This spring’s Wisconsin Supreme Court election between incumbent Pat Roggensack and challenger Ed Fallone has been relatively quiet.
Obviously any race would feel small and quiet compared to our last Supreme Court race, which came in April of 2011 between incumbent David Prosser and challenger JoAnne Kloppenburg. That race started out quiet but was quickly swallowed up by the protests over Act 10 and the political upheaval at the Capitol. That race became a proxy recall election for Gov. Scott Walker when Prosser was tied directly to the Republican administration. Of course Prosser won a narrow victory when he survived a statewide recount.
There are some connections between that race to this race in that after winning Prosser and Roggensack were two of the four justices to overrule a Dane County Judge’s injunction of the publishing of Act 10, allowing the bill to officially become law. In the process of releasing that decision Prosser was accused of choking one of his colleagues during an argument. Roggensack was a witness to that incident and eventually recused herself from a disciplinary case against Prosser, essentially derailing the disciplinary process.
Fallone has tried to use that incident and Roggensack’s role as his main reason why Roggensack should not receive another ten years on the court. We will find out Tuesday night whether that message is resonating with the voters, but it’s clear the public in Dane County is not as engaged in this race as they were in the Kloppenburg/Prosser race two years ago. Yard signs in Dane County for Fallone are not a common sight, and that is where a challenger supported by liberal groups needs to do well. In 2011,turnout in Dane County was 48%, and the vote went for Kloppenburg by a 73%-27% margin. It took equally large numbers in the conservative Milwaukee suburbs for Prosser to win.
In 2013, the Government Accountability Board is projecting only 20% turnout statewide, which is average for a spring non-partisan election, but it’s not close to the massive 34% statewide turnout from 2011.
Wisconsin saw a string of record-setting elections that may never be broken. The 2010 fall elections, the 2011 spring elections, the 2011 senate recalls, the 2012 recalls for governor and senate and the 2012 presidential election; all set records and/or led to historic power shifts. Republicans at the Capitol have been referring to election fatigue for more than a year, and we may finally see it.
This Supreme Court election is very important. On the biggest cases the conservative block of justices hold a 4-3 advantage and Roggensack is at the center of that block. Liberal interest groups and Democrats clearly think Fallone would be a better Supreme Court Justice. There are some huge cases coming up, including a battle over Voter ID that has been simmering for quite some time. But the public doesn’t seem that interested.