MADISON — Liberal-backed Wisconsin Supreme Court candidate Lisa Neubauer has a slight lead over her conservative opponent in a race that was within the margin for a recount as the vote count neared completion.
Around 10:30 p.m. Tuesday, Neubauer led by less than 7,000 votes out of more than 1 million cast, or a little over a half percentage point.
If the loser is within 1 percentage point of the winner, they may request a recount. The last time that happened in a Wisconsin Supreme Court race was in 2011.
Conservatives have been in the majority since 2008, currently with a 4-3 split. Their majority would increase to 5-2 if Hagedorn defeats Neubauer. A win by Neubauer would give liberals a chance to take control in 2020.
The Wisconsin Supreme Court has been the final word in some of the most partisan battles in the state over the past decade. It has upheld several polarizing laws passed by the Republican-controlled Legislature, none more so than GOP former Gov. Scott Walker’s law that essentially eliminated collective bargaining for public workers.
Now with Democratic Gov. Tony Evers often at odds with the Republican-controlled Legislature, the Supreme Court’s role could be even more crucial in settling disputes. Already, cases fighting laws passed by Republicans during a December lame-duck legislative session appear headed to the court.
Tuesday’s outcome will also be read for clues to the 2020 election cycle, with Wisconsin seen as a critical battleground for presidential hopeful. Expected low turnout could make that difficult. Past Supreme Court races in non-presidential years has generally been around 20%.
Both Neubauer and Hagedorn are appeals court judges and insist their personal views would not affect how they would rule on the Supreme Court.
There has been no public polling in the race, but Neubauer raised more money than Hagedorn — $1.7 million to $1.3 million.
Hagedorn, 41, served as a law clerk for conservative state Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman. Hageman served as an assistant attorney general, worked in private practice and was Walker’s chief legal counsel for nearly five years. Walker appointed him to the state appeals court in 2015, and Hagedorn won election two years later.
Madison resident Lana Nenide, a 43-year-year nonprofit director, said she voted for Neubauer. “I want a Democratic woman representing my rights. I don’t want Scott Walker’s puppet,” she explained.
Kathy Halverson, a 50-year-old Republican from Franklin, said she voted for Hagedorn because “he has morals.”
“He will judge according to the law and I just really like his stance on the topics — abortion, I think he’s fair and he’s going to be an asset to the Supreme Court,” she said. “Hopefully he will get in.”
Hagedorn, an evangelical Christian, spent much of the race defending his conservative beliefs. Opponents have pointed to a blog he wrote as a law school student in the mid-2000s in which he called Planned Parenthood a “wicked organization” and denounced court rulings favoring gay rights by likening homosexuality to bestiality. They have also pointed to his founding of a conservative private school that allows for expelling students who are gay. Hagedorn was also paid $3,000 to give speeches at meetings of the Alliance Defending Freedom, a group that supported criminalizing sodomy and sterilizing transgender people.
Neubauer, 61, was appointed to the appeals court in 2007 by former Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle. Neubauer was elected to the appeals court in 2008, re-elected in 2014 and has been chief judge since 2015. She spent almost 20 years as an attorney in private practice.
Judy Johnson, 76, an independent voter from Franklin, said her vote for Neubauer reflected her dislike of President Donald Trump. Johnson said she believes Neubauer “will vote for the people,” rather than supporters of the president.
Nearly every judge who has endorsed a candidate in the race — more than 340, or 98% — backs Neubauer. Hagedorn has endorsements from the National Rifle Association and Wisconsin Right to Life.
The winner will serve a 10-year term and replace retiring liberal Justice Shirley Abrahamson, who is 85.
Rising waters have turned parts of Shore Acres Road in La Crescent, Minn. into a retention pond as the Mississippi River climbs toward its projected 14.6 feet crest Wednesday.
To travel between their houses and the road, residents must drive through submerged streets that are 1 foot to 18 inches underwater in places, or put on waders and walk.
Although the bend beneath the railroad tracks, which is prone to flooding, has been swamped with water since last week, spreading floodwaters also have covered the section of Shore Acres Road that connects to the emergency bypass, a dirt loop meant to provide backup access by circumventing the most flood-prone sections of the road.
The bypass was put in after the 2001 flood — La Crosse’s-second highest crest on record at 16.41 feet — cut residents off from fire and emergency medical services and a house burned down.
Residents started parking their cars on dry land during the weekend in the Wagon Wheels Trail parking lot near the swing bridge.
Tom Poellinger was waiting in the lot Tuesday in his red Jeep Wrangler so he could ferry wife Mary back to the house when she returned from her errands.
“It’s like going to a picnic,” Tom said as he loaded up the Jeep after Mary pulled in with a trunk full of groceries.
“It’s kind of a nuisance,” Mary said. To avoid driving through water at night, they’ve had to cancel some of their evening activities, including tickets to the theater and Tom’s gun club meeting.
They don’t intend on going out again today, Tom said. “I hope I can get through tomorrow, but I’m not sure, though the water’s supposed to go down.”
A UPS delivery truck, met with a foot of standing water where the emergency bypass reconnects to Shore Acres Road, did a U-turn after the railroad tracks.
When Shore Acres becomes impassable, UPS will either hold the packages and notify residents by email or leave the packages with one of the residents for pickup, said driver Kevin Thomas, who stopped to take a video of the flooding to send to his boss.
“(Another) driver told me about it, but I was kind of like, I want to see if for myself,” Thomas said. “There’s just too much water.”
Meanwhile, mail is being held at the post office for pickup, Tom Poellinger said. “I can’t expect the mail to come in a canoe.”
Peter Zimmerman, a hydrologist with the Minnesota Department of Health Well Management Section who was in the area for unrelated work, also stopped to look at the flood.
Zimmerman recommended that well owners who have had floodwaters come within 50 feet of their wellhead get their water tested. Those who’ve had floodwater cover their wells should get their wells cleaned out, Zimmerman said.
Jerry O’Flaherty pulled on a pair of waders after he parked his car. He keeps a suitcase with an emergency change of clothes in the trunk as well.
O’Flaherty, a longtime resident of Shore Acres Road, lives about two-thirds of a mile up the road. His parents bought property in 1949, he said. “I remember the ’52 flood, and the ’65 (flood) was the really big one.”
Still, it’s been a while since flooding has made such a large stretch of the road inaccessible to cars, he said.
Now that water covers the road, his neighbor’s geese swim freely in the streets, he said. “The gander came at me the other day.”
“If it drags on, like in 2001, we’d move out,” O’Flaherty said, adding that he doesn’t expect it to come to that.
The river is expected to crest before noon Wednesday and though there’s water between the road and his driveway, his yard is dry, O’Flaherty said.
They’ve rebuilt their parents’ house and filled it high, he said. “I probably have a foot and a half of water in my basement, but I have a lot of shelves and things hanging from my ceiling. I’m used to it. If I didn’t like it, I wouldn’t live here.”
The rising river has disrupted some aspects of life on Shore Acres Road, delaying UPS shipments and limiting residents’ mobility.
Patrick Barlow has unseated Nancy Proctor in the race for the Holmen village presidency.
The village’s lone precinct reported its results about 10 p.m. Tuesday, showing a relatively comfortable victory for Barlow. The challenger earned 62 percent of the vote, just more than 1,000 votes.
Barlow, 47, figured to have his work cut out for him against the 79-year-old Proctor, who had served five terms as the village president, most after running unopposed. Her decade in office was marked by continued population growth and a flurry of new civic and business projects.
A member of the La Crosse County Board and an administrator at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, Barlow has said he would take a more proactive approaching in running the village, using data to help bolster and streamline village services, including the police and fire departments.
“As more residents and businesses come in, you’re going to have more calls for service,” he said. “We need to find ways to fund, staff and equip these departments, so they can better meet the needs of our residents.”
Holmen’s population has been on the rise for years, and has not yet plateaued. It was at 9,000 during the 2010 census, and could hit 13,000 in the next decade, Barlow said.
The boom has led to a wave of new construction — from roads to a library to a police station — and continued calls for more development.
On the subject of growth, Barlow said that building community gathering places, like parks, will be just as important as attracting new businesses or paving new roads.
“You’d like enough businesses where people don’t feel the need to go to La Crosse or Onalaska not just for basic purchases — milk and eggs — but for clothing and other items,” he said. But the village also needs “parks and greenspaces, places for neighborhoods and communities to come together. We want to keep the community-friendly culture.”
The second time was the charm for the School District of West Salem.
Voters on Tuesday gave the district permission to exceed its state-imposed revenue limit, awarding the district an additional $5.3 million in operating funding during the next three years. Five months after a similar referendum failed, 57 percent of residents voted in favor of Tuesday’s plan.
Superintendent Troy Gunderson said the referendum would provide vital funding to a school district that was looking down the barrel of budget cuts.
A referendum asking voters for $7.6 million over four years was narrowly defeated last November, prompting the district to seek feedback through a community survey.
“Most importantly, the school board listened to what people had to say,” Gunderson said. “The major themes were people wanting more information and for us to keep taxes lower. This referendum is a bit tighter.”
It was also a “yes” for the School District of Holmen.
Sixty percent of voters there signed off on a five-year, $2.25 million referendum meant to help the district maintain and modernize the technology in its schools. It was the second referendum the district has passed this school year. In November, voters approved a $23.5 million expansion of Holmen High School.
Results were harder to come by outside of La Crosse County.
With 16 of 22 precincts reporting, a referendum that would give the Tomah Area School District $6 million over four years was in good shape, with 60 percent of people voting in favor.
The Sparta Area School District announced that its three-year, $2.25 million referendum had passed, although vote totals were not available at press time.
In the Gale-Ettrick-Trempealeau School District, voters approved $9.8 million for a new performing arts center, with 52 percent in favor.
In the Whitehall School District, 53 percent of voters approved a referendum for $1.75 million over four years.