Is Gov. Walker a drag on conservative candidates?
With the first round of local primaries now completed, some candidates who were either appointed or affiliated with Gov. Scott Walker slipped a bit. Does this mean the governor and calls for his recall may be affecting how voters view other candidates?
That would depend on which side of the political spectrum you are on.
WisDems Communications Director Graeme Zielinski wholeheartedly agrees that having an association with Walker is bad for a candidate.
“I think any candidate that ties herself or himself to Scott Walker will have problems,” he said. “Since he has taken office, Scott Walker candidates have lost much more than they’ve won. His is a bad political brand.”
But Republican organizer Paris D. Procopis said Gov. Walker’s support and platform will help local and statewide candidates this year.
“I think Scott Walker and the success of his policies are a badge of honor for the conservatives of the state,” Procopis said. “We need to own what he did and proudly stand with our governor, regardless of the outcome.”
The recent elections were mainly to narrow school board, city council and county board ballots for the April 3 election, but one local judicial candidate with ties to Walker didn’t do as well as expected.
Milwaukee County Circuit Court Judge Nelson Phillips was appointed to the bench last October by Walker to fill a vacancy created by the retirement of Judge Francis T. Wasielewski. His appointment lasts through July 31 and the election in April will determine the people’s choice for the seat.
Since he has incumbency on his side, Phillips would normally be a shoo-in for the seat, but in last week’s primary he was bested by Administrative Law Judge Carolina Stark. Glendale Municipal Judge Christopher Lipscomb was eliminated in the contest.
Stark campaigned on not being the “Walker appointee.” She said she didn’t apply for the circuit court vacancy in the fall because she didn’t want to be associated with Walker.
But the Milwaukee Labor Council has another explanation for Stark’s winning performance in the recent primary – tireless campaigning. They note that Stark hit the pavement, held grassroots organizing meetings and made use of social media. Phillips, on the other hand, did very little campaigning outside of a Milwaukee Bar Association forum and had minimal Internet presence.
A similar scenario is playing out in Dane County where Circuit Court Judge Roger Allen came in second to Ellen Berz who ran on an anti-Walker platform. According to primary results, Berz received 44 percent of the vote, with Allen taking 31 percent. The third candidate, Francis Sullivan, received 24 percent.
Barry Burden, a Political Science professor at UW-Madison told The Isthmus that Allen’s showing may have been affected by the fact that he was appointed by Walker.
“Scott Walker has managed to be an issue even in this local nonpartisan judicial race,” Burden said in an email.
Back in Milwaukee County, Stark played down her anti-Walker sentiment in a statement after the vote totals came in last Tuesday.
“Voters recognized my years of experience as an Administrative Law Judge making fair decisions based in the law and my years of proven dedication to public service and community engagement as important qualities for a judge,” she said. “I won’t bow to influence outside the letter of the law, and I will never accept anything less than a totally independent judiciary.”
Allen said in Dane County the total votes cast for him and the losing candidate (55 percent) show voters want a judge who does not play the partisan card. A similar argument can be made in Phillips’ Milwaukee County race, where the combined total of votes cast for Phillips and Lipscomb was 64.8 percent, compared to Stark’s 35.3 percent.
So is Walker to blame for the less than stellar showing by his judicial appointees or is it the myth of infallible incumbency?