On Tuesday, an election for a seat on the Wisconsin Supreme Court provided labor unions the opportunity to speak through voting. The incumbent Justice David Prosser, a conservative, was defending his seat against a liberal challenger, JoAnne Kloppenburg, an assistant attorney general.
Unions have led large crowd protests opposing Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s unpopular — but evidently popular among Republican governors — bill to end collective-bargaining rights for public employees. There have been countless marches and speeches at the Capitol in Madison and in many other states as well. The Google and YouTube hits for “Wisconsin Collective Bargaining” are close to endless. The amount of media material can only be compared to the recent turmoil in Egypt.
Union leaders consider this vote as critical in the fight for workers’ rights. From the perspective of corporations and Republican governors, however, it is a major battle to eliminate workers’ rights.
Because a challenge to the new law is now before the court, the judicial election is being seen as a proxy in the battle over whether Walker’s union-busting legislation could hold water. The winner could either maintain the court’s conservative position or tilt it to the left. “The stakes,” said Charles Franklin, a University of Wisconsin-Madison politics professor, “are high.”
And the result is still not known. At one point it appeared Kloppenburg had a razor thin lead of 204 votes. But late Wednesday officials in Waukesha County, a Republican stronghold, announced that they had discovered an error in the vote count. The corrected count, they said, gives 7,582 more votes to Prosser.
That all but guarantees a recount.
This is the first year that nonpartisan publicly funded judicial elections went into effect in Wisconsin, but with outside influences and interest groups seeking to turn Wisconsin into a testing ground for 2012 politics, the election was partisan to the max. Liberal and conservative groups have spent millions. “Interest in the race has soared as liberal-leaning organizations have attacked Prosser as a ‘rubber stamp’ for Walker, and business groups have warned that a Kloppenburg victory could endanger Walker’s legislative accomplishments if and when the Supreme Court rules on challenges to the legislation,” the Brennan Center said.
With the vote so close, and with the future of workers’ rights at stake, both union supporters and collective-bargaining opponents will have sleepless nights ahead.