204 votes. That's the winning number for JoAnne Kloppenburg, a virtual unknown candidate for State Supreme Court who came catapulting from a 30 point deficit in the primaries against incumbent Justice David Prosser to win by a nose this week.
Tuesday night into Wednesday morning was a nail-biter to be sure-election drama at its finest. I spent the night and wee hours of the morning glued to my laptop, pinging between Twitter and the AP's vote tally and about a hundred news sites and blogs. Regardless of which candidate you're rooting for you have to admit that the vote count has been intense and engaging.
Now that we finally have a total-Kloppenburg's razor-thin margin of victory is 740,090 to Prosser's 739,886-it's become entirely likely that we'll have to go through a statewide recount before the results are official. Wisconsin law allows a candidate to ask for a recount if the difference between the votes is not more than 0.5%. In this case, it's well under that. There has yet to be word from the Prosser campaign about if and when they'll file, but you can rest assured that they will.
Already, the "totally not aligned with Walker or the GOP" Prosser camp is getting recount support from the state Republican Party. Yesterday they sent out an appeal via email asking "fellow conservatives" to volunteer to "help Justice Prosser" in the "fight to ensure a fair and correct recount."
Meanwhile, Gov. Walker has been busy trying to downplay the massive significance of the results. In a press conference yesterday Walker claimed that "the state Supreme Court race was not a referendum on him." He also doesn't think the results are a bad omen for Republican legislators currently facing recall initiatives.
Why? Because Walker, like too many of his GOP brethren in the state, is laboring under the delusion that there exists some massive ideological and social divide between Madison and the rest of Wisconsin.
"You've got a world driven by Madison, and a world driven by everybody else out across the majority of the rest of the state of Wisconsin," sayeth Walker.
It's a tale as old as Walker's time in public office, though. As Milwaukee County Executive he worked hard to pit the city against the suburbs, and now as governor he's doing it again: Public employees vs. private sector workers, Madison vs. the "rest of the state," us vs. them.
It's a classic strategy: Distract everyone by making them believe each other to be the enemy so that you have the time and space to do the real damage.
Only problem is, of course, that Madison alone didn't win the race for Kloppenburg. And though I'll be the first to admit that we boast large numbers of a special Madison brand of progressive, our fair city is not so out of touch as Walker and his supporters would like you to believe.
In fact, some of the strongest support for Kloppenburg came from places like rural Ashland, Bayfield, Douglas, and Iron Counties up north. In total, 32 counties straight-up went to Kloppenburg, and even in counties that favored Prosser, several did so in much smaller numbers than they'd done in the primaries, indicating a serious shift away from the incumbent in the wake of Walker's union-busting and the wave of protests. Read the Illusory Tenant's excellent blog post on the serious shifts in numbers here.
After all, we don't oust sitting Justices in Wisconsin-at least, not very often. Louis Butler lost his bid for reelection in 2008 (to the exceedingly dirty campaign of Michael Gableman) but even he'd been an appointee; prior to that it had been 44 years since an incumbent lost an election to the Supreme Court.
As much as Walker would like us all to believe that it's just Madison "and to a lesser extent Milwaukee" (which roundly rejected Walker's hand-picked successor for County Executive in Tuesday's vote) causing all this unrest against his administration and its policies, all of the evidence suggests otherwise. Which isn't to say that Wisconsin isn't a deeply purple state (the one thing on which Walker and I agree) and that's good. A diverse mix of opinions and ideas can only foster a healthier community provided, of course, that folks are willing to listen and have honest debates with one another. Walker's brand of fingers-in-the-ears, full speed ahead, blindly partisan and ideological politics are the opposite of healthy.
La Crosse area residents were the first to gather enough signatures to trigger a recall election of Republican Senator Dan Kapanke. In the Fond du Lac area it's looking like the group aiming to recall Sen. Randy Hopper are gearing up to submit their signatures this week. The people of Milwaukee, on the other hand, seem to rather like their Democratic Senator, Lena Taylor, as the fellow spearheading efforts to recall her reports having gotten only two signatures.
Personally, I've heard from people all over the state who were angry with Walker for his budget "repair" bill and all of the shady tactics employed by Republican legislators to pass parts of it even without their Democratic counterparts present. They also see Prosser as an ally of Walker and his policies. As much as Prosser railed against the allegations and claims to be impartial, the fact remains that his own campaign literature touted that alliance.
Too, Walker's own chief counsel, Brian Hagedorn, sent a pleading email to supporters warning of dire consequences if Prosser wasn't re-elected:
If Justice Prosser loses:
The Supreme Court will shift from a 4-3 conservative majority to a 4-3 liberal majority. Governor Walker's agenda could be stopped in its tracks by this new activist majority. Union bosses and their allies will be emboldened and further push to recall the brave Senators who voted for Governor Walker's budget repair bill. (Chief Justice) Shirley Abrahamson and her allies will continue to drag down the reputation of the Court, with an additional vote to further push through their radical agenda.
Lots of modern Republicans love lobbing words like "activist" and "radical" around when a judge actually makes a constitutionally sound ruling with which they disagree. Point out that their own darlings are the ones with major conflicts-of-interest and ethics problems, of course, and watch 'em try to dance away from the flames in their pants.
It's also important to note that pro-Prosser groups outspent pro-Kloppenburg forces by a million dollars--$2.2 million to $1.3 million, to be exact-indicating a much more successful ground campaign by progressive grassroots organizers.
So, no, Gov. Walker dispute it all you like, but the fact is that a lot of people in this state are very unhappy with you and your administration, and the folks who ally themselves with you are looking at the very real possibility of becoming unemployed very soon.
If and when the recount comes, expect it to be especially ugly on the Prosser side of the fence. Already I'm hearing a lot of conservative rage about alleged voter fraud, and I can't help but worry somewhat about overzealous individuals working to muck up the process.
Expect more analysis and pontificating on this topic in next Tuesday's "Emily's Post."