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Wisconsin Supreme Court Race Critical

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Message Michael Leon

Madison, Wisconsin—Karl Rove republicans need a rigged game. 

And in no realm of public policy is a rigged, corrupt brand of governance more critical to Rovian politics than the judicial branch, often the arena of last resort for citizens seeking redress for trampled rights. 

Wisconsin’s Supreme Court race next Tuesday (April 3) will be decisive as to whether the seven-member Supreme Court will be composed of a majority of justices committed to the rule of law over a right-wing ideological agenda. 

The race between right-winger Washington County Judge Annette Ziegler and moderate democrat, Madison civil attorney Linda Clifford, for a 10-year term, weeks ago became the most expensive court race in state history, and is expected to near $6 million in total spending. 

Each side in the race knows the stakes in the ostensibly non-partisan race in this blue-leaning state, and the race is drawing national attention.

During the primary campaign alone, the D.C.-based Club for Growth pumped some $250,000 into ads promoting the Republican Ziegler and attacking Clifford. 

Wisconsin “Right to Life” has been aggressively promoting Ziegler. And Ziegler’s campaign is run by Mark Graul, failed gubernatorial candidate and right-winger Mark Green’s former campaign manager. 

Clifford has garnered endorsements and support from labor, Planned Parenthood, civil rights groups, the D.C.-based Democratic Judicial Campaign Committee and former Wisconsin Republican Governor Lee Sherman Dreyfus, and Wisconsin’s two popular U.S. Senators, Herb Kohl and Russ Feingold. 

Throw in that the hard right Ziegler is a corrupt judge, having failed to recuse herself (or get waivers) in dozens of cases over which she presided involving her husband’s banking concerns, a clear violation of judicial ethics, and Wisconsin has its most vital Court race in its history. 

The results of a recent survey on the race sent to the Madison-based Dane County Bar Association (DCBA) members reveals the low esteem that the Rovian Ziegler is held in the rule-of-law legal community. 

Asked their opinion as to the “ability, temperament and experience” of the two candidates for Supreme Court race, Clifford received a "highly qualified" or "qualified" rating from 92 percent of respondents of the DCBA. 

Judge Ziegler received a "highly qualified" or "qualified" rating from just 29 percent, and a "not-qualified" rating from 64 percent of respondents. 

Despite the $100,000s spent by her right-wing opponents, Clifford ran no TV ads before the Feb. 20 primary and thus needed to dig herself out of a deep name-recognition hole, as establishment republicans jumped on the Ziegler bandwagon early. 

Even many Dane county liberals did not know Clifford’s name just days before the Feb. 20 primary day. 

But as the gutter, right-wing politics of the corrupt Ziegler have become exposed, the rule-of-law community has become cautiously optimistic that Clifford will narrowly prevail in what is expected to be a low turn-out election. 

As one Wisconsin citizen, Steven Toney, blasting Ziegler’s corruption, wrote in the Appleton Post-Crescent newspaper: 

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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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