GOP Attacks Wisconsin’s Democratic Institutions to Maintain Grip on Minority Rule

Interview with Ruth Conniff, editor-in-chief of the Wisconsin Examiner, conducted by Scott Harris

America is now witnessing an important battle for democracy in the swing state of Wisconsin.  Through the extreme partisan gerrymandered district maps in the state, Republicans have had unchallenged control of both houses of the state legislature for over a decade. The failure of democracy in the Badger state is clearly illustrated by election results in 2018. In that year, Democratic state assembly candidates received 54 percent of the popular vote in Wisconsin, but due to the gerrymandered maps, Republicans still won 63 of the assembly’s 99 seats.

Last April, liberal Supreme Court Justice candidate Janet Protasiewicz won a landslide election victory over a former, right-wing state justice. Her victory gave Democrats a 4-3 majority on the ostensibly non-partisan state Supreme Court. This new majority is now in position to overturn the gerrymandered maps in a case that was filed soon after Justice Protasiewicz took her seat on the state’s high court. But in order to maintain their grip on minority rule and prevent a likely ruling legalizing abortion in the state, Republicans are threatening to impeach Protasiewicz before she’s even heard or voted on any case. In a parallel scheme, the GOP-controlled state Senate has recently fired Wisconsin Elections Commission non-partisan administrator Meagan Wolfe.

Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with Ruth Conniff, editor-in-chief of the Wisconsin Examiner, who discusses what’s at stake for democracy in Wisconsin, where Republicans are following an anti-democratic playbook employed by the party across the U.S. to defy the will of voters and undermine democratic institutions.

RUTH CONNIFF: There was a statewide race just recently in the spring for Supreme Court because we elect our Supreme Court justices here. And the Democratic-supported justice — although they’re nonpartisan, nominally they’re supported by the political parties and in this case, the Democratic-supported candidate for the seat won by 11 points, which is a big margin in Wisconsin.

Wisconsinites wanted her. She was openly opposed to the state’s 1849 abortion ban. And she also described the maps as rigged to favor Republicans.

Republicans, after their candidate lost that race, are now saying that because she described the maps as rigged, she shouldn’t be permitted to weigh in on a gerrymandering case that’s coming before the state Supreme Court.

And this is not the rule for recusal. The rule for recusal in the Wisconsin Supreme Court is that judges get to decide whether or not to recuse themselves, even when their own campaign donors come before them. That’s a conservative majority decision. It’s not great, but it just shows you that this drive to threaten to impeach this justice is based on nothing legal. It’s simply that the Republicans are afraid of losing their gerrymandered majority.

And so they’ve put her in this kind of box where if she weighs in, they say they’ll impeach her and if she doesn’t weigh in, then the new liberal majority on the Wisconsin Supreme Court won’t rule on gerrymandering and they can continue to gerrymander.

SCOTT HARRIS: Another major issue that will be in front of the Wisconsin Supreme Court is abortion. Say a word about that, if you would, because I think that’s also one of the motivations for this drive by the Republicans to impeach Justice Protasiewicz. There will be a Supreme Court decision at some point on the issue.

RUTH CONNIFF: Yeah, that case will probably work its way up to the state Supreme Court and it’s very significant that Janet Protasiewicz won that Supreme Court election because there is now a 4-3 liberal majority that will absolutely uphold abortion rights in Wisconsin.

SCOTT HARRIS: Well, Ruth, as you said in your recent editorial, what’s going on in Wisconsin and the challenge to democracy is not just a Wisconsin problem. This is something we’ve seen a pattern develop across the country where Republicans are manipulating the system. They’re exploiting the guardrails that aren’t there that maybe should be there to secure democracy and impose minority rule.

Say a word, if you would, about what’s going on in Wisconsin and the challenge to democracy and how it applies to the rest of us across the U.S.

RUTH CONNIFF: Well, I mean, one way it applies very directly is that our state Supreme Court was only one vote away from backing Donald Trump’s effort to throw out the majority vote for President Biden in Wisconsin.

So it was one principled conservative who said no and he joined the liberals in rejecting that lawsuit. You know that that is a close call. So Trump had only Democratic counties in Wisconsin recounted and he demanded that over 200,000 votes be thrown out, which conveniently would have given them a victory here. It was just preposterous. And our state Supreme Court was very close to rubber stamping that.

We also have one of the 10 states here that sent fake electoral ballots cast in secret by Republican party officials. The current and former heads of our state Republican party were involved, transmitted them to Washington, D.C., where our U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, tried to hand them off to Vice President Pence and have them counted for Trump in total contravention of reality.

You know, the fact that Biden had clearly won the state and that legitimate votes for Biden were already there from Wisconsin — this is part of a larger nationwide strategy. This, I think, really kind of desperate retrenchment of a political party that does not win majority support in fair elections and has decided that the way to win is to talk a lot about nonexistent voter fraud, make it very hard for people to vote.

We have one of the toughest in the nation voter ID laws here. There’s been a very specific, explicit focus on preventing people of color and students from voting in Wisconsin. Republican party officials have been caught stating that. There is a elections commissioner, one of these six people who sits on this elections board who was a fake elector himself and now as a Republican party official in his county, sent out an email celebrating in the recent election when U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson was re-elected, an African-American candidate lost that they had done an incredible job of suppressing black and Latino vote in the Milwaukee area where it would have made a difference in that race.

So, you know, it’s really aggressive tactics that are being replicated all over the country to undermine democratic institutions, to cancel the votes of a majority of voters. You know, to focus specifically on people of color, on poor people, on students and prevent their voices from being heard in order to hang on to power. And I think the more that that’s recognized and called out and people really take a stand against it, the better for democracy nationwide.

For more information, visit the Wisconsin Examiner at

Listen to Scott Harris’ in-depth interview with Ruth Conniff (18:22) and see more articles and opinion pieces in the Related Links section of this page.

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