- Views & Opinions
Open judicial positions are rare, so perhaps it’s not surprising that campaigns for them often become contentious. That’s certainly the case between Fox Point Municipal Judge Scott Wales and attorney Kashoua “Kristy” Yang to replace retiring Milwaukee Circuit Court Judge John Siefert in Branch 47. (Siefert has indicated that he might challenge Milwaukee Sheriff David Clarke next year).
Both judicial candidates have compelling personal narratives of overcoming great hardships, which they say has made them more compassionate and sensitive to injustice. But Wales’ eight successful years of experience on the bench and 29 years as an attorney gives him a sizable advantage over Yang, who’s been an attorney for eight years and has no judicial experience.
Wales, who is Jewish, was born with Moebius Syndrome, a condition that paralyzed the left side of his head and prevented him from speaking. He endured a lot of childhood bullying before eventually learning to talk by studying ventriloquism, which enabled him to speak without using his tongue.
Yang, who is Hmong, came to the United States with her family as a refugee at the age of six. The only English phrase she knew was “Pepsi please.”
Her family struggled against great odds to achieve the American dream. As a kid in Sheboygan, she picked cucumbers and worms to help her family survive. Through hard work and intelligence, she went on to achieve a law degree.
Yang is fresh and likeable. If elected, she’d become the first female Asian judge in Wisconsin, which would be a great milestone for the state.
But Yang’s comparative lack of experience is evident not only on paper, but in the conduct of her campaign. She’s made several first-timer missteps.
Yang originally sought endorsements to run for the court in Branch 21 against an appointee of Scott Walker. But after Siefert resigned, she changed her candidacy to Branch 47, where Wales already was an announced candidate.
A couple of her supporters switched to Wales when she switched branches, but their names lingered among the endorsements on her website. When a Wales campaigner sent her a request to eliminate the names, her supporter Todd Robert Murphy responded with an insulting email in which he asked, “Has Mr. Wales surrounded himself with a gaggle of obsequious pissants?”
Murphy, a Republican political strategist who used to be a frequent panelist on right-wing pundit Mark Belling’s radio and TV shows, is currently a columnist for the Waukesha Freeman.
For some time, Yang’s website also featured an endorsement from Russell Stamper, the father of Ald. Russell W. Stamper II. Yang says — believably — that she didn’t know the elder Stamper had posted unseemly comments, including homophobic rhetoric, on Facebook. A member of the LGBT Chamber of Commerce who has the support of pro-LGBT officials, Yang was visibly upset to learn about this. Still, even though she removed Stamper’s endorsement from the homepage of her website, she insisted that she wants to be open to all perspectives in the community, presumably including the elder Stamper’s.
That wasn’t the only time Yang has sent mixed messages about herself. She stresses her volunteer work for organizations such as the ACLU of Wisconsin and Voces de la Frontera, as well as her legal work for victims of sexual abuse and trafficking. Yet she recently changed her campaign tagline from “Justice for All,” to the more ambiguous “A Firm Hand and a Valuable Perspective,” which seems to suggest she’s moving toward positioning herself as a “tough-on-crime” candidate.
Our endorsement of Wales is based not only on his experience, but also his consistency, professionalism and ability to clearly articulate his vision of justice. He has supported tangible legal reforms that have benefitted the poor and people of color. He’s won a remarkable number of endorsements from current and former judges, as well as more than 100 attorneys, including prosecutors. He has the backing of the Milwaukee Police Association, IUPA Local 21 and the Milwaukee Deputy Sheriffs’ Association.
Yang’s list of endorsements is impressive for a novice, but not nearly on par with Wales’. We believe someday she’ll be a judicial candidate we can support, but Wales is such a candidate now.
[Editor’s Note: This endorsement has updated Judge Scott Wales’ experience. The previous figures were wrong due to editorial error.]
For more about each candidate, go to:
Wales for Judge
Yang for Judge