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Politics & Government

Bradley Appointment Solidifies Unprecedented GOP Power in Wisconsin

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Justin W Kern
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Inside Wisconsin's State Capitol Building

The GOP continues to exercise total control over Wisconsin government. And, Republican leaders are using their majority to advance party priorities.

Just late last week, Gov. Walker appointed conservative Appeals Judge Rebecca Bradley to the state Supreme Court. She’ll finish the term of the late Justice Patrick Crooks, who was viewed as the court’s lone swing vote.

Democrats used to be in the driver’s seat, but Republicans today seem to have an even greater advantage. Gov. Walker introduced Judge Bradley at a news conference on Friday. He says Bradley meets his criteria.

“Most importantly I want someone who understands the role of the judiciary, which is to uphold the constitution of this country and of the state,” Walker says.

Walker’s appointment of Bradley solidifies the court’s right wing bent – it would lean conservative 5-2, and Bradley will now have the advantage of incumbency when she runs for a full ten-year term next year.

UW-Milwaukee Professor Mordecai Lee says Republicans are currently wielding an unprecedented amount of power.

“It was only in our lifetimes that races for Supreme Court became partisanized. So, we’ve got this very unusual situation where not only is the governorship and the state Assembly and state Senate held by one party but that same party in a de facto sense now controls the state Supreme Court,” Lee says.

Lee says the last time Wisconsin experienced single party control was in 2008, when Democrats took both houses of the legislature and the governor’s office. Yet, the state Supreme Court still leaned conservative.

Former state Rep. Jon Richards of Milwaukee served in the Assembly at the time. He says control meant Democrats were able to accomplish much of their agenda.

“We were able to invest in our schools here in Milwaukee. We had the largest investment ever in UW-Milwaukee in research facilities here. We were able to expand Badger Care to cover more people with health insurance. One thing I worked on was passing the statewide smoking ban,” Richards says.

But, the Democratic heyday was short lived. It lasted only two years and then Republicans swept into office in 2010. Richards believes Republicans were successful in blaming Democrats and President Obama for the recession.

“It was a major election that was responding to the economy. What often happens when a Democrat or Republican comes into office as president, very often in the following elections, the mid-term elections, the other party wins and the president’s party loses. That was the case all across the country and really resonated here in Wisconsin,” Richards says.

Once Republicans took hold of Wisconsin government in 2011, they dismantled many of the Democrats’ policies, according to UWM’s Mordecai Lee.

“There was a lot of repealing going on. It’s almost like now things have gotten so reflective of strict ideology and whenever one party gets control of the process, they proceed to repeal what the other party had done,” Lee says.

Lee predicts the GOP will continue to dominate Wisconsin politics for the foreseeable future. He attributes sustained control partly to reapportionment.

At the start of each decade, the party in control is allowed to redraw the state’s political boundaries, and in 2011, Republicans had carte blanche. In decades prior, the Legislature was split, so the courts presided over redistricting.

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