State Supreme Court
WISCONSIN - Two state appellate court judges are set to face off April 2 for a seat on the seven-member Wisconsin State Supreme Court, setting up a high-stakes battle that could determine whether conservatives or liberals have a chance to control the court next year.
Voters will choose between Wisconsin Court of Appeals Chief Judge Lisa Neubauer, or appellate Judge Brian Hagedorn, to replace retiring Justice Shirley Abrahamson for a 10-year term.
Candidates for the seven-member chamber are nonpartisan. However, political parties and outside groups typically support a specific candidate through fundraising, advertising and party infrastructure.
Candidates backed by Republicans currently hold a 4-3 majority on the court, down from 5-2 after Democratic favorite Rebecca Dallet won her bid against conservative-backed Michael Screnock in 2018. If Neubauer wins her race in April, replacing the liberal Abrahamson, it could pave the way for a Democratic favorite to flip the court in 2020.
In separate interviews with the Wisconsin State Journal, both Neubauer and Hagedorn vowed to be impartial, though both have deep political connections. Neubauer’s daughter is a Democratic state representative, while her husband, Jeff, was a legislator who also chaired the Democratic Party of Wisconsin.
Neubauer doesn’t see those ties as a concern and said she is proud of her family’s accomplishments. She pointed to broad support for her candidacy, especially from other appellate court judges, as well as a judicial philosophy that she said treats everyone before the court fairly.
“They need to have confidence that when they walk through the doors, there’s no outcome in mind, there’s no overriding ideology or agenda that’s going to meet them when they present their case,” she said.
Hagedorn served as Republican Governor Scott Walker’s chief legal counsel for nearly five years before Walker appointed him to the bench. But he, too, said he doesn’t view his background as inhibiting his impartiality.
“The critical question is not whether you have views on the world, but whether you believe that those views are a part of what your job of judging is, and I don’t,” Hagedorn said.
Before being appointed to the Court of Appeals in 2015, Hagedorn was Walker’s chief legal counsel, served as a law clerk for State Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman, and served as an assistant attorney general and worked in private practice.
Neubauer was elected to the Court of Appeals in 2008 and re-elected in 2014. She was presiding judge in her district between 2009 and 2015 and was then appointed as chief judge of the Court of Appeals and re-appointed in 2018. Prior to her judicial experience she worked as a litigation attorney and also served as a law clerk for Barbara Crabb, the former Chief Judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for Wisconsin’s Western District.
Strategists argue the outcome of this year’s race will be determined by the usual suspects: endorsements, organizational support, and of course, money, which many expect will be spent lavishly by candidates and outside groups.
Neubauer already has raised $355,000 as of July, although $250,000 of that is in the form of a personal loan. Hagedorn has not yet filed a campaign finance report with the state.
But outside spending is expected to at least match 2018 levels, when more than a dozen groups threw down about $3 million, according to the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign.
According to Soldiers Grove Village Clerk Tammy Kepler, there are three trustee seats, and one village president seat open for the April 2 election.
Kepler reports that Trustees Jerry Miller and Vicki Campbell are seeking re-election to their positions, with Trustee Paul Nicholson stepping down. Current Village President Steve George is running unopposed for re-election to that position.
“There are currently no write-in candidates that have officially notified me of their intent to seek the third trustee seat,” Kepler said. “What will probably happen is that the board will try to recruit the write-in candidate who receives the most votes to fill the position.”
While the Village of Gays Mills has four uncontested races on the ballot this spring, the good news is there is one experienced candidate on the ballot in each of those races.
It starts with Gays Mills Village President Harry Heisz, who is running for his third term in that office.
Heisz was first elected as village trustee in 2009 and subsequently re-elected as a trustee in 2011 and 2013. After the resignation of Gays Mills Village President Pat Brockway in 2014, Heisz was appointed to serve as the village president. He was then elected to the position in 2015 and 2017.
Another incumbent whose name will appear on the ballot next Tuesday is Gays Mills Village Trustee Kim Pettit. Pettit was initially elected to the trustee position in April of 2015 and then re-elected in 2017.
You talk about experience; former Gays Mills Village President Larry McCarn is running unopposed for village trustee as well. McCarn served as a village trustee or the village president from 1993 to 2011.
Gays Mills resident Kevin Murray is running for the third open village trustee position. Murray was appointed to a trustee seat on August 9, 2009 and was elected as trustee in April of 2011.