DemDaily: Liberals Prevail in Wisconsin, Chicago

April 5, 2023

In perhaps the most consequential election of 2023, Judge Janet Protasiewicz prevailed in the Wisconsin State Supreme Court election yesterday, giving liberals 4-3 control of the court and the fate of reproductive rights, redistricting and voting rights issues in the critical battleground state.

Proteasiewicz, a Circuit Court Judge, defeated conservative former Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Daniel Kelly 55.5% to 44.5% to succeed retiring conservative Justice Patience Roggensack.

In the 15 years that conservatives have dominated the court, they have sided with Republican efforts to dismantle public unions, enhance voting restrictions and ban absentee voting ballot drop boxes.

Wisconsin is also operating under one of the most gerrymandered maps in the country after the court ruled in favor of Republican legislative maps following 2020 redistricting.

Most significantly, the victory paves the way for overturning the state's new ban on abortion. The ban stems from an 1849 law that was triggered into effect last summer after the US Supreme Court decision overturning the federally protected right to an abortion under Roe v. Wade.

Control of the state's high court could also impact the 2024 presidential race. The court came within one vote of overturning Joe Biden's 0.63% win in Wisconsin in 2020 in response to a lawsuit filed by former President Donald Trump.

The official nonpartisan election will go down as the most expensive state supreme court race in history, with candidates, political parties and outside interest groups having poured in excess of $40 million into the race.

Protasiewicz will start her 10-year term in August.

In another top contest of 2023, Brandon Johnson won the Chicago mayor's run-off election, defeating Paul Vallas 51.4% to 48.6%.

Incumbent Lori Lightfoot, who made history four years ago as Chicago's first openly gay and first Black female mayor, came in third with 17.1% among nine candidates, all Democrats, in the officially nonpartisan February 28 general election. With no candidate having surpassed 50%, the top two vote-getters, Paul Vallas (33.8%) and Brandon Johnson (20.3%), advanced to yesterday's run-off election.

Lightfoot, a former US Assistant Attorney, ran in 2019 on sweeping reforms to schools and police departments. Her popularity plunged, however, during the coronavirus crisis, as violent crime spiked and Chicago led the country in mass shootings. It is the first time in 40 years that an incumbent Chicago mayor has lost reelection.

The moderate Vallas, a former public schools executive and former city budget director, built his campaign around a pro-police, tough-on-crime message that earned him the endorsement of the conservative Chicago Police Union.

In contrast, Johnson, a former teacher and union organizer who has served on the Cook County Board of Commissioners since 2018, ran on a progressive agenda of expanding social programs, creating green jobs, and building sustainable community schools.

Among the least known of the initial field, Johnson's candidacy surged with the late September endorsement of the Chicago Teachers Union and the $1 million investment of its parent union, the American Federation of Teachers. The favored candidate of the left, Johnson also received the support of AFSCME, SEIU, United Working Families and numerous national progressive organizations which consolidated around his candidacy.

All told, between both elections, the candidates and outside interest groups spent an estimated $54.5 million on the race.

Johnson will take the oath of office on May 15.

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Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, ABC7Chicago, Illinois Sunshine

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