And the Blue Tide Keeps On Rolling—Congratulations Badger Supreme Court Justice-Elect Rebecca Dallet! April 9, 2018
April 3, 2018-- another Tuesday, and more “Team Blue” victories in the Age of Trump. Democrat Jim Hawkins won a special election for a toss-up seat in the Mass. state House, 52%-48%, keeping this Attleboro area in the “Blue” column (patch.com, Claffey, dlcc.org, 4/03/18). In Rhode Island, Democrat Sandra Cano blew her “Red” opponent away, 72%-27%, in a second special election, this time in a Democratic-leaning state Senate seat (dlcc.org, Claffey). Since Demagogue Donald came to D.C., Democrats have flipped 39 “Red” legislative seats “Blue” in states all over the country, including in “purple” VA, “Crimson” AL, and “Blood Red” OK (huffingtonpost.com, Terkel, 1/16/18, Resnick, dailybeast.com, 2/27/18). Even more stunning was Milwaukee County Judge Rebecca Dallet’s 4/03/18 election victory to a seat on the WI State Supreme Court for a 10-year term. Liberal candidate Dallet easily defeated her conservative opponent Judge Michael Screnock by nearly 12 percentage points (TIME, Bauer, npr.com, 4/03/18, vox.com, Prokop, 4/03/18). Let’s view this race.
Rebecca Dallet (48) was raised in suburban Cleveland, Ohio. When she was six, her parents divorced. Dallet said she had to grow up fast while her single mom put in long hours as a teacher and in other jobs (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, jsonline.com, Marley, 3/27/18). Dallet learned how important it was to “work hard to achieve anything (jsonline.com, Marley).” She became interested in becoming a judge after spending a day with a judge in 9th grade as part of a mock trial program. After majoring in economics at Ohio State University, she won a full scholarship to Case Western Reserve University Law School. On her first day there, she met her future husband, Brad Dallet. The couple moved to WI where Brad became a real estate lawyer and a partner in a law firm. Rebecca clerked for two years for Milwaukee federal Magistrate Aaron Goodstein. Goodstein called Dallet a “good writer who had good legal intelligence and a good analytical mind.” Goodstein described 5’1” Dallet as “a small package but she didn’t let anyone push her around (jsonline, Marley, 3/27/18).”
In 1996, Dallet joined Milwaukee County’s district attorney’s office where she worked for 11 years. During that time, she was also on loan to the federal U.S. Atty’s office as a prosecutor. She prosecuted gun, drug, robbery, domestic violence, and sex predator cases. In 2007, Dallet was appointed as chief court commissioner, the first woman to hold that job. A year later, she ran and won a seat on the circuit court and was re-elected in 2014. On the trial bench, she heard over 10,000 cases. Dallet has encouraged other women to run for judge and said that a major part of her career has been dedicated to empowering women. As a judge, she heard cases involving sexual assault, human trafficking, and domestic violence. She presided over the civil court where she witnessed the effects of domestic violence in child custody cases and saw women who were harassed at home and the workplace. She called the prevalence of violence, both sexual violence and harassment, “outstanding.” She added that women are “really dealing with these power and control issues (jsoline.com, Marley, 3/27/18).”
In 6/2014, soon after a federal judge ruled that WI’s ban on gay marriage was unconstitutional, Dallet raced to the courthouse to marry same-sex couples. She called that day “her proudest as a judge (jsonline.com).” A mother of three teen-age daughters, she participated with them in the 1/2017 Milwaukee Women’s March Against Trump as well as in the 3/2018 “March for Our Lives” against gun violence. Her daughters were involved in her WI Supreme Ct. campaign (jsonline.com). Liberal Dallet stood for non-partisan redistricting. This reform would put an end to radical GOP gerrymandering, which the WI GOP trifecta of Gov. Scott Walker and his “Red” Senate and Assembly, have enacted (See Barone 14 Political Almanac, “Dark Money,” Mayer). Dallet has a strong environmental record on clean air and water (madison.com, Beck, 3/29/18). With her belief in reasonable gun control, Dallet ran in opposition to the extremist NRA. She ran an ad attacking Demagogue Donald. She attacked the conservative WI Supreme Court for upholding a law that basically ended collective bargaining for public workers. She opposed that court’s 2015 decision to shut down an investigation into Gov. Walker and other GOPers (Marley, jsonline.com, 4/03/18).
Dallet’s opponent was conservative Michael Screnock (48) who had been appointed by Gov. Walker as a judge in Sauk County, WI in 2015. He opposed everything Dallet favored. Before his judicial appointment, Screnock was part of a team that successfully defended Gov. Walker’s bill to end collective bargaining for most public workers (TIME, 4/03/18). He defended the GOP-gerrymandered redistricting plan now before the U.S. Supreme Court (npr.org, Johnson, S., 4/03/18). Screnock practiced in a law firm where he helped defend businesses against allegations of air and water pollution. One of those, Didion Milling, agreed to pay WI more than $1 million and provide for environmental improvement projects in Columbia County. In 2017, the Labor Dept.’s OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) fined Didion $1.8 million after its Cambria plant exploded, killing five people. Screnock defended the Casco-based Kinnarad Farms dairy operation against a lawsuit after private wells tested positive for groundwater contaminants (Beck, madison.com, 3/29/18). Environmental groups, in addition to Dallet, attacked Screnock on these issues when he ran for the WI Supreme Court (Beck). Dallet was against the AR-15 assault rifle, while Screnock received the NRA’s endorsement (jsonline.com, Marley, 4/03/18).
This contest for this open seat on the WI Supreme Court occurred because a conservative justice chose to retire (vox.com, Prokop, 4/03/18). State Supreme Court races rarely receive attention, especially in a race like WI’s where this contest was officially labeled “non-partisan.” However, since the Tea Party era and in the Age of Trump, “non-partisanship” in judicial races constitutes an oxymoron. Screnock was endorsed by Gov. Walker and his state GOP. Screnock appeared at numerous Republican Party events. He received more than $300,000 in help from the state GOP, far more than conservatives who have run for this court in the past (Glauber & Marley, 4/02/18, jsonline.com). State Supreme Courts are often the key to upholding a governor’s agenda. In 2016, Democrats finally recognized that. In that year, Obama endorsed Democrat Mike Morgan in a N. Carolina Supreme Court race. Morgan won and helped swing that state’s ideological balance away from the radical GOP (See jsoline.com, Glauber & Marley). IMHO, had there been a Democratic majority on WI’s Supreme Ct. to check GOP Gov. Walker, it is doubtful that it would have upheld his anti-union legislation or stopped an inquiry into alleged wrongdoing on his part. WI’s blatant GOP state and congressional gerrymandering plans may have been thrown out.
According to Democratic strategist Melissa Balduff, “a statewide election in a battleground state was going to have national attention no matter what.” Donald, in a surprise upset, carried WI by .7%, powering him to his 2016 Electoral College victory, while big GOP “dark” money defeated a comeback by former Dem. Sen. Rus Feingold. The Kochs and other like-minded right- wing millionaire/billionaires have been pouring money into this state for years to turn around its previous liberal reputation (See Mayer, “Dark Money”). Besides national GOP Koch-backed Gov. Walker, WI is home to GOP House Speaker Paul Ryan and former Republican National Committee Chair/ex-Trump chief-of-staff Reince Priebus. The Badger State GOP was shocked by Democrat Patty Schachtner’s 1/16/2018 upset victory in a strong “Red” state Senate district. “Team Red,” therefore, did everything to keep this WI Supreme Ct. seat.
Democrats, galvanized by their opposition to Trump and his GOP lackeys, wanted to show that they are “fired up and ready” for a “Blue Tsunami” in the 11/2018 midterm elections. They wanted to keep building on their 39 “Red to Blue” legislative flips. Former Obama VP Joe Biden and Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) endorsed Dallet. Former AZ Dem. Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, a survivor of a 1/2011 gunshot wound to the head, also endorsed Dallet. Former Obama Atty. General Eric Holder, now chair of the National Democratic Redistricting Committee (NDRC), a group that fights against GOP gerrymandering, personally campaigned for Dallet (huffingtonpost.com,Terkel, 4/03/18, democraticredistricting.com). The WI Dem. Party machinery worked to help Dallet. Outside groups spent more than $2 million on this race that was about evenly split on both sides (Terkel, huffingtonpost.com, Brandner, cnn.com, 4/04/18).
Many analysts believed this Supreme Court race would be a close one. It never was. Dallet’s judicial victory will swing conservative control of the WI Supreme Court from a comfortable 5-2 margin to a narrow 4-3 one. The last time a liberal won an open WI high court open seat was in 1995 (jsonline.com, Marley, 4/03/18).
How did Dallet win? WI liberals were angry at Gov. Walker’s repeated victories in WI, including his successfully beating back a 2012 recall attempt. In 2011, a conservative WI Supreme Ct. Justice won reelection by a mere .4% margin. Another Walker Sup. Ct. appointee won re-election to a full term in 2016. In 2017, liberals, still dazed by Donald’s 2016 WI win, didn’t bother to put up a candidate against an additional conservative justice. However, after more than a year of Trump in office, liberal anger went beyond the proverbial boiling point. After Dem. Patty Schachtner’s upset state Sen. win, Gov. Walker ridiculously tried not to hold more special elections, until court rulings forced him to abandon that tactic (vox.com, Prokop, 4/03/18). Unlike in 2016, Democrats, especially, the liberal base, were motivated to turn out, even in cold rain (See TIME). Dallet won the popular vote and half of WI’s counties, not just urban counties, but rural ones that Trump took in 2016 (O’ Donnell, “The Last Word”). Dallet won big in “Blue” Dane (home to Madison) and Milwaukee Counties. Screnock did well in GOP stronghold Waukesha County and other “Red” areas, but not enough to offset Dallet’s massive success in metropolitan areas (jsonline.com, Marley, 4/03/18). As in other special election “Blue” wins in 2017 and 2018, Democrats held on to Hillary’s suburban gains while clawing back her heavy rural losses (vox.com, 4/05/2018). In rural Grant County, near MN, Obama got 56%, Trump 51%, and Dallet 55%. In Door County, above Green Bay, famous for its cherries, Obama won 53%-46%, Trump 49%-46%, and Dallet 62%-38%. In Winnebago County, home to Oshkosh, Obama won 51%-47%, Trump 50%-42%, and Dallet, 57%-43%. In counties that swung back and forth between Obama and Trump, Dallet equaled or bettered Obama’s 2012 numbers and far outperformed Hillary. Dallet gave Democrats the template they need to take back the House and state legislative districts in 2018, winning in suburban and exurban counties with working class white voters, while triumphing handily in liberal areas (See thedailybeast.com).
After Dallet’s resounding victory, GOP Gov. Walker tweeted that his party is “at risk of a #BlueWave” in November, 2018 (Bradner, CNN, 4/04/18). Yes, Democrats should revel in Dallet’s victory. However, do not “misunderestimate” Walker. He has a powerful GOP machine, oodles of Koch Bros. money, and is running for a third term in 11/2018. He is a hero to rank-and-file GOPers who will turn out for him. Republicans have already spent more than $3.1 million in negative ads aimed at defeating progressive Democratic first-term- WI U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin in 2018 (SeeTerkel, huffingtonpost.com, 1/08/18). We, therefore, can’t get complacent. WI Democrats must get behind their eventual gubernatorial nominee, Sen. Baldwin, and all their other candidates. They must come out in droves on 11/06/2018 to overwhelm the Trump-Walker-Ryan gang. The rest of us must do likewise for our state and congressional candidates.