Photo by Saiyna Bashir, The Capital Times

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GOP domination of Wisconsin from 2011 — 2019 was a precursor to what hopefully is a short-lived Trump interval. Wisconsin GOP and Trump: No compromise or negotiation, demonizing of opponents, disregard of accepted facts and a sharp tilt to benefit corporations and the wealthy. Within this context, supposedly nonpartisan elections to the Wisconsin Supreme Court have become ultra-politicized, with big spending campaigns by candidates and outside groups and a race to the bottom.

Last Tuesday’s election reflected a closely divided and super-polarized Wisconsin. Conservative Brian Hagedorn leads moderate Lisa Neubauer by about 6,000 votes. A photo finish. Hagedorn won almost all rural counties and the GOP suburban counties of Ozaukee, Washington and Waukesha (Craig Gilbert, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel). Neubauer did best in Dane County and Milwaukee. A huge rural-suburban vs. urban divide.

Unfortunately, the election largely centered on a hot-button social issue, i.e., LGBT rights and same-sex marriage vs. religion. Hagedorn lost support from the realtors and big business. However, Americans for Prosperity (Koch brothers) and the D.C. Republican State Leadership Committee rode to Hagedorn’s rescue. Inexplicably, Neubauer and her outside supporters fell into a trap, partially of their own making. “Even some on the left think Neubauer and her allies may have pushed too hard on this hot-button issue, in debates and Greater Wisconsin Committee’s ubiquitous TV ads” (Dan Bice, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel). Moreover, Neubauer’s ad on being strip searched (1970s) by the Chicago police was unlikely helpful outside Madison and Milwaukee.

Missing from the Neubauer campaign was a message and strategy to appeal to rural, suburban and urban voters. Surely the Neubauer campaign and supporters could have explained why the court is important for regular folks. Bread-and-butter pocketbook issues are decided by the court: Consumer rights involving defective products, environmental and pollution lawbreaking, workplace rights, protections for minorities, women, farmers and homeowners. Moreover, the court decides safeguards for a democratic society, e.g., corruption and gerrymandering. Concepts, not court cases.

The reaction from the right to the Hagedorn-Neubauer race clearly said this was no nonpartisan election. The Wisconsin GOP crowed over Hagedorn’s apparent victory (may be a recount): “we sent a message to all of America that we’re ready to keep Wisconsin red as we turn our attention to mobilizing for 2020 and re-electing … Trump”. And, Trump tweeted: “Congratulations to Brian Hagedorn … . Republicans are producing big for Wisconsin!”.

Democrats can’t write off rural or suburban Wisconsinites, Trump voters or count on automatic support from Democratic-leaning voters. To win the 2020 state Supreme Court election, legislative and presidential contests Democrats must engage the entire state. Trump won “hundreds of communities (in Wisconsin) that voted twice for Obama” (Craig Gilbert). These voters are not racists. Moreover, state dairy farmers are in big trouble. Democrats must address the economic-social conditions that led to Trump’s rise and offer pragmatic solutions. Most of all we must express solidarity that transcends identity politics. We are all Americans. Time to select a Democratic presidential candidate who can win, govern and bring the country together.

— Kaplan wrote a guest column from Washington, D.C. for the Wisconsin State Journal from 1995 – 2009.

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