Kelly’s bitter concession in the Wisconsin Supreme Court race marks the decline of minority rule
The soon-to-be four member majority on the Wisconsin Supreme Court, Jill Karofsky, Rebecca Dallet, newly elected Janet Protasiewicz and Ann Walsh Bradley. (Henry Redman | Wisconsin Examiner)
Daniel Kelly, the losing candidate in Wisconsin’s Supreme Court race, gave a remarkably bitter concession speech Tuesday night that could serve as an epitaph for misogynist minority rule in Wisconsin.
Kelly refused to congratulate Janet Protasiewicz, who emerged as the clear winner less than an hour after the polls closed. “I wish that in a circumstance like this, I would be able to concede to a worthy opponent,” Kelly snarled when he finally took the stage on election night to address his supporters. “But I do not have a worthy opponent to which I can concede.”
He rehashed his campaign trope about defending “the rule of law” from what he condescendingly labeled “the rule of Janet” and closed by predicting an ominous future for the entire state: “I wish Wisconsin the best of luck, cuz I think it’s gonna need it.”
Kelly’s sour grapes were no doubt exacerbated by the fact that this was the second time in a row he had his clock cleaned by a liberal, female opponent. Protasiewicz’s 11-point win was almost an exact repeat of Justice Jill Karofsky’s drubbing of Kelly in 2020.
As the Examiner’s Henry Redman reported, the four women who will now make up the new, liberal majority on the Wisconsin Supreme Court — Karofsky, Protasiewicz, Ann Walsh Bradley and Rebecca Dallet — gathered to link arms in a moment of pure joy, celebrating a new era in Wisconsin at Protasiewicz’s victory party on Tuesday night.
Meanwhile, at his own campaign event, held at an out-of-the-way resort far from the state’s major media markets, Kelly fulminated, taking a demeaning tone toward Protasiewicz, whom he referred to only by her first name in his concession speech, calling her a “serial liar” who ran a “despicable” campaign. He sounded like a man whose sense of entitlement had been badly wounded.
Like Donald Trump, whose misogynist campaign against Hillary Clinton featured chants of “lock her up” (before Trump himself faced a historic criminal indictment this week) Kelly came off as a sexist bully. Most of all he seemed not to get it that his worldview is simply out of step with the majority of voters — especially women.
In the conservative-leaning suburbs of Milwaukee, Kelly dramatically underperformed previous Republican-supported candidates. Suburban women, who have been leaving the GOP in droves ever since Trump was elected, tend to agree with Protasiewicz that there is something wrong with the state’s embrace of a 19th century felony abortion ban enacted seven decades before U.S. women won the right to vote.
Kelly received a lot of financial support from anti-abortion groups. After his loss, one anti-abortion PAC put out a statement implying that Kelly lost because he wasn’t loud enough about his opposition to abortion in all circumstances — and that the path to victory is through a hard-core anti-abortion message for all GOP candidates: “The issue of abortion is not going away — but Republican candidates who ignore the issue will if they don’t speak directly to Americans with clarity and drive a contrast” said Women Speak Out PAC’s state public affairs director Kelsey Pritchard. Good luck with that strategy. The last lesson Republicans in Wisconsin should take is that they need even fringier candidates than Dan Kelly.
Despite all his “rule of law” nonsense about being a constitutional scholar dwelling miles above the political fray, Wisconsinites knew perfectly well that Kelly ran his last campaign out of Republican Party headquarters, did legal work for anti-abortion groups as well as the state and national Republican parties, and advised Wisconsin’s fake Trump electors in 2020. Kelly himself reassured a rightwing talk radio host that conservatives could count on him to be an ally on the court.
That puts him at odds with the majority of voters in a state where one of the key battles that will likely make its way to the highest court this year is over majority rule.
Our worst-in-the-nation gerrymandered maps have allowed Republicans to dominate state politics, controlling both houses of the Legislature even as they lose statewide. One of the most important consequences of Tuesday’s election, besides a likely challenge to the 1849 abortion ban, is the potential for the Supreme Court to take a case on gerrymandering that could lead to redrawing the voting maps.
Republicans in Wisconsin have become accustomed to minority rule. They make no effort to address public concerns or listen to the majority of voters who want fair maps, reproductive freedom, common-sense gun control, adequate funding for schools and a variety of other issues they feel free to ignore.
That could change under a different map that could thrust legislators into competitive races where, instead of catering to their base, they were forced to appeal to a broad cross-section of voters.
In this way, Kelly’s loss exposed more than one man’s arrogance. It could shake the whole conservative political establishment out of its complacency.
And despite his dire warning in his concession speech, Wisconsin doesn’t need luck. We just won something better — a path to restoring our democracy.
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