Spring primary to winnow field in heated state Supreme Court race

February 20, 2018

Wisconsin voters on Tuesday will narrow the field in a hotly contested state Supreme Court race.

A few county and local races also are on the ballot for Tuesday’s spring primary election. In all races, the results will determine which candidates advance to the general election April 3.

Most of the focus is on the state Supreme Court, where three candidates are vying to fill the seat held by Justice Michael Gableman, who is not seeking re-election to another 10-year term.

They are Madison business attorney Tim Burns, Milwaukee County Judge Rebecca Dallet and Sauk County Judge Michael Screnock.

Two of those candidates will advance to the general election.

Spring primaries typically are low-turnout affairs. In the past two decades, there have been five state Supreme Court primaries averaging a 7.3 percent turnout among the voting-age population, according to the state Elections Commission.

The weather may not help turnout, as most of the state north of Madison and Milwaukee is forecast to receive a wintry mix of precipitation.

Liberals see the Supreme Court race as an opportunity to alter the court’s current 5-2 conservative majority. Conservatives want to replace one of their own, Gableman, with another justice who shares their leanings.

The race is officially nonpartisan, yet the candidates’ political associations have defined the heated contest.

Burns, an attorney whose work has included representing business clients in lawsuits against insurance companies, has emphasized he would be an “unshakable” progressive on the court and would fight Gov. Scott Walker’s “extreme agenda.” Though Burns has an extensive resume as a business lawyer, he has argued only a handful of cases in state and federal courts.

Dallet has spent the past few months emphasizing her judicial experience as evidence of her ability to remain impartial. But Dallet has also aired a television ad criticizing Republican President Donald Trump.

Screnock is backed by conservatives and was appointed to the Sauk County bench in 2015 by Walker. As an attorney, Screnock helped defend Walker’s signature legislation known as Act 10, which eliminated most collective bargaining rights for most public employees.

In Dane County, voters will winnow the list of candidates for County Board in Districts 6, 11 and 15; Sun Prairie City Council District 2; and village of Marshall president and trustee.