Judge Jill Karofsky
Judge Jill Karofsky

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.

Upon learn­ing of his vic­to­ry, a deeply grate­ful Blomme wrote:

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.

With grat­i­tude,

Brett Blomme
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.

Upon learn­ing of her vic­to­ry, Kiefer wrote:

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.

About the author

Andrew Villeneuve is the founder and executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute, as well as the founder of NPI's sibling, the Northwest Progressive Foundation. He has worked to advance progressive causes for over two decades as a strategist, speaker, author, and organizer. Andrew is also a cybersecurity expert, a veteran facilitator, a delegate to the Washington State Democratic Central Committee, and a member of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps.

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