Earlier this week in Wisconsin, a state governed by Koch Brothers subsidiary Scott Walker, one million voters cast ballots to fill a seat on the state Supreme Court.
I’ve long argued that judicial elections are idiotic — judges should be immune to partisan politics; they shouldn’t make campaign promises — but such are the rules in states like Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.
And sure enough, the Wisconsin race featured two lower-court judges with overtly partisan brands: Right-wing Walker clone and NRA fave Michael Screnock, and anti-Trump progressive Rebecca Dallet.
The race was called within minutes of the polls’ closing. Dallet eviscerated Screnock by 12 percentage points.
It was the first time in 23 years that a progressive (the traditional Wisconsin word for “liberal”) won an open seat on the state’s highest court, and it prompted Scott Walker to freak out on Twitter: “Tonight’s results show we are at risk of a #BlueWave in Wisconsin … we need conservatives to take action and stop a #BlueWave.”
It’s the second time this year that Walker has clanged the alarm. Back in the winter, there was a special election for a vacant state Senate seat, in a rural-red district where 59 percent of the 2016 voters had supported Trump, a district where the previous state Senate Republican candidate had won the seat by a margin of 26 points. But 10 weeks ago, in a huge switcheroo, the Democratic candidate snatched the rural-red seat by a margin of 9 points. The reasons were obvious: blue voters were stoked to turn out; red voters were too dispirited to show up. Some even switched sides.
In 2016, Trump easily won Wisconsin’s Eighth Congressional District, in the state’s northeastern corner; on Tuesday, Dallet won the district’s voters by 5 points. Trump also won the Third Congressional District, in the state’s southwestern corner; on Tuesday, Dallet the progressive swept the district’s voters by a whopping 16 points. In the words of Washington Republican analyst Rich Galen, “this election was so one-sided that, taken along with Pennsylvania (a reference to last month’s upset Democratic win in a special House election), it may be another precursor of things to come on Nov. 6.”
Walker, fearing more losses, has even tried to cancel a pair of Wisconsin special elections. Last winter, he appointed two state legislators to fill posts in his regime. Then he refused to schedule special elections to fill their seats. I kid you not.
He claimed in various statements that the elections were “unnecessary” and a “waste of taxpayer resources,” but it was obvious that he and his Republican allies were terrified that a blue wave would sweep those seats away — further confirming the national trend. Since Trump took the oath, 39 state legislative seats have flipped from red to blue (only four have flipped from blue to red), and the GOP would prefer not to suffer more humiliations.
Alas, Wisconsin law requires that legislative vacancies be promptly filled, for the self-evident reason that citizens deserve to be represented. This is called democracy, a concept that appears to flummox Republicans in the age of Trump.
Walker was speedily sued in court for his failure to follow the law. A few weeks ago, a judge — whom Walker has appointed to the bench — ruled that Walker had a “plain and positive duty” to schedule those special elections.
Walker refused to obey. He went to the state appeals court. He lost again. Last week an appeals judge ruled: “Representative government and the election of our representatives are never ‘unnecessary,’ never ‘a waste of taxpayer resources.’ [Walker] has an obligation to follow the law.” Walker finally gave up and scheduled the two contests for June.
Could there possibly be better evidence of Republican panic than their bright idea of canceling elections? Wisconsin’s judicial tally is merely their latest grim portent.
As Mitch McConnell said Tuesday, “We know the wind is going to be in our face. We don’t know whether it’s going to be a Category 3, 4 or 5.”
Show of hands, please. Who’s up for a Category 5?
Dick Polman is the national political columnist at WHYY in Philadelphia and a “Writer in Residence” at the University of Pennsylvania. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.