Got a feeling that someone – everyone – is watching you? They are.
When Milwaukeeans and Wisconsinites go to the polls Nov. 8, people all over the country will be paying careful attention — as in agonizing over – for whom those votes are cast in certain key races.
Why this hyper-national focus will occur can be described with two words: battleground state or, if you prefer, swing state. Or maybe it can better summed up with a date – 2024 – or another word: Trump.
The year 2024, of course, is when the next presidential election happens. And Wisconsin 2022 is viewed as one bellwether for how that will go, essentially whether Donald Trump will have the political legs for another presidential run. Whether he does or doesn’t is of intense interest nationally across nearly every political line.
Wisconsin, along with a few other states, could be pivotal in determining what happens.
That’s because candidates for top state offices, principally gubernatorial and U.S. Senate candidates, can reasonably be viewed as pro- or anti-Trump. Hence, a vote for them will be viewed as a voter embrace of Trump.
That means wins or losses can help determine whether Trump, also facing a slew of legal problems, staggers or romps into a possible 2024 run or perhaps determines he doesn’t run at all.
The state helped put Trump over the top in the 2016 presidential race, but opted for Joe Biden in 2020, triggering false claims that Democrats stole the election.
You can be forgiven, however, if you view this national scrutiny as irrelevant. That’s because, whatever the Wisconsin vote says about the presidential election two years from now, who wins state and local races will also have consequences for governance in the state and its municipalities.
Though the gubernatorial and U.S. Senate races are viewed as predictors for 2024, they and the rest of what’s on the ballot are also about policies directly affecting local and state governance. And the issues in Milwaukee – among them crime, police and gun violence, city budget woes, health generally and reproductive health specifically, housing inequities and the amount of cleanup still remaining for lead contamination – will be decided by the quality of local and state candidates and their political inclinations.
Milwaukee County races
In Milwaukee, several races fit this category of chiefly being about local and state governance. More than a few, however, sport a single candidate, with write-in options available.
For instance, the races for Milwaukee County sheriff and County Clerk of Circuit Court feature only one Democratic candidate each because Republicans haven’t put up candidates. Milwaukee is viewed as a Democratic stronghold, traditionally limiting the chances of Republican wins.
For Milwaukee County Sheriff, the candidate is Undersheriff Denita Renee Ball, who is temporarily replacing Sheriff Earnell Lucas. Lucas announced Friday that he was starting a new job Monday as the vice president of security for Wisconsin for Fiserv, the financial technology company that is based in Brookfield.
Anna Maria Hodges, the retired chief deputy clerk of Circuit Court, is running for Milwaukee County Clerk of Circuit Court.
There are solo candidates in a number of state Assembly races, which occur every two years.
Democrat Darrin Madison, a former candidate for the Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors, is the sole candidate in Assembly District 10. He was an AmeriCorps Public Ally, working for the Urban Ecology Center to expand its Volunteer Program and the City of Milwaukee’s Environmental Collaboration Office on its eco-neighborhoods initiative.
Other solo Assembly runs are:
In Assembly District 8: Democratic incumbent Sylvia Ortiz-Velez is running unopposed. This will be her second term.
Assembly District 11: The Democratic incumbent is Dora Drake, from Milwaukee’s Graceland neighborhood and a 2015 Marquette University graduate with a degree in social welfare and justice.
Assembly District 16: Democratic incumbent Kaylan Haywood, first elected in 2018.
Assembly District 18: Democratic incumbent Evan Goyke, an attorney first elected to this office in 2012.
There also are contested state Assembly races in which the winners will represent some or part of the City of Milwaukee. Among them:
Assembly District 9: Democratic incumbent Marisabel Cabrera, an immigration attorney first elected in 2018, is being challenged by Republican candidate Ryan Antczak, a South Side resident and former county corrections officer.
Assembly District 12: Republican Greg Canady, for whom little biographical data could be found, faces Democratic incumbent LaKeshia Myers, the former director of education for the Wisconsin Department of Corrections and a former educator for Milwaukee Public Schools.
Assembly District 17: Republican Abie Eisenbach, active in Sherman Park neighborhood activities and owner of a kosher food company, challenges Democratic incumbent Supreme Moore Omokunde, a former member of the Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors.
State Senate races
Two state Senate races in our area are contested, with candidates vying for seats that will represent at least parts of Milwaukee. They are:
State Senate District 3: Democratic incumbent Tim Carpenter, a legislator first elected in 1984, is being challenged by Republican Angel Sanchez, a former Milwaukee alderman elected in 2000 who lost a re-election bid in 2004.
State Senate District 7: The Democratic incumbent is Chris Larson, a former business manager and member of the Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors from 2008 to 2010, when he was elected to the state Senate. Peter Gilbert is the Republican in the race. He owned an insurance company and is a former combat medic.
The Democratic incumbent for the 4th Congressional District seat is Gwen Moore, first elected in 2004 and handily winning re-election since. Her opponent is Republican Tim Rogers, a Milwaukee native who is a former candidate for the office.
Contested state offices
The attorney general runs the state Department of Justice and defends the state in court.
The Democratic incumbent is Josh Kaul, a former federal prosecutor and Oshkosh native first elected in 2018. The Republican challenger is Eric Toney, Fond du Lac County’s district attorney, first elected in 2012.
This race features different political views for the candidates.
On abortion, Kaul, the son of former Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager, has filed a legal challenge to the state’s 1849 abortion ban and pledged not to enforce any abortion ban enacted by the state. This followed the U.S. Supreme Court’s undoing of abortion protections in Roe v. Wade earlier this year, punting the issue to the states even as efforts are underway to approve federalized abortion bans in Congress. He favors abortion rights.
Toney, the son of a retired sheriff’s sergeant, said he will enforce any abortion law Wisconsin enacts, including prosecuting doctors performing abortions should the 1849 law survive and including whether any new Wisconsin law violates his own anti-abortion views.
If the state Supreme Court rules against Kaul’s challenge, however, this opens the door for active abortion enforcement should Toney win.
On elections, key GOP politicians have insisted that President Joe Biden did not fairly win the Wisconsin election in 2020. Toney said he wants uniform election laws throughout the state and to hold the Wisconsin Election Commission accountable for what occurred in 2020. But this is occurring as many Republicans seek to eliminate the commission altogether and perhaps put control with the secretary of state, as occurs in many states.
Democrats fear this will lead to attempts to invalidate a legitimate election in the future, fears that are also featured in Wisconsin’s secretary of state race and in states where secretaries of state run elections. Some of those races in other states feature election-deniers, those who allege that the 2020 election was stolen, claims that have failed on many fronts including in 60-plus court challenges.
Kaul successfully defended against multiple legal challenges to Wisconsin’s 2020 presidential election, calling Trump’s challenges of the state’s vote “a disgraceful Jim Crow strategy for mass disenfranchisement of voters.”
Click here for a clear examination of the candidates’ views in this race on various issues by WUWM 89.7, Milwaukee’s NPR.
Secretary of state
The secretary of state mostly manages public records and serves on the Board of Commissioners of Public Lands.
This contest pits Democratic incumbent Doug La Follette, who has held the job for 44 years, against Republican Amy Loudenbeck, an Assembly member since 2010. Two others are in the race. One is Libertarian Neil Harmon, vice chair of the state’s Libertarian Party who has worked in health care. The other is Sharyl McFarland, a Green Party member who is a social justice and human rights advocate.
Mostly at issue here is what duties the secretary of state should have.
La Follette alleges that Loudenbeck wants to give the office election control and that could mean a party trying to overturn a legitimate vote.
Loudenbeck has said she is not in favor of a “power grab” and that the Legislature should decide this issue. But Democrats fear that a GOP-dominated Legislature, a scenario that’s likely even after the Nov. 8 election, would indeed give such control to Loudenbeck should she win. She said she would not try to subvert an election if election workers properly follow the law.
Click here for an analysis of each secretary of state candidates’ views by WUWM 89.7.
The treasurer has one principal task: be a member of the Board of Commissioners of Public Lands. These commissioners manage 80,000 acres, a $1.3 billion trust fund and provides funding for public schools.
There is no incumbent in this race because Sarah Godlewski is not running. She ran an unsuccessful race in the Democratic primary for U.S. senator.
There are three candidates for state treasurer.
The Republican candidate is John Leiber, who was on the board of the Racine County Republican Party and is a former state legislative aide. He is generally against expanding the treasurer’s duties.
Democrat Aaron Richardson, the mayor of Fitchburg, wants, in addition to the office’s current duties, to help improve the state’s financial literacy and invest more in solar energy.
Constitution Party candidate Andrew Zuelke of Ripon will also be on the ballot.
There are also two referenda on the Milwaukee ballot. Both invite yes or no votes.
One reads: “Should the Wisconsin Legislature prohibit the import, sale, manufacture, transfer, or possession of semi-automatic ‘military style’ firearms whose prohibition is allowed under the Wisconsin and United States Constitution.”
The other reads: “Do you favor allowing adults 21 years of age and older to engage in the personal use of marijuana while also regulating commercial marijuana-related activities and imposing a tax on the sale of marijuana.”
The measures are purely advisory, intended to give elected officials the temperature of voters on these issues.
But it is the races for U.S. Senate and governor that are garnering most of the national attention and most of the campaign spending.
Races with national stakes.
U.S. Senate – a six-year term.
Simply, if the GOP hangs on to the U.S. Senate seat currently held by Sen. Ron Johnson, this portends well for Republican chances to recapture the White House in 2024. The theory is that the U.S. Senate vote here can be viewed as a reflection on voter preferences in this swing state, which, like the nation, is sharply divided politically. But it is also heavily watched because a Johnson win strengthens the GOP’s chances for recapturing the Senate, the case also with a few other Senate races such as in Pennsylvania and Georgia.
And a GOP-controlled Senate means a Democratic president then has little wiggle room to pass legislation. This will be so even if Democrats manage to hold on to the House of Representatives.
Incumbent Johnson, completing his second term, is facing a stiff challenge from Wisconsin Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes. This had been viewed as a neck-to-neck race but Johnson has gained ground in polling lately after a lot of advertising that paints Barnes as weak on crime and a “woke” liberal.
Those ads say Barnes is for “defunding the police” and eliminating ICE, referring to immigration controls. Neither claim is strictly true, the fact-checking says, determining that the ICE claim is mostly false and the defunding police claim all false.
The Barnes campaign has been busy in the meantime casting Johnson as too radical for the state on abortion – following the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling – and other issues such as tax policy favoring the rich.
On abortion, Barnes is broadly for women’s reproductive rights, including supporting congressional codification of the protections once offered by Roe v. Wade. Johnson voiced support for the U.S. Supreme Court ruling overturning Roe that said states should decide and then said he favors a state referendum on abortion, though the chances of this occurring with this GOP Legislature is virtually nil.
Johnson’s role and words on the legitimacy of Wisconsin’s 2020 vote that denied Trump the state’s Electoral College votes and the Jan. 6, 2021, storming of the U.S. Capitol have also emerged as an issue.
Johnson’s office was tasked at one point to give documents on fake electors to Vice President Mike Pence before he formally validated the vote.
Johnson has downplayed the severity and intent of the Jan. 6 insurrectionists. He said the rioters who battled with and without weapons with law enforcement and tried to halt the peaceful transition of power “were people that love this country, that truly respect law enforcement, would never do anything to break the law.” He said that if the rioters had been Black Lives Matter or Antifa protesters, “I might have been a little concerned,” a claim that critics labeled as racist.
Barnes, meanwhile, has criticized the attack and attempts to delegitimize elections.
Their differing views were starkly on display in the candidates’ recent debate.
The governor is the state’s top executive with veto power.
There is clear overlap on issues in this race with the U.S. Senate race and both candidates have been trying to cast the other as extreme. And as with the U.S. Senate race, the candidates have focused a lot on abortion and protecting democracy.
On abortion, Evers called the Legislature into special session for legislators to address the fact that the Supreme Court decision triggers an 1849 abortion ban that doesn’t even have exceptions for rape and incest. The GOP-controlled Legislature did nothing. Evers voices support for full reproductive rights for women.
Michels not so long ago offered clear support for the 1849 law but said he would sign a bill with narrow exceptions.
On elections, Evers has correctly stated that the 2020 election was legitimate. Michels, who won the GOP primary after he was endorsed by Trump, has said he would restructure the Wisconsin Election Commission, the body in a lot of election deniers’ sights for elimination. And he appeared at a campaign event with former state Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman, who ran an expensive investigation into the 2020 based on baseless claims of wrongdoing.