By TODD RICHMOND
MILWAUKEE (AP) — A pair of liberal state Supreme Court candidates worked on Saturday to lock down votes at the state Democratic Party’s annual convention, calling for a fair judicial system while signaling they support a range of party values.
Ed Fallone and Jill Karofsky are vying to unseat the conservative justice Dan Kelly in the 2020 spring elections. Wisconsin Supreme Court elections are officially nonpartisan but Democrats and Republicans typically throw their support behind their favorite candidates, turning the races into political fights that can become as intense as the race for governor or attorney general and raise questions about the candidates’ impartiality.
In 2017, two liberal Supreme Court candidates, Rebecca Dallet and Tim Burns, appeared at the Democratic convention. And last month, Justice-elect Brian Hagedorn spoke at the state Republican convention in Oshkosh, thanking those in attendance for electing him and ensuring conservative justices maintain majority control of the court.
Fallone, a Marquette University law professor, and Karofsky, a Dane County judge, both tried to strike a balance between appealing to the party faithful without looking overtly partisan.
Fallone began his speech by attacking Kelly, noting that former Republican Gov. Scott Walker had appointed him to the high court.
“A spot on our state Supreme Court should not be a reward for political loyalty,” he said.
Fallone repeatedly stressed his Hispanic heritage, saying he’d be the first Hispanic justice on the state Supreme Court. He promised to be a voice for working families and said the high court needs be a court for LGBT people, teachers and immigrants.
He said the criminal justice system locks up too many minorities and criticized judicial candidates who campaign by promising to be tough on crime, saying they contribute to a misconception that locking people up is the only way to keep society safe.
He added that women’s rights are human rights, an apparent allusion to efforts to restrict abortion rights. He tried to say more but convention organizers killed his microphone because he had exceeded his time limit.
Karofsky began her speech by lamenting how politicized the legal and judiciary systems had become.
“We shake our heads at politicians in (Washington) D.C. and Madison,” she said. “They cut corners, undermine norms to get their way. It is time for us to restore a sense of justice and a sense of honor to our courts.”
She then hit on a number of Democratic planks, albeit indirectly. She said her children benefit from public schools and judges must uphold laws that protect the environment as well as protect civil rights for everyone.
She added that she was astonished that “our fundamental rights as women are under assault.” She didn’t say specifically which rights but like Fallone she appeared to be alluding to abortion restrictions.
She was talking about how she worked as director of the state Justice Department’s Office of Crime Victim Services when she hit her time limit and convention organizers killed her microphone.
Gov. Tony Evers delivered the keynote address, using the speech to boast about his veto powers.
The Wisconsin governor has some of the most extensive veto powers among governors in the country. Evers can use the powers either to erase or rewrite proposals Republican lawmakers insert in the spending plan.
Evers said a lot of people thought he was boring during his campaign against Walker last year, but “to hell with that,” he said.
“And here I am tonight standing before you as governor of the great state of Wisconsin with one of the most powerful veto pens in the country, so to them I say: Who’s boring now?”
He also cautioned his audience not to allow “spirited and robust” primaries next year to divide the party.
Wisconsin is expected to be a battleground state as Democrats look to defeat President Donald Trump. Nearly two dozen Democrats are currently running for the party’s nomination.
“We have to be able to disagree without being disagreeable,” Evers said.