Opponents of the candidacy of Madison lefty JoAnne Kloppenburg for the Wisconsin Supreme Court questioned her judicial philosophy, her lack of judicial credentials, and other weighty issues. But there are important questions – though perhaps ones with less intellectual heft – no one asked.
Kloppenburg’s resume reveals her impeccably liberal credentials: raised in a ritzy Connecticut town; graduate of Yale and Princeton; honeymooner with her husband Jack in the Peace Corps in Botswana one day after their marriage; founder (after they returned) of welfare programs in northern New York State; employed as a government lawyer only in the Wisconsin Department of Justice — where she primarily prosecuted environmental violators, which didn’t take much in her cases — and challenged pier rights (which are second in Wisconsin only to gun rights).
She won huge financial support from the unions, enabling her supporters to outspend those of her opponent, 12-year incumbent Judge David Prosser. So it’s no secret that she’s a protypical liberal from the People’s Republic of Madison.
And evidently, no one but me noticed that she even looks like one.
She sports the over-permed hairstyle embraced by young female hippie wannabes in the late 1970s, a look made popular by Barbara Streisand. Except in Madison, the trend was mercifully short-lived. (Pardon my snark, but I’m allowed to throw stones. I got such a perm back then, but had the good sense to have the snarled mess chopped off a week later.) She looks like she never outgrew her youth misspent on liberal causes. Her judicial philosophy demonstrates that this is true and more than scalp-deep.
It’s important to understand, once outside the Madison city limits – Madison was once called “78 square miles surrounded by reality” – Wisconsin is a relatively conservative state.
llinois tourists and migrants are called “FIBs.” The “I” stands for Illinois, the “B” stands for bastard, and the “F” stands for what you’re thinking it does. Businesses close down during deer hunting season — and the hunters who bag them are not after trophies, but food. Beer is a big seller – especially Miller Lite longnecks – and if wine is sold in taverns at all, it’s from a box. Everyone in the state knows the “chicken dance” preferably accompanied by the University of Wisconsin Marching Band.
So other things inquiring minds (outside of Madison) want to know about Kloppenburg:
- Before the campaign, had Kloppenburg ever been north of Madison, which is about an hour north of Illinois?
- Is she a Packers fan?
- Does she drink beer or wine?
- Does she eat cheese with her wine or the unofficial WI state food, cheese curds?
- Has she ever had a brat?
- And does she call them “brats” — as in misbehaving kids — as Sen. John Kerry did?
- Does she own a gun?
It seems unthinkable that well over 500,000 Wisconsin residents outside of Madison would have voted for Kloppenburg if they knew that the answers to these questions were likely: No, No, Wine, Cheese, No, “Brot,” and No.
“Real” Wisconsinites outside of Madison usually don’t like fancy Madison liberal lawyers like Kloppenburg and ordinarily wouldn’t have voted for her in such large numbers in the Supreme Court election. Wisconsin voters are discerning ones, and they have a history of voting for conservative judicial candidates, even in the midst of the Obama blowout in the state in 2008. Kloppenburg boasted during the campaign: “I never said I was tough on crime.” In an ordinary year, such a boast would have cost her the election.
Yet she evidently lost to Prosser only by some 7,000 votes out of about 1.5 million cast. Though the totals have not yet been verified by state election officials, even if the lead shifts to Kloppenburg, it’s going to be close.
So why was the race so close? Some pundits say the election was a referendum on Wisconsin’s Republican governor, Scott Walker and his budget repair bill. Many of the bill’s features seem acceptable to Wisconsin voters, though, such as requiring teachers and other union members to contribute to their pensions and health care benefits. And there was widespread disgust outside of Madison at the hideous tactics of union thugs at the Capitol in the past few months. A comparison of votes for Prosser on April 5 to votes for Walker last November doesn’t show Walker lost many votes in this low-turnout spring election; totals from around the state compare favorably.
But Wisconsinites have deep roots in private sector unions. These roots are still strong even though Wisconsin outside of Madison has lost thousands of blue-collar manufacturing jobs, many held by union members, in the past few decades. So the Walker bill’s ban on public employee collective bargaining for benefits seems to have been a step too far, perhaps accounting for the relatively high vote totals for Kloppenburg, arguably from union-loyal votes who ordinarily wouldn’t turn out.
There are other ways for voters to send a message to Gov. Walker that a ban on collective bargaining for benefits is unacceptable, though. Electing a Supreme Court judge whose views are entirely antithetical to core values of Wisconsinites isn’t one of them.