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The ground just shifted in Wisconsin
Janet Protasiewicz's decisive victory in the race for state Supreme Court could bring about the political reset Wisconsin desperately needs.
The Recombobulation Area is a
six-time TEN-TIME Milwaukee Press Club award-winning weekly opinion column and online publication written and published by veteran Milwaukee journalist Dan Shafer. Learn more about it here.
In the end, the race for Wisconsin Supreme Court was not close. Janet Protasiewicz defeated Daniel Kelly by a whopping 10-point margin, roughly 55% to 45%. In a state that often sees some of the closest statewide elections anywhere in the country, that’s a bonafide blowout.
With this victory, the balance of power in the Wisconsin Supreme Court will flip from a 4-3 conservative majority to a 4-3 liberal majority when Protasiewicz is sworn in on Aug. 1. This is a seismic moment in Wisconsin politics.
These results signify a thunderous rejection of Daniel Kelly and the conservative establishment in Wisconsin. They spent the final weeks of the race going all-out in what proved to be a futile effort to hold on to their unearned dominance of the levers of power in state government.
Kelly has now lost two races for Wisconsin Supreme Court by double-digits – no small feat in a state known for razor-thin margins. His not-a-concession speech cemented his legacy in Wisconsin as the sorest of losers and the poorest of candidates. The fact that he even made it this far is indicative of a state-level Republican Party that’s gone adrift.
On the other side, this victory is a remarkable achievement for Protasiewicz and for Wisconsin Democrats. Everything was on the line with this election. Everything. Without a win, the state would have descended back into what party chair Ben Wikler referred to as the “undemocratic doom loop,” with a conservative majority cementing one-party rule through gerrymandered maps and continuing to be a backstop for anything Republicans wanted to do.
But no longer. Wisconsin is out of the doom loop. The left in Wisconsin has successfully clawed back from the brink. Janet Protasiewicz's victory in this race is the reset moment that Wisconsin politics has so desperately needed.
Because Wisconsin politics are so deeply broken in so many ways. When politics are broken like they are here, it’s the foundational elements that need to change. That is what could happen following this election. The shift that’s about to occur is truly one that could realign the state.
By the end of the summer, Wisconsin will have a liberal majority on its highest court. The door will open to challenges to the state’s gerrymandered maps, the outdated and unclear 1849 abortion ban, and so much more. Checks and balances could finally return to an increasingly unhinged Republican-controlled state legislature.
In a certain sense, the era of Wisconsin politics that began with Scott Walker’s victory in November 2010 ended on Tuesday, April 4, 2023. This feels in many ways like a series finale.
The book “The Fall of Wisconsin” by Dan Kaufman exhaustively and poetically detailed the many ways the state has plunged in this era of “conservative conquest.”
What happens next is unclear. But this might just be the moment where Wisconsin finally stops falling.
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Dan Shafer is a journalist from Milwaukee who writes and publishes The Recombobulation Area. He previously worked at Seattle Magazine, Seattle Business Magazine, the Milwaukee Business Journal, Milwaukee Magazine, and BizTimes Milwaukee. He’s also written for The New York Times, The Daily Beast, Heartland Signal, Belt Magazine, WisPolitics, and Milwaukee Record. He’s won 17 Milwaukee Press Club Excellence in Journalism Awards. He’s on Twitter at @DanRShafer.
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