By SCOTT BAUER, Associated Press
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — The Wisconsin Supreme Court candidate Brian Hagedorn released the first television campaign ad of his campaign on Tuesday, a spot calling attention to his adoption of an opioid-addicted newborn that comes as he’s been on the defensive about his conservative Christian beliefs.
The spot will begin airing on Wednesday in Milwaukee and Green Bay as part of a $50,000 ad buy. Hagedorn faces his fellow state appeals court judge Lisa Neubauer in the election on April 2.
Hagedorn’s ad tells the story of how Hagedorn and his wife, Christina, adopted a newborn girl who was born addicted to opioids because of her biological mother’s drug use. Hagedorn uses the story to promise to fight the opioid crisis as a Supreme Court justice.
Hagedorn’s ad comes in the wake of accusations from opponents that he’s unfit to serve because he helped found a private Christian elementary school in 2016 that bars anyone working there from being in a same-sex relationship and could expel students who are LGBTQ.
Hagedorn, an evangelical Christian, has also defended blog posts he wrote in law school in 2005 and 2006 where he espoused his conservative views and said “The idea that homosexual behavior is different than bestiality as a constitutional matter is unjustifiable.”
Hagedorn, in an interview with The Associated Press, said he’s being unfairly attacked. The ad, he said, is an attempt to make the race be about issues that he said matter.
“I’ve been trying to talk about the real issues the whole time but I keep getting attacked for things that are not really what this race is about,” he said. “Lisa Neubauer and her proponents want to attack me for starting a school consistent with my own faith and attacking me for my faith, and I think that’s wrong.”
The winner of the election on April 2 will serve a 10-year term. The race is officially nonpartisan but Hagedorn is the choice of conservatives and Neubauer is backed by liberals. Conservatives currently have a 4-3 majority and the race is to replace one of the liberal justices, Shirley Abrahamson, who is retiring.
Hagedorn says his daughter’s battle brought the opioid scourge and how it affects families home to him. The ad ends with images of Hagedorn in his judicial robe, walking next to police officers as he promises to “hold people accountable” as a Supreme Court justice.
Such a claim is “largely nonsense” given the types of cases that come before the Supreme Court, said Howard Schweber, a law school and political science professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison who is not endorsing anyone in the race.
Arguments that a candidate for Supreme Court will be tough on crime, or that their opponent is weak on crime, are commonly made, he said. But it is “kind of a foolish claim” because justices deal with constitutional issues and interpretations of law, not “holding people accountable or not,” Schweber said.
“Ideally, a voter would recognize this is a smoke screen,” Schweber said. “This is a nonsense issue to gin up enthusiasm.”
Hagedorn disputed that, telling the AP that a justice can make a difference by ruling to broaden or narrow the rights of criminal defendants and through administrative work and programs run by the court system.
He said it was “completely fair” to talk about combatting opioids while also introducing his family to voters through the ad.
The Hagedorns, who also have four biological children, previously spoke publicly about their adoption in a fundraising email sent on National Adoption Day in November. Brian Hagedorn told the AP that adopting a child had always been one of their dreams.
“We said we were going to pray and if there’s an opportunity, god will you offer that up to us and provide that to us,” he said.
They ultimately connected with a couple in the Peoria, Illinois, area who were looking to give up their child for adoption because they knew they weren’t going to be able to care for her, he said.
The Hagedorns were in the delivery room when the baby was born. Her birth mom named her Lily. The Hagedorns remain in contact with the couple today, and said that 5-year-old Lily has shown no signs of lasting damage after her initial withdrawal from drugs kept her in the hospital for a week after delivery.