/ Articles / Kelly surrenders Supreme Court seat to Karofsky

Kelly surrenders Supreme Court seat to Karofsky

In Oneida County, Jensen booted, Sorensen survives

April 19, 2020 by Richard Moore

Not that it went according to script, but in the end this spring’s election for a state Supreme Court seat went as most election observers always thought it would, as liberal challenger and Dane County circuit judge Jill Karofsky unseated the conservative incumbent, Daniel Kelly.

Gov. Scott Walker had appointed Kelly to the high court in 2016. Karofsky had been elected as a Dane County circuit judge in 2017. Her victory leaves conservatives on the court with a slim 4-3 margin.

The election itself was anything but normal, occurring as it did during a safer-at-home lockdown because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic sparked a record wave of absentee voting, though many voters complained they never received their absentee ballots. Thousands more braved the risk and trudged to the polls.

Observers had long predicted a Karofsky win because the election fell on the same day as Wisconsin’s presidential preference primaries. With a contested race on the Democratic side and none on the GOP side, Democratic turnout was always expected to be high.

When election day finally arrived, the Democratic contest was actually settled, but Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders had not actually suspended his campaign against presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden and likely prompted thousands to vote.

As the COVID-19 crisis deepened, voters had turned to mail-in ballots, but at the very least that did not upset Karofsky’s natural advantage, and it might have helped her.

The conservative majority is not immediately in danger. The court’s conservative chief justice, Patience Roggensack, is next up for election in 2023. Until then, the court’s conservative majority will be more vulnerable to swing voting.

In the election, Karofsky won with 55 percent of the vote, tallying 856,470 votes to Kelly’s 692,976.

In a statement Kelly said it had been the highest honor of his career to serve on the Supreme Court for the past four years. 

“Obviously I had hoped my service would continue for another decade, but tonight’s results make clear that God has a different plan for my future,” Kelly said. “I congratulate judge Karofsky and wish her well as she assumes the responsibilities of this important office.”

As the campaign comes to its close, Kelly said the work of the court continues. 

“My term ends on July 31, and I will dedicate every day from now until then to finishing well in my service to this state,” he said. “… I dedicated this campaign to a simple proposition: the people of Wisconsin are my bosses, and whatever authority we have on the court we receive as a loan from them according to the terms of our constitutions. The expiration of the time and authority loaned to me is a reminder that our system still works — that our constitution endures through every test and trial, and that here in America the lawful will of the people shall always prevail.”

On Facebook, Karofsky sent a heartfelt thanks to the hundreds of thousands of Wisconsinites who made their voice heard in an unprecedented election.

“I’m honored to have earned the trust of people across this state who believe in a tough, fair, and independent judiciary and I promise to never forget these principles as your Wisconsin Supreme Court justice,” she said.

Oneida County races

In races for Oneida County board of supervisors, the big surprise was the upset of incumbent Robb Jensen, who lost to Robert Thome 54% to 46% in District 11.

In other races, supervisor Jack Sorensen kept his seat with a narrow 52-48% win over Rhody Jakusz in District 9, while Jim Winkler defeated Bob Metropulos 53-47% to keep his seat in District 10.

In the other contested race pitting two registered write-ins against each other in District 18, supervisor Lance Krolczyk kept his seat, winning with 56% of the vote against former supervisor Candy Sorensen.

Richard Moore is the author of the forthcoming “Storyfinding: From the Journey to the Story” and can be reached at richardmoorebooks.com.

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