The stories about Wisconsin politics in the last three months are well-traveled territory, but worth briefly recapping. Upon introduction of legislation to limit the ability of public-sector unions to collectively bargain, 14 senators fled the state to halt a vote on the bill. Then tens of thousands of people occupied the state capitol. Then the governor was prank-called. Legislators received death threats, some even from colleagues. Republicans used a surprise maneuver to rush the bill to the floor, but enactment of the bill was later halted by a Madison judge whose husband had given money to Scott Walker’s opponent and three of the senators who fled the state in the first place.
Amid all this chaos took place an election for the state supreme court, in which well-respected judicial conservative Justice David Prosser suddenly found himself being called an accessory to pedophilia based on a 33-year-old case he worked on as a district attorney. The case became a referendum on Gov. Scott Walker, as unions backed environmental lawyer Joanne Kloppenburg, knowing she would invalidate the collective bargaining law if the court swung 4–3 liberal.
The election took place last night, and ended the only way it could have: In a butt-naked tie.
With a few outstanding wards left throughout Wisconsin, it may be weeks before we know who really won. As of early this morning, Prosser held a roughly 500-vote lead, with preliminary reports of it shrinking to as low as 170. Over 1.4 million votes were cast.
Throughout the night, both candidates took leads, only to give them back, then to see themselves in the lead once again. Unexpectedly, watching election results became infinitely more entertaining than the NCAA men’s basketball championship just the night before.
National pundits on Twitter immediately became experts in the nuances of Wisconsin voter patterns — boldly declaring that things looked good for Prosser because he was getting 40 percent in liberal Dane County, without recognizing that the numbers for the City of Madison hadn’t come in yet. (When they did, Prosser ended up losing Dane County by a 73–27 margin; one Madison ward voted 2352 to 79 for Kloppenburg.)
Prosser lost big in the state’s largest counties, Milwaukee and Dane, but ran up huge margins in the Milwaukee suburbs. Prosser also performed well in the Northeast part of the state, where he is from.
One of the surprises of the night came in Racine, a volatile, left-leaning county that ended up favoring Prosser by 8 percent. This is almost certainly due to the well-publicized tactics of local unions, who threatened to harm Racine-area businesses that refused to put pro-union signs in their windows. Without the ensuing backlash, Kloppenburg would currently be setting up an appointment to be fitted for a black robe. Instead, she’s still waiting for results with everyone else.
And that wait could be extensive. When he took office in January, Governor Walker vowed to create 250,000 new jobs in Wisconsin. Apparently, most of those new jobs are going to be recount attorneys. It is almost certain that the state is headed for a hanging-chad-like circus to decide whether or not Scott Walker can implement his agenda without the Wisconsin Supreme Court volleying it back at him.
And thus, the chaos in Wisconsin proceeds in the only way it could — in another legal crisis with the future of the state at stake. As one Twitter commenter joked, at least the unions will be there to make sure it’s a calm, orderly process.
— Christian Schneider is a senior fellow at the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute.