By Mrinal Gokhale
On the morning of Saturday, March 26, the St. Matthews C.M.E. Church (2944 N. 9th St) was filled with candidates for Milwaukee county executive, treasurer, comptroller, circuit court and Wisconsin Supreme Court judge.
Mayor Tom Barrett was also present, but his opponent, Bob Donovan did not go. The candidates drew a large crowd in a completely packed room.
This day marked the last community brainstorming breakfast forum before the primary election on April 5. The event began with an 8 a.m. breakfast, followed by a panel from 9:00 a.m. to 11:30 a.m., moderated by Dr. Pamela Malone. With so many candidates answering probing questions about their plans if they’re elected, the conversation became as heated as the room temperature.
Wisconsin Supreme Court Judge candidate Rebecca Bradley seemingly had to defend herself the most.
Appointed by Governor Scott Walker three times, Bradley recently has been scrutinized in the media for anti-gay and anti-abortion columns she wrote for her college newspaper years ago.
Both Bradley and her opponent JoAnne Kloppenburg were asked how they would address racial disparities, if elected. Bradley started by discussing her family’s background in poverty, and why she is passionate about the law.
“I grew up in the 1980s recession and my family struggled and fell below the federal poverty line,” she began.
“But I was blessed with parents who instilled a good work ethic and value of education.” Bradley emphasized the importance to “apply the law as is and not how we wish it may be.”
She said it’s important for judges to set aside policy preferences and opinions, adding that her “decisions write themselves.”
Kloppenburg acknowledged that racial disparities remain in the criminal justice system.
“Even outside of legal decisions, certainly the Supreme Court could work with circuit courts, local governments, nonprofits, the Legislature and the State Bar to address those disparities,” said Kloppenburg.
She then mentioned Bradley’s Republican group affiliations, suggesting that she has a partisan background.
“A Milwaukee Bar Association poll showed 53 percent of people that had an opinion feel my opponent is unqualified for service in the Supreme Court. She has a partisan background and the Republican Party is helping pay for her campaign operations,” said Kloppenburg.
Kloppenburg, who said she is endorsed by Judge Joe Donald, Senator Lena Taylor and Congresswoman Gwen Moore, added that she was elected by the people of Wisconsin in 2012, unlike Bradley who was appointed by Governor Walker.
“I’m running because I’m unwilling to surrender our court to the partisan politics and special interests.”
Later on in the discussion, Bradley was questioned by an audience member about her opinion pieces against the LGBT community and abortion.
The attendee said that because she has apologized so much, he forgives her, but he would like to know when the judges feel conception begins.
Bradley, Kloppenburg and the circuit court judge candidates all had the same answer: they wanted to leave their personal opinions out of it.
However, Kloppenburg said Bradley hasn’t changed since her college days.
“My opponent continues aligning herself with extremely hateful comments in her campaign,” she said.
Bradley made another apology about her comments, and again insisted she has changed.
“I didn’t come here to attack my opponent, but I’ve been getting attacked all day. I have apologized many times.
I was a college kid back then, and I have changed and grown up because that’s what happens,” she said.
“I think it’s frightening that my opponent doesn’t believe one can change.” Next, Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele and his opponent, Chris Larson spoke.
Larson highlighted what he felt were mistakes Abele made, and Abele spoke on his accomplishments.
Larson started by saying he believes in living wages to help Milwaukee families earn a survivable income. He felt that Abele could have helped make that happen, but didn’t.
“Those who work 40 hours a week shouldn’t be struggling.
There was an effort to move forward with a living wage ordinance, but the current county executive didn’t move forward with it,” said Larson.
Abele later emphasized his accomplishments which included restoring child support, helping end chronic homelessness and adding more parks.
“We’re on the mission to end chronic homelessness in three years, which is the fastest any metro area can do it. We’ve helped get so many chronically homeless people get off the street,” he said.
The forum ended at about 11:30 and the candidates and attendees exited the building.