The GOP’s decline in Wisconsin’s suburbs is a warning for 2024.
Progressives had a banner day in the Midwest Tuesday, with victories for Chicago mayor and a swing seat on Wisconsin’s Supreme Court. The results will energize the left within the Democratic Party, and the Badger State results are a five-alarm warning to Republicans about 2024.
The Chicago runoff was a battle between the moderate and progressive wings of the Democratic Party, and the left won despite public frustration over rising crime and failing schools. Brandon Johnson’s victory means the city’s decline as a laboratory for progressive governance will continue, and more companies will consider following the recent exits of Caterpillar, Boeing and Citadel.
Mr. Johnson, a union organizer and Cook County commissioner, believes in fighting crime with social programs, not more police. During the campaign he disavowed his earlier support for defunding the police, but his victory will continue the demoralization of the undermanned Chicago police force.
He also played the race card against Paul Vallas, a former Chicago schools CEO. In the final days of the race, Mr. Johnson dunned his opponent for “being dismissive of a black man who taught for four years in Chicago Public Schools.” Any criticism of his crime agenda was tagged as “yet another attack on a black man as an elected leader.” It was a false and divisive charge, but it worked.
The biggest reason for Mr. Johnson’s 51%-49% victory was the money and muscle of the Chicago Teachers Union. He raised some $10.1 million through March 31, and 91% came from unions, more than half from the CTU, according to the Illinois Policy Institute.
The union now has a reinforced stranglehold on the Windy City. The union will sit on both sides of the negotiating table in the CTU’s contract renegotiations in 2024, and the results will be expensive. Mr. Johnson opposes charter schools, and his idea of education reform is more money without more accountability. The election shows how much public unions now control America’s biggest cities, and their priority is serving their own interests.
Wisconsin’s Supreme Court result is another victory for the national left, which outspent the GOP and made it the most expensive judicial race in history. The surprise was the magnitude of progressive Janet Protasiewicz’s 55%-45% victory, which continued the GOP’s erosion in the Milwaukee suburbs and Fox River Valley. Democrats now hold a 4-3 majority on the state court.
As in 2022, Democrats helped to choose their GOP opponent, spending $1 million in the primary to defeat conservative challenger and Wisconsin Circuit Court judge Jennifer Dorow. That elevated former Supreme Court Justice Dan Kelly into the runoff. He appealed to the Donald Trump base, but he had already lost an election after being appointed by former Gov. Scott Walker to fill a vacancy on the court.
Judge Protasiewicz dispensed with most legal niceties and ran a nakedly political campaign almost like a candidate for Governor. She called Wisconsin’s legislative electoral maps “rigged” and Scott Walker’s 2011 Act 10 limits on union collective bargaining unconstitutional. She refused to say if she’d recuse herself if those cases come before the court.
Her major issue was abortion, especially the fate of an 1849 state statute that became law after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. The law bans abortion in nearly all cases. Republicans who control the state Legislature helped her cause by failing to amend the law. They had ample warning from results last year in Michigan and Kentucky, where abortion drove Democratic turnout.
The Wisconsin results show abortion is still politically potent. In a special election for the state Senate on Tuesday, the Republican candidate barely won in a longtime GOP stronghold in the northern Milwaukee suburbs. If Republicans can’t win in Mequon, their legislative majorities will soon be imperiled, and you can move Wisconsin out of the swing-state column for the Presidency in 2024.
Republicans had better get their abortion position straight, and more in line with where voters are or they will face another disappointment in 2024. A total ban is a loser in swing states. Republicans who insist on that position could soon find that electoral defeats will lead to even more liberal state abortion laws than under Roe. That’s where Michigan is now after last year’s rout.
The biggest winners Tuesday were arguably public unions. If Judge Protasiewicz follows through on her intention to dismantle Wisconsin’s Act 10, a rare restraint on government-union dominance will be gone. If she gets the chance, Wisconsin could soon find its way to looking more like Chicago.