Updated 4/8/15 at 10:50 a.m.
Incumbent state Supreme Court Justice Ann Walsh Bradley defeated conservative challenger Rock County Circuit Judge James Daley to win another 10-year term on the court.
Bradley trumpeted her victory as a triumph over the increasing partisan nature of the judiciary in Wisconsin.
“Tonight we sent a message loud and clear that we want our courtrooms free of partisan politics,” Bradley said in her victory speech before thanking her family, staff and Daley.
“Wisconsin ranks second in the nation for the role special interests play in [state] Supreme Court races … and I have a vision for a judiciary in this state that says no to special interests and no to partisan politics,” Bradley said.
Daley congratulated Bradley but alleged that donations from liberal special interest groups propelled her to victory.
“Tonight we witnessed first-hand the power of incumbancy, as liberal special interests band together to protect their candidate,” Daley said in a statement.
Lobbying groups were less involved than expected in the high court race. Daley received no monetary support from outside groups in the weeks leading up to the election while a liberal advocacy group spent $100,000 on an ad attacking Daley, according to a report by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
Bradley’s re-election preserves the two-seat liberal minority on the state's highest court.
A referendum also passed that allows the members of the state’s Supreme Court to choose its chief justice instead of having the position go by default to its most senior justice.
The passage of the referendum could signal the end of current Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson’s 19-year tenure as chief, allowing the justices to elect a new chief if they so choose, a measure effective immediately.
Voters first approved the measure in 2013, but it requires two rounds of approval before the voters and state Legislature because it amends the state constitution.
Joseph Waldman, communications director for the College Democrats of Wisconsin, praised the re-election of Bradley but expressed disappointment that the referendum passed, calling it a “partisan takeover” of the court.
“We think of courts as non-partisan and it is disappointing legislative Republicans initiated this clearly partisan legislation,” Waldman said. “We will see the consequences of this soon.”
Cedarburg businessman Duey Stroebel cruised to victory in a special election for the state Senate seat vacated by U.S. Rep. Glenn Grothman, R-Wis. Stroebel won a three-way Republican primary in February and faced no Democratic opponent in the general election.