What Say You?

From elections to drinking water -- court election could seal Wisconsin's fate?

By Spencer Black | local columnist, The Cap Times Jan 24, 2023

There are some big questions in Wisconsin that will be decided in the next two years:

Will abortion be outlawed?

Will gerrymandered legislative maps continue to deny voters the right to choose which party controls the Legislature?

Will the right to vote be curtailed?

Will the voter's choice for president in the 2024 election be overturned?

Will pollutants be allowed to contaminate our drinking water?

Surprisingly, these decisions will not be made by either the governor or the Legislature. They likely will be determined by the state Supreme Court. Presently, that court is controlled by a right-wing majority that has gerrymandered the Legislature and restricted the right to vote. But it's only a 4-3 majority, and the election of a fair-minded justice could change the balance of the court. That's why the primary election on Feb. 21 and the general election on April 4 are so important. And that's why it's crucial that folks who care about fair elections, reproductive rights and a clean environment be strategic and support the strongest candidate.

That's why I am endorsing Judge Janet Protasiewicz for justice of the state Supreme Court, and why I'm urging you to vote for her on Feb. 21. I've been talking with politically knowledgeable folks around the state about this race. Their unanimous opinion is that Protasiewicz is far and away the strongest progressive candidate.

Protasiewicz is not only exceptionally qualified to serve as a Supreme Court justice, she is an excellent statewide candidate. She's a lifelong Wisconsin resident from a working-class family. Before serving as a circuit court judge, she was a law professor and a prosecutor with a reputation as an advocate for crime victims. She has received numerous awards honoring her legal career. While being careful, as she must, not to prejudge cases that might come before the court, she has spoken out about the importance of fair maps, voting rights and reproductive freedom.

The election for justice is different than the election last November. There are no partisan primaries because candidates don't run as the nominee of a party. Instead, the four candidates are all on the same ballot on Feb. 21. The top two vote getters advance to runoff in April.

National political observers have dubbed the April runoff as the most important election in the country this year. However, it would be crucial mistake for people wanting a change on the Supreme Court to overlook the February primary. Here's why. There are two right-wing candidates, both appointed to the bench by Scott Walker. There are also two progressive candidates running. If voter turnout is light, there is a very real possibility that the Walker appointees, both Republican activists, will be the top two vote getters.

There is another progressive candidate: Dane County Judge Everett Mitchell. Mitchell is a good jurist and a respected community leader. His rulings on key issues as a justice would likely be very similar to those of Judge Protasiewicz. However, he has very limited statewide support. In addition, his past statements and judicial rulings make him vulnerable to the Republican attack machine. Fairly or not, Republicans will be ruthless, and their attack ads against Mitchell will be brutal and probably highly effective.

The danger is that Mitchell might drain off just enough progressive votes in the February primary so that two right-wing Walker appointees would advance to the April runoff. Then we would be confronted with the awful choice of two conservative activists on the final ballot. That's why it's so important to vote on Feb. 21 and to support Judge Protasiewicz.

Spencer Black served for 26 years in the state Legislature. He was chair of the Assembly Natural Resources Committee and the Assembly Democratic leader. Since leaving the Legislature, Black has been vice president for conservation for the national Sierra Club and adjunct professor of planning at UW-Madison.


Authorized and Paid for by the Democratic Party of Sauk County
Susan Knower, chair
Dan Holzman, treasurer
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