Protasiewicz, Kelly square off in contentious Wisconsin Supreme Court debate
The candidates in Wisconsin's high-spending Supreme Court race will be back campaigning Wednesday after a bruising debate Tuesday at the State Bar of Wisconsin offices in Madison.
During the forum, Milwaukee County Judge Janet Protasiewicz and former Supreme Court Justice Daniel Kelly kept up their disagreements on abortion, political redistricting and criminal sentencing.
Statewide elections in Wisconsin tend to be close. But Republicans easily control some offices with district lines, such as the state's House delegation and Wisconsin Legislature. Protasiewicz, who is backed by liberals, says past redistricting rulings by the conservative-controlled Wisconsin Supreme Court are to blame.
"We know that something is wrong. We know that this 'least change rule' certainly inhibits people's ability to cast their vote in a vote that counts. We are a representative democracy. Just that. A representative democracy. Everybody's vote should count," Protasiewicz told the audience.
Kelly has conservative support. He says Protasiewicz is biased.
"She just told you. She's going to steal that legislative authority and use that in the courts. Fairness of the maps is a political question. Political questions belong in the Legislature. We all know that since grade school, with Schoolhouse Rock," Kelly said.
But the Wisconsin Supreme Court contest isn't an educational cartoon. Liberals in next month's election are trying to flip control of the court from 4-3 conservative after conservative Justice Patience Roggensack retires this summer.
So, Protasiewicz continues to promote what she believes is a winning issue with voters — support of abortion rights.
"My personal opinion is that it should be a woman's right to make a reproductive health decision, period," Protasiewicz said.
Protasiewicz acknowledges abortion rights organizations, including Planned Parenthood, have endorsed her. But she says she's made no promises on how she would rule, if as expected, a current legal challenge to Wisconsin's 1849 ban on almost all abortions goes before the State Supreme Court later this year. The Milwaukee County judge says Kelly has promised to back the values of Wisconsin Right to Life and other anti-abortion groups.
But Kelly says that's no indication of how he would rule on the 1849 law.
"There is a misrepresentation by my opponent here about what it takes to get those endorsements. I had no conversation with those organizations about how I would rule on any issue, including the abortion issue," Kelly said.
Kelly spent most of the only scheduled debate of the Supreme Court general election attacking Protasiewicz's sentencing record on the Milwaukee County bench, citing the case of one man, "Who sexually assaulted a 13-year-old child, videoed himself doing it [and] posted it to Facebook, where it will live forever. Came to you (Protasiewicz) for sentencing. You said, 'no prison time,'" Kelly charged.
Protasiewicz says in her decade as a judge and 25 years before that as a Milwaukee County Assistant District Attorney, public safety has a been a top priority.
"I would not have been in homicide and sexual assault court for three years, if the parties, the people, the community and the rest of my colleagues thought I wasn't handing sufficient sentences to take care of our community," she said.
The website WisPolitics.com says $33 million has already been spent on the Wisconsin Supreme Court race. And there's still nearly two weeks before the election.
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