branch and Gabler its twenty-seventh branch.
Dedinsky lost by an almost twenty point margin. His challenger Brett Blomme garnered 58.29% of the vote, leaving no doubt as to the outcome.
I want to send a big thank you to the thousands of voters from every part of Milwaukee County that helped propel my campaign to VICTORY! I am overwhelmed right now and so appreciative of all of campaign volunteers, donors and grassroots activists and organizations that worked tirelessly on my campaign!
Thank you, thank you, thank you!
I got into this race to give the people of Milwaukee County a choice in this election. We ran a grassroots campaign focused on bringing to light the need to elect judges that are committed to working to change our broken criminal justice system.
I proudly endorsed the ACLU’s Smart Justice initiative, a set of reforms that are aimed at reducing Wisconsin’s prison population by over 50% in the next few years.
A special thank you to my husband, Chris and our two young kids Caleb and Sophia Jo, my parents, family and all of my friends. Thank you as well to my staff for your amazing work in this campaign.
I look forward to joining justice partners working to make our justice system more equitable, fair and open for everyone in our community.
Milwaukee County Circuit Court — Branch 5
Meanwhile, in the other fiercely contested Milwaukee County Circuit Court race, the right wing lost by an even bigger margin.
Challenger Rebecca Kiefer secured more than seventy percent of the vote, easily dispatching Gabler, who was unable to crack thirty percent.
I am honored to share that I have been elected Milwaukee County Circuit Court Judge in Branch 29.
This campaign has been such an incredibly positive force in my life. I am grateful for my family, friends, and everyone who has supported me throughout the campaign. Milwaukee County needs judges who can fairly apply the law, ensure we care about the needs of kids and victims, and who will treat everyone with respect.
Thank you for trusting me to be that judge.
We will find better solutions to make our community stronger, together. I couldn’t have done this without support like yours.
I look forward to serving you.
Wisconsin Democrats, led by the irrepressible Ben Wikler (formerly of MoveOn and The Al Franken Show) made it clear they’re just getting warmed up.
“Tonight, despite the Republican Party savage and shameful attempt to suppress votes and steal Wisconsin’s Supreme Court election, Judge Jill Karofsky prevailed. It’s a victory for justice and democracy in an election that should never have taken place in person,” Wikler said in a statement.
“Despite the result, the fact that this in-person election took place was a searing loss for Wisconsin. Today’s results don’t tell us how many people were exposed to coronavirus at polling places, how many were infected, or how many will die. Had justice prevailed, those numbers would have been zero.”
“No one should ever have to choose between their health and their vote, yet Republicans chose to prioritize their own political gain over actual human lives. Wisconsin voters will not forget this travesty,” Wikler added.
Wikler urged Republican legislators in Madison (who currently have supermajorities and have repeatedly tussled with Governor Tony Evers) to join Democrats in supporting a vote-at-home elections reform bill.