Stakes are high in Supreme Court race

Labor unions, upset about Gov. Scott Walker’s budget repair bill, which strips most of the collective bargaining rights from public employees, have vowed to seek revenge at the ballot box.

Their first opportunity is the spring election, to be held on Tuesday, April 5. Labor unions are working to encourage their members and supporters to vote for Assistant Attorney General JoAnne Kloppenburg who is running against incumbent Supreme Court Judge David Prosser.

The Wisconsin State AFL-CIO, AFT Local 212 (the union representing faculty and academic staff at Milwaukee Area Technical College) and AFSCME District Council 48 (which represents 10,000 members in Milwaukee County) all have endorsed Kloppenburg in the race.

“(Prosser’s) campaign is funded by the very same wealthy individuals and corporations who paid for Walker’s campaign and are now attacking public employees,” said Michael Rosen, economics professor and president of AFT Local 212. “In contrast, Kloppenburg’s independence is much more in keeping with Wisconsin’s tradition of non-partisan judges.”

“Considering the cases being generated by today’s hyper-partisanship in the state Capitol, it is critical that we elect a justice who can rise above party politics and enforce the true spirit and letter of the law,” said Rich Abelson, executive director of AFSCME District Council 48 (which represents nearly 10,000 members within Milwaukee County).

Prosser is being targeted by unions and liberals because many observers perceive him to be one of a four-member conservative majority on the state Supreme Court.

Prosser was one of three justices who voted against an appeal of a lower court’s ruling that struck down the Milwaukee sick leave law, which was opposed and challenged in court by the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce. The court deadlocked on the matter on a 3-3 vote, with Justice Annette Ziegler declining to participate. The case was sent to the Court of Appeals, which recently voted to uphold the sick leave law.

Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, the state’s largest business organization, is asking its members to support Prosser.

“The government worker unions are openly attempting to overturn the November elections, buying an activist majority on the Wisconsin Supreme Court, and grinding our democracy to a halt because Governor Scott Walker has refused to raise taxes to balance the budget,” said WMC president and CEO James Haney in a letter to members. “If Kloppenburg wins, a clear activist majority will be established on the court that could dramatically affect our business climate.”

A Dane County Circuit Court judge recently granted a temporary restraining order to block Walker’s budget repair bill, which eliminates most collective bargaining rights from public employee unions in the state. The judge’s ruling, in response to a complaint alleging Republicans violated the state’s open meetings law in passing the bill, was challenged by Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen.

No matter the decision at the Circuit Court level, the case is expected to advance through the Wisconsin Court of Appeals and ultimately be decided by the Wisconsin Supreme Court.

If Prosser is re-elected, the court will maintain a conservative majority, but if Kloppenburg is elected, the court will shift to a liberal majority.

In effect, a vote for conservative Prosser will be a vote for affirming Walker’s bill to revoke the collective bargaining rights of public employees. A vote for left-learning Kloppenburg will be a vote against Walker’s bill and for affirming those collective bargaining rights.

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Andrew is the editor of BizTimes Milwaukee. He joined BizTimes in 2003, serving as managing editor and real estate reporter for 11 years. A University of Wisconsin-Madison graduate, he is a lifelong resident of the state. He lives in Muskego with his wife, Seng, their son, Zach, and their dog, Hokey. He is an avid sports fan and is a member of the Muskego Athletic Association board of directors.

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