In an unexpected development that was cheered by critics of Gov. Scott Walker, an unknown candidate for Milwaukee County Circuit Court bested a Walker-appointed incumbent on Feb. 21 in a countywide race.
Carolina Maria Stark, an administrative law judge for the Department of Workforce Development, received 19,221 votes - one percent more than the 18,514 received by incumbent Nelson Phillips III. Third-time challenger Christopher Lipscomb Sr. took 16,775 votes.
As the top two vote-getters, Stark and Phillips will square off in an April 3 general election.
“I was really thrilled to see Carolina Stark get ahead of the Walker appointee,” said progressive state Sen. Chris Larson. “That was the buzz at all the election parties. ... She’s really framing this whole race as a referendum on Walker’s choices.”
A similar scenario played out in Dane County, where a challenger trounced a Walker-appointed Dane County Circuit Judge running for retention.
Roger Allen, who Walker appointed to the bench on Dec. 14, received 31 percent of the vote compared with 44 percent for state Assistant Public Defender Ellen Berz.
A third candidate in the race garnered 24 percent. Allen and Berz now advance to the April 3 general election.
Accused of playing politics in the race by portraying Allen as the Walker candidate, Berz responded: “I didn’t paint Roger as the Walker candidate. Roger Allen is the Walker candidate. He sought the appointment and the governor chose him.”
Equality Wisconsin was among the groups that endorsed Stark. “I was delighted with Carolina’s win,” said the group’s co-chair Ray Vahey.
EW was also on the winning side in an upset race for Milwaukee Common Council. The group endorsed Jose Perez, who took first place in Milwaukee’s 12th Alderperson District, besting three-term incumbent James Witkowiak. Perez took 49 percent of the vote to Witkowiak’s 36 percent.
The two will face off again on April 3 in a district that now has a majority Latino population.
“I think Perez will bring life to the Common Council,” Vahey said.
All of the County Board candidates endorsed by Equality Wisconsin in races with multiple contenders won enough votes to proceed to the April 3 runoff election.
But two out gay candidates for Milwaukee Common Council lost their bids. Jennifer Morales and Chez Ordonez placed third and fourth, respectively, in a four-way race against 8th District Alderman Bob Donovan. Benjamin Juarez, who placed second, will take on Donovan again at the polls on April 3.
Morales, a former Milwaukee School Board member, said she decided to challenge Donovan after racist remarks he made last year following assaults by black youth on Wisconsin State Fair attendees. Donovan and Ald. Joe Dudzik released a joint statement blaming the incident on “a deteriorating African-American culture in our city.”
“This district is one of the most diverse in the city - if not the most diverse,” Morales said. “His response was not a problem-solving solution, it was a press release. I’m talking to black moms in the 8th District, and most of them are extremely unhappy with (Donovan). There’s definitely energy for change.”
“All three of Donovan’s challengers hopefully will come together and get rid of somebody who speaks so poorly of our residents,” Larson said.
State Sen. Tim Carpenter, another out candidate on the Milwaukee ballot, received 38 percent of the vote to come in second in a four-way race for Milwaukee Treasurer. He’ll square off April 3 against state Sen. Spencer Coggs, an LGBT ally, who came in first with 41 percent of the vote.
Overall, voter turnout in Milwaukee County was somewhat higher than expected, said Susan Edman, executive director of the City of Milwaukee Election Commission. She said 35,545 people - or 12 percent of the electorate - turned out to vote in a low-profile election with few names on the ballot.
The state had estimated turnout as low as 3 percent, Edman said. Ironically, the hoopla over the new voter ID law might have resulted in higher turnout by raising the election’s profile, she added.
According to most reports, the new voter law went smoothly with only scattered complaints among voters.
The Journal Times reported that a Mount Pleasant man declined to vote after poll workers refused to accept his U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs card as ID. Gil Paar, 69, said he had a driver’s license but refused to show it.
“Basically I was trying to make a point,” Paar said. “I gave them four years of my life, why shouldn’t I be able to use my vet’s card?”
Paar said he was shocked that the card isn’t an acceptable form of ID under the state’s new law. He said that VA cards are the only form of identification some veterans have.
Fair Wisconsin was not available for comment about the election.