By SCOTT BAUER
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Union groups were cheering the victory of a liberal-leaning state Supreme Court candidate in Tuesday’s elections as Republicans and their allies warned of a Democratic “blue wave” sweeping the state.
Milwaukee Judge Rebecca Dallet’s hammering of the conservative judge Michael Screnock on Tuesday prodded Gov. Scott Walker, a Republican who had endorsed Screnock, to warn his fellow Republicans that more losses could be coming.
“Tonight’s results show we are at risk of a #BlueWave in WI,” Walker, who is up for re-election in November, tweeted. “Big government special interests flooded Wisconsin with distorted facts & misinformation. Next, they’ll target me and work to undo our bold reforms.”
The Wisconsin’s AFL-CIO was quick tout its endorsement of Dallet in the election.
“Working families have been knocking on neighbor’s doors and calling fellow union brothers and sisters to spread the word on endorsed candidates and educate why Rebecca Dallet is the best choice for Wisconsin’s Supreme Court,” said Phil Neuenfeldt, president of AFL-CIO’s Wisconsin’s chapter. “This victory for working people is one step in our continued fight to unrig an economic and political system that is stacked against working people.”
Local 494 of International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers also endorsed Dallet, along with candidates who won election to local offices on Tuesday. Among the local candidates who had the group’s backing was Dan Bukiewicz, president of the Milwaukee Building & Construction Trades Council, who was elected mayor of Oak Creek.
“We are proud of our work to help elect these fantastic candidates,” said Dean Warsh, business manager of IBEW Local 494. “IBEW Local 494 endorsed candidates strongly support working families, job creation, and using our tax dollars to make investments in our communities.”
Unions did not always get what they wanted, though. In a race for the Milwaukee County Board, the Milwaukee Area Labor Council endorsed the workers’ compensation lawyer Casey Shorts over Theo Lipscomb, the current board chairman. Lipscomb went on to win on Tuesday.
In the Supreme Court race, Dallet won by nearly 12 percentage points — 56 percent to 44 percent. The turnout was 22.2 percent, the highest for a spring election since 2011 and second highest in the past 12 Supreme Court elections.
Wisconsin Democratic Party Chairwoman Martha Laning said the win was a warning shot to Walker, calling it a “huge loss” for him because his “endorsement, philosophy and politics were on the ballot.”
One of the Democratic challengers to Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan, of Wisconsin, immediately tried to raise money off the Dallet win. Randy Bryce, a union ironworker, called the Dallet win “a rallying cry for working folks.” Walker also used the results to raise money.
Dallet’s victory follows a surprising Democratic win in January in a special election for a state Senate seat held by Republicans for 17 years — an outcome that Walker then said was a “wake-up call” for his party.
Two other special legislative elections are coming this June, giving Democrats more chances to build momentum heading into the fall.
The race for a 10-year seat was nonpartisan in name only, with millions in ad spending and public endorsements from the likes of Joe Biden, Eric Holder and the National Rifle Association.
Dallet said her victory, which Democrats quickly seized on as another sign of momentum, was a rejection of special-interest influence on Wisconsin’s Supreme Court.
“The candidate with the most experience in our courts and standing up for the fairness of our courts won,” she said. “I think people are tired of what’s been going on in our state in terms of the money coming in to buy these elections and people spoke out tonight.”
Screnock said he was proud of his campaign, which was run in the face of “tremendous outside influence from liberal special interest groups that were willing to say and spend anything to elect their preferred candidate to the bench.”
Screnock, a Sauk County circuit judge, was endorsed by Walker and backed by about $400,000 from the state GOP.
Dallet’s victory narrows conservative control of the court from 5-2 to 4-3. Dallet also will become the sixth woman on the court. And it’s the first time a liberal candidate has won a race for an open seat on the court since 1995. The court has been a reliable ally of Walker and Republicans who have controlled the governor’s office and Legislature since 2011.
Voters who supported Dallet said they hoped her win would send a message.
“People are pretty motivated on the left, from what I can see,” said Doug Clawson, 58, a communications professional who cast his ballot at a Madison public library as cold rain fell outside.
He said a victory by Dallet “would send a message that we’re not kidding around here and maybe to borrow an axiom from the right: We’re going to take our country back.”
Dallet, 48, has been a Milwaukee County circuit judge since 2008 and previously worked 11 years as a prosecutor. She will join the court in August.
Screnock, 48, was appointed judge by Walker in 2015. Before that he was part of a team that defended Walker’s Act 10 law that effectively ended collective bargaining for most public workers.
Both candidates argued the other couldn’t be trusted to serve as an independent voice on the state’s highest court because of the partisans supporting their campaigns.
– Dan Shaw of The Daily Reporter contributed to this article.