Watchdog Wary of Call for Partisanship in WI Court Election

An unusual debate has emerged in this year’s Wisconsin Supreme Court election. Candidate Vince Megna has declared he is a Democrat and has encouraged other candidates to state their political ideology in the formally non-partisan contest (see Gavel Grab).

One watchdog who’s concerned about the idea of a partisan contest has cautioned that it could bring even greater problems for judicial elections already soaked in special interest money.

According to a Milwaukee Public Radio report, Mike McCabe of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign warned, “That’s the kind of thing that Wisconsin for a century and a half was able to steer clear of, well we are not steering clear of that problem anymore and we have to come to terms with it. I don’t think the solution is to throw up our hands and accept that we’ve got a partisan court. We can do better than that.” His group is a Justice at Stake partner group.

Attorney Megna said many voters, when he was collecting nomination signatures, asked about his party affiliation.  “Virtually 90 percent of them would ask me, what are you, meaning are you a Democrat or a Republican and I would tell them, and to not tell them is just furthering the sham that this is a non partisan election because everybody knows it’s not, it’s the opposite, it’s very partisan.”

Countered another candidate, law professor Ed Fallone of Marquette University, “I believe very strongly that that is not in the best interest of our state. I don’t think our judicial races should become more partisan, and I think it undermines the public’s faith in our institution of the court, when they view a race like this in partisan terms.”

Justice Patience Roggensack is seeking reelection to the court. In the last court election, held in 2011, overall spending reached nearly $6 million and broke spending records, according to the report. The race attracted widespread national attention. It was a highly politicized contest following on the heels of a successful effort by Republican Gov. Scott Walker to pass legislation curbing the collective bargaining power of public employees.

Meanwhile a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article was headlined, “Wisconsin Supreme Court race could shape several key rulings.”

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