Local Elections Take Center Stage Across Country

April 4, 2023 by Dan McCue
Local Elections Take Center Stage Across Country
FILE - Wisconsin Supreme Court candidates —Republican-backed Dan Kelly and Democratic-supported Janet Protasiewicz —participate in a debate Tuesday, March 21, 2023, in Madison, Wis. (AP Photo/Morry Gash, File)

WASHINGTON — A slew of high-profile local elections are taking place across the nation on Tuesday, but perhaps none is bigger and being more closely watched than the race for a state Supreme Court justice in Wisconsin.

Heading into Tuesday’s voting, more than $42 million has been spent on the contests pitting Janet Protasiewicz, a liberal Milwaukee County judge, against Daniel Kelly, a conservative former state Supreme Court justice. 

The winner will have the deciding vote on a wide range of major issues, including abortion rights, political district maps, and voting and election cases surrounding the 2024 presidential contest.

From the very beginning of her campaign, Protasiewicz has tried to frame the contest as a referendum on abortion rights in Wisconsin — she supports them; Kelly does not.

In doing so, she has spoken out in opposition to the 1849 law in Wisconsin that banned abortion in nearly all cases. 

That law was voided by the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade in 1973, which said women had a constitutionally protected right to abortion, and went back into effect with last year’s high court decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which said the Constitution does not confer a right to abortion and individual states should decide the issue.

Protasiewicz has also slammed the legislative district maps Republicans drew up last year — maps that virtually guarantee the GOP a supermajority in the state Legislature — as “rigged.”

Kelly, a Trump acolyte who worked with the Republican Party of Wisconsin to try to overturn the results of the state’s 2020 presidential election, has run as a “law and order” candidate, accusing Protasiewicz of being soft on crime.

However, those efforts faltered last month when the Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, the state’s business lobby, had to pull a television spot it had been running, claiming Protasiewicz had gone easy on a convicted rapist after a subsequent attack, after the victim in the case claimed she had been traumatized by the ad.

Windy City to Elect New Mayor

Chicagoans are heading to the polls Tuesday to vote in a runoff election, after rejecting incumbent mayor Lori Lightfoot in the first round of voting in February.

Paul Vallas, a former public school executive, is the conservative Democrat in the race and he’s running on promises to crack down on crime, expand the police force and open more charter schools.

His opponent, Brandon Johnson, a county commissioner and union organizer, has campaigned as a determined progressive who wants to expand social programs, spend more on neighborhood schools and support both of those efforts with new taxes.

Political observers see the race as something of a referendum on the future of big city Democratic politics.

In 2021, Eric Adams, a former police captain, swamped his more liberal opponents and was elected mayor of New York City. In 2022, however, former Rep. Karen Bass, a progressive, bested her more conservative opponent and was elected mayor of Los Angeles, California.

In Kansas City, Mayor Seen as Shoo-In

Kansas City, Missouri, Mayor Quinton Lucas is widely expected to be handily reelected Tuesday. His opponent, Clay Chastain, has run repeatedly for office in Kansas City but always loses.

Of far more interest is the race for Kansas City Council, a contest that features 33 candidates in all running for one of 12 council seats.

Six of the candidates in the city council race are incumbents seeking reelection in tough primaries.

The winners of Tuesday’s contests will compete in the upcoming general election on June 20.

In Lincoln, Nebraska, Withering Attacks

Incumbent Mayor Leirion Gaylor Baird, running for a second term, is expected to survive today’s nonpartisan primary and move on to the state’s May 2 general election, but she’s been hammered hard by the two high-profile Republicans in the race: state Sen. Suzanne Geist, and nonprofit executive Stan Parker.

Baird has been endorsed by the city’s firefighters’ union, but not by the police, who want more patrolmen and women on the street.

That, plus a surge in crime in the past year, have opened the incumbent up to charges that she’s softer on crime than the Republicans in the race.

Other mayoral races are being held in Colorado Springs, Colorado, Denver, Colorado, Jefferson City, Missouri, Madison, Wisconsin, and Springfield, Illinois.

Dan can be reached at [email protected] and at https://twitter.com/DanMcCue

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