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Rovian Beats Dem in Wis Supreme Court Win

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Message Michael Leon

Madison, Wisconsin— Judge Annette Ziegler beat back Attorney Linda Clifford in a Wisconsin Supreme Court election Tuesday. 

The ostensibly non-partisan race was, in fact, a highly partisan affair pitting right-wing groups and ideologies represented by the Club for Growth, Wisconsin Right to Life, Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce and the Federalist Society and the Republican party against progressive labor, pro-choice, democrats and moderate Republicans. 

The race was extraordinary because the democrat Clifford ran no TV ads before the Feb. 20 primary and needed to dig herself out of a deep name-recognition and message hole, a money-saving measure that drew criticism as an unwise campaign tactic. 

Bloggers and Press

Most democrats had given up hope on Clifford’s candidacy until early March (advancing the story broken by One Wisconsin Now Action and blogger Jay Bullock), the Madison-based Wisconsin State Journal published a devastating series of articles (written by Dee Hall and Ed Treleven) detailing the Republican Judge Ziegler’s presiding over dozens of cases where she neglected to disclose conflicts of interest, in blatant violation of Supreme Court rules. 

The Ziegler campaign’s explanations ranging from her conducting an internal "gut check" in the disputed cases, deriding the rules as “big city thinking,” to stonewalling drew widespread scorn from newspapers across Wisconsin including those in major population centers such as Milwaukee, Madison, Appleton, Wausau and Kenosha, among other municipalities. 

“The case against electing Washington County Circuit Judge Annette Ziegler is now so clear, so compelling and so urgent as to disqualify her from serious consideration in the race for state Supreme Court,“ wrote the Madison-based Capital Times. 

Ziegler Victory 

The Ziegler campaign, beyond the sheer volume of third-party money poured into the race, out-campaigned Clifford with the message “experience and protection” versus “inexperience.” 

The race also featured racist immigrant-bashing, and now the unusual spectacle of an elected judge sure to face sanctions for running a corrupt circuit court. 

The Ziegler victory continues a virtual tie on the seven-member Wisconsin high court dedicated to the rule-of-law versus a faction doing the bidding of corporate interests and social right-wingers.


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Michael Leon is a writer living in Madison, Wisconsin. His writing has appeared nationally in The Progressive, In These Times, and CounterPunch. He can be reached at
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