Appleton, Wis. — State supreme-court justice David Prosser campaigned throughout northern slices of the Badger State this afternoon, shaking hands at coffee shops and meeting with volunteers. On Tuesday, he faces JoAnne Kloppenburg, an environmental lawyer, at the polls.
Gov. Scott Walker’s budget bill, which is being challenged in the courts, hangs over Prosser’s campaign like a menace. Labor activists hope to topple Prosser as part of a proxy battle against Walker, so this once-sleepy, nonpartisan race has become a political war. Signs blanket the snow-covered suburbs of Green Bay, Milwaukee, and Madison.
Here in Outagamie County, where Prosser once served as a district attorney, the Tea Party is playing an active role. I stopped by one of their meetings this morning, as conservatives in Gadsden-flag caps filed in to collect campaign fliers. Local Tea Party leaders, who dub themselves the Fox Valley Initiative, are canvassing neighborhoods, hoping to engage Republicans as the Left amps up.
Near a stack of campaign literature, I spotted Hugh Prosser, the justice’s brother, clad in a sweatshirt and jeans. He runs a small business in Appleton. Justice Prosser, he told me, is an honest man, and Kloppenburg’s reluctance to swat third-party smears “says a lot about her character.” He’s getting involved, he said, because his brother needs all hands on deck, especially since this is the justice’s first tough race since he lost a congressional primary in 1996, two years before he was appointed to the high court.
Hugh Prosser added that his brother is “no rah-rah politician. He has “no airs,” he said, “and doesn’t bring attention to himself.”
Indeed. On the trail, Prosser is a relaxed, low-key presence. He sticks to his judicial record in conversation with voters, avoiding any chatter about unions or Walker. On television, Prosser can come across as a bit stiff, but in person, his dry wit works well in breaking the ice. Below, he chuckles with ladies at a hotel restaurant in downtown Appleton.
Unsurprisingly, Walker’s bill is playing a major role in other April 5 elections, from county-row offices to school-board contests. Jack Voight, a former GOP state treasurer running for Outagamie county executive, told National Review Online this afternoon that he sees a potential “boomerang effect” in lower-profile races.
Voight is running against Tom Nelson, who last year was the Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor. Nelson, he noted, is attempting to “fight the battle again; it’s a re-battle of November against Scott Walker.”
If Tuesday turns out to be a referendum on the governor, even experienced, well-known candidates like Voight could feel the heat.