Kloppenburg Storms Madison; Stumbles in Rally Speech: ‘Focus on Deciding the Law’

by Robert Costa

Madison, Wis. – JoAnne Kloppenburg, an environmental lawyer, rallied her supporters in the state capital on Sunday, urging a couple hundred volunteers to drive up turnout on Tuesday, when she attempts to unseat Justice David Prosser, a judicial conservative, on the Wisconsin supreme court. “We will make a landslide happen on April 5,” she predicted.

Nonpartisan April elections are usually sleepy affairs, but with Gov. Scott Walker’s budget bill being challenged in the courts, the Kloppenburg-Prosser brawl has gone national. If Prosser falls, the court’s 4-3 conservative majority will flip.

The crowd in the Edgewater Hotel ballroom was loud and enthusiastic; most wore anti-Walker pins, many donned pro-labor T-shirts:

Kloppenburg, for her part, gave a long-winded oration as dusk settled upon the white-granite capitol down the street. At first, she spoke about her career, making her case for why she would be an effective and honest justice. She then referenced her experience as an English-language tutor, which drew applause.

“We can make history together,” Kloppenburg said. “This is, truly, an incredible grassroots effort. And we are not quite done.” A call-and-response riff ensued.

Then, in the midst of her ramble, Kloppenburg stumbled. “I am running to be the kind of justice that you want on the court, to do the things that you elect justices to do: to be respectful to everyone, to focus on deciding the law. . . deciding cases, applying the law to the facts, without personal or political bias.” The faux pas starts around the 2:30 mark. There is an awkward pause.

But she went on. Kloppenburg’s closing argument against Prosser began with a comparison of Facebook profiles. “When you look at my opponent’s Facebook page, you see a lot of meanness, a lot of hatred, a lot of fear,” she said. “When you look at my Facebook page, you see hope.”

Part of her mission, she added, is to “reestablish democracy with a little-D in this great state.”

Kloppenburg’s biggest applause came toward the end. American courts, she said, should “act as an independent check and balance on the executive and legislative branches.” The crowd roared. She then cited her past internship for Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson, a well-known liberal on the court.

Walker should be worried: Kloppenburg is ready to wield judicial power. “Our democracy does depend, in part, on our willingness to accept the decisions that courts reach as lawful, whether we agree with them or not,” she said.

Later today, Kloppenburg is scheduled to stump throughout the state. Prosser will be greeting voters at the home opener for the Milwaukee Brewers, among other events.

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