Scott Walker’s budget repair bill got a major boost yesterday when JoAnne Kloppenburg, a liberal attorney from Madison, conceded the state supreme court race to her conservative opponent, incumbent judge David Prosser.
If Kloppenburg had won the recount, the repair bill’s vitality would be in grave doubt. And if she had announced today her legal challenges to Prosser’s win would continue in the courts throughout this summer, the repair bill would be in limbo for a long time. Her announcement today that her challenges are at an end thus was welcome news to Walker supporters.
Followers of this contentious race will recall, immediately after the April 5, 2011 judicial election, Kloppenburg led conservative incumbent David Prosser by 204 votes out of about 1.5 million cast, according to unofficial election night media vote tallies. Pronouncing herself “ecstatic,” she declared victory.
But turned out about 14,000 votes from conservative Waukesha County near Milwaukee had not been reported to the media on election night. When these were added to statewide totals in the official results, Prosser led by about 7,000 votes. State officials certified this margin.
Kloppenburg demanded a statewide recount, which discovered only tiny errors in election tallying. She today announced there would be an “insufficient legal basis” for any litigation challenging the recount, which means Prosser’s new term on the court will begin August 1, 2011.
Kloppenburg and her supporters are among the liberal union backers in Madison, who are bound and determined to bring down Gov. Walker and his budget repair bill. The state faces a $3.6 billion budget deficit in the next two years, and Walker proposed to control it by reducing state spending and requiring state employees and teachers to contribute towards their pension and health care benefits. Walker also proposed eliminating collective bargaining rights over benefits, limiting them to wages.
Walker’s bill passed both houses of the state legislature, and he signed it. But union backers almost immediately challenged it in a trial level court in Madison. The judge ruled the bill was enacted without proper notice under the state Open Meetings Law, a ruling strenuously challenged by Walker forces. The case is now on appeal on the notice issue to the state supreme court.
Republicans can get around the notice issue, if there is one, simply by reenacting the bill after giving more notice. But challenges to the merits of the bill are guaranteed to follow. It’s extremely unlikely these challenges would be resolved before August 1, and, if legal challenges were pending, it would be unclear whether Prosser could have taken office on that. The balance among the judges on the court right now is 4-3, with conservatives dominant. If Prosser had been sidelined – which won’t happen now that Kloppenburg has conceded – the court could have been deadlocked on the legality of the Walker bill.
There’s no assurance, of course, that Prosser and the other three conservatives will vote to approve the bill. Prosser is particularly unpredictable and often votes with liberals on the court. But the bill at least is now guaranteed a fair hearing.