By SCOTT BAUER
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — No one has announced plans to challenge Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Annette Ziegler’s re-election — potentially setting up an uncontested race for a seat on the state’s highest court for the first time since 2006.
The deadline for candidates to file is Jan. 3. But typically challengers to an incumbent justice spread the word privately for months that they’re thinking of running, announce their campaigns and start fundraising well before circulating nomination papers in December.
For example, two candidates announced in June 2015 that they were going to run for a seat that was on the ballot the following April.
That hasn’t happened this year.
“I haven’t heard anyone making any noise about Annette,” said Milwaukee County Circuit Judge Joe Donald, who ran for the Supreme Court this year but lost in the primary. “If someone was out there thinking about it, they would need to move right away.”
Attorneys, judges, political consultants and others contacted for this story told The Associated Press that they hadn’t heard of anyone who was planning to challenge Ziegler.
“I haven’t heard a thing,” said Madison attorney Linda Clifford, who ran against Ziegler in 2007.
There was no talk, either publicly or privately, about any potential challenger to Ziegler during the annual Wisconsin Judicial Conference meeting last week, said former Supreme Court Justice Louis Butler. He lost his re-election bid in 2008 and is now working as an attorney in the Milwaukee area.
The annual conference Butler attended brings together attorneys, judges and others in the state’s legal community, offering the perfect captive audience for anyone running for the Supreme Court.
“I suppose if somebody was jumping in and had a plan of action and wanted to do it, they could do it,” Butler said. “But I haven’t heard of anyone.”
Ziegler, 52, paved the way for a conservative re-shaping of the officially nonpartisan court with her victory in 2007. When she joined the court nearly a decade ago, liberals held a 4-3 majority. Now conservatives have a 5-2 majority, which they would retain if Ziegler were to win.
Interest in races often die down when ideological control of the court is not at stake, said Alicia Bannon, senior counsel for the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice in New York.
Anyone challenging Ziegler would start from behind in fundraising. Ziegler had already raised $206,000 through the first six months of this year, a number she touted in September while also announcing endorsements from 48 sheriffs and 38 district attorneys and the formation of a steering committee with big names including former Gov. Tommy Thompson and Mike Grebe, the recently retired president of the Bradley Foundation.
Outside money could also play a large role.
Ziegler’s race in 2007 marked the first time that outside groups spent heavily on Supreme Court races in Wisconsin. Of the $3.1 million spent by outside groups in that race, about $2.7 million came from conservative groups backing her, according to a tally by the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign.
Outside groups spend about $3.4 million on this year’s race won by conservative Justice Rebecca Bradley. All but about $700,000 went to Bradley.
Knowing that so much outside money could flow in for Ziegler, as it did in 2007 and has for conservative justices since then, could also be scaring off potential challengers, Bannon said.