In Wisconsin, 2 huge races stand between GOP and near-full power

KAUKAUNA, Wis. – Nowhere in the country have Republican lawmakers been more aggressive in their attempts to seize partisan advantage than in Wisconsin. After gerrymanding the Legislature beyond the point where it can be reversed, they are now pushing hard to gain greater control over the state’s voting infrastructure ahead of the 2024 presidential race.

Two crucial elections in the coming months will likely decide whether that happens.

The stakes in the first, November’s gubernatorial race, became clear last week when Tim Michels, a construction magnate backed by former President Donald J. Trump, won the Republican primary.

His victory raised the prospect that Gov. Tony Evers, a Democrat who vetoed a series of Republican ballot bills, could soon be replaced by a Trump ally who embraced calls to dismantle the Elections Commission. bipartisan state, invoked conspiratorial films about the 2020 election, and even expressed openness to the misconception that Mr. Trump’s loss can still be decertified.

The second election, an April contest to determine control of the narrowly divided Wisconsin Supreme Court, could be even more important.

And three of the court’s four conservative justices voted to hear Mr. Trump’s objections to the 2020 election, which could have led to the Wisconsin results being overturned. Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s 20,000-vote victory in the state only lasted because Judge Brian Hagedorn, a conservative, sided with the three liberals on the court.

Electing a liberal justice to replace incumbent conservative Justice Patience D. Roggensack would give Wisconsin Democrats an opportunity to enact a host of measures that currently have no chance of passing the House. Republican-led legislature. Bringing new lawsuits to court, they could potentially undo gerrymandered legislative districts; reverse the decision of the drop box; and overturning the state law of 1849 criminalizing abortion, which came back into effect in June when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade.

Wisconsin’s next two elections are inexorably linked. Mr. Michels said he would seek to change the state’s election laws on his first day as governor. If he is indeed elected and acts quickly, new voting procedures could be put in place before a new judge is elected to a 10-year term in April – and the combined court with Mr Michels would have a wide margin to set voting rules for the 2024 presidential election, as Wisconsin is set to once again become a central presidential battleground.

“If they’re going to pick things that they know will depress a Democratic vote, it will affect absolutely every Democrat, including Joe Biden,” Mr. Evers said in an interview Thursday. Referring to Mr Michels, he added: “His election would certainly focus on getting the Democrats downvote, there is no doubt about that..”

During the primary campaign, Mr. Michels promised to replace the Wisconsin Elections Commission with an agency that would be effectively controlled by Republicans. And while he never explicitly endorsed the decertification of Wisconsin’s 2020 presidential election, Mr. Michels hasn’t ruled it out either, saying enough to appease Mr. Trump – who has repeatedly demanded such a decision.

At campaign stops and during primary debates, Mr. Michels cited films about the 2020 election that propagate conspiracy theories falsely suggesting that Mr. Trump was the real winner. He claimed without evidence that there had been fraud in the state and pledged to prosecute the perpetrators.

“I saw the movies ‘2000 Mules’ and ‘Rigged’. And I’ll tell you, I know there’s been a lot of voter fraud,” Michels said at a recent rally in Kaukauna, a small industrial town in the state’s politically vibrant Fox Valley. “When I’m sworn in as governor, I’ll review all the evidence available in January and I’ll do the right thing. It’s all on the table. And if people are breaking the law, breaking election laws, I will prosecute them. .

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Since winning the primary on Tuesday, Mr. Michels has devoted less energy to stressing his support for Mr. Trump and his focus on election issues. On Wednesday, he removed a statement about his endorsement of Trump from the home page of his campaign website. After this New York Times reporter reported it on Twitterthe Michels campaign resurrected the line on its site.

Mr. Michels’ campaign aides did not respond to requests for comment.

In perhaps the best illustration of Mr Michels’ general election pivot, he promised attendees at a Trump rally a week ago that “my No. 1 priority is electoral integrity” – but in his speech of victory on Tuesday night, he said, “Jobs and the economy are going to be my No. 1 priority.”

Instead, he sought to remind listeners what they loved about Mr. Trump while connecting Mr. Evers to Mr. Biden, whose approval rating in Wisconsin was 40% in June, according to a Marquette University Law School Survey. In his first post-primary TV commercialMr. Michels calls Mr. Biden and Mr. Evers “two peas in a pod”.

“Donald Trump was a successful businessman, Donald Trump was tough,” Michels said in the radio interview. “I would happily compare Joe Biden to Donald Trump.”

How much Mr. Michels could change Wisconsin’s electoral system would be determined largely by the Republicans who control the Legislature — most of whom backed his opponent in the Republican primary, former Lt. Governor Rebecca Kleefisch.

State Senator Kathy Bernier, a rare Republican lawmaker from the state of Wisconsin who has publicly said that Mr. Trump lost the 2020 election, said in an interview last week that during Mr. Michels, he had shown ignorance about the administration of Wisconsin elections which reflected his lack of government experience.

“Mr. Michels is a fish out of water,” said Ms. Bernier, who announced her retirement in January after calling for an end to Republican investigations into the 2020 election. , I too had ideas that were not feasible, but good ideas.He needs advice and training on all kinds of issues.

The Wisconsin Supreme Court election is one of many elections in the coming months that will effectively determine which party controls the high courts of Kansas, Michigan, North Carolina and Ohio. But nowhere are the stakes higher than in Wisconsin, given how close its court came to backing Mr Trump’s bid to overthrow the 2020 election.

“The race for the State Supreme Court in Wisconsin next year is critical to maintaining a free and fair electoral system in Wisconsin, and also imperative to maintaining representative democracy in our national elections,” Jake said. Faleschini, legal director of state courts at the Alliance. for Justice Action Fund, a liberal organization that focuses on state court elections.

While Mr. Evers has cast himself as a humane safeguard against a Republican takeover of the state’s electoral system, the Supreme Court election in April will affect the state’s election laws for years to come.

Two Liberal candidates, Milwaukee County Judge Janet Protasiewicz and Madison County Judge Everett Mitchell, have already started their campaigns. Former Justice Dan Kelly, a conservative appointed by Gov. Scott Walker who lost re-election in 2020, plans to run again but has yet to announce a candidacy. The candidates will all run together in a single, nonpartisan primary in February, with the top two qualifying for a general election in April.

“If the most conservative candidate wins, you’ll have a court that looks a lot like the most conservative court today,” said Rick Esenberg, president of the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty, the conservative legal organization that brought the case. which led to the court’s decision banning drop boxes. “If you had a legal progressive winning that seat, there would obviously be significant ramifications there, with the court moving to the left.”

Wisconsin Democrats are already considering, if they win the April election and secure a 4-3 majority, a political transformation of the state.

“In terms of being able to change Wisconsin in two years, it could be a completely different state,” said Kelda Roys, a Democratic senator from Madison. “This is our real opportunity to not only stop bad things from happening, but actually restore real democracy and accountability to Wisconsin, things like abortion rights and fair elections where your candidate could actually win.”


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