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Barbara Lawton
Wisconsin Lt. Gov. Barbara Lawton speaks Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2009 at the Eau Claire, Wis. County Courthouse, calling for passage of a bill that would set up a system of public financing for Supreme Court campaigns. (AP Photo/Eau Claire Leader telegram,Steve Kinderman)

Lt. Gov. Barbara Lawton was in La Crosse on Tuesday to push for public financing for Supreme Court candidates, a day after her own abrupt withdrawal as a candidate for governor.

Asked about her reasons for ending her run, Lawton again provided no details except to say they were "very personal."

She preferred to talk about the bill, which Common Cause state director Jay Heck has said could come up for an Assembly vote next week.

The measure would provide court candidates with $100,000 for the primary and $300,000 for the general election. Candidates would have to gather 1,000 contributions ranging $5 to $100 to qualify for the funding.

Candidates could receive additional funding if they face opposition spending from special-interest groups.

The push comes after heated, high-spending Supreme Court races in 2007 and 2008.

"The 2008 Supreme Court race was historical for the amount of money spent - nearly $6 million, $4.8 million by special interest groups," Lawton said.

That race ended with then-Burnett County Circuit Judge Michael Gableman ousting incumbent Louis Butler.

Appearing alongside Lawton were La Crosse County Circuit Judge Ramona Gonzalez and county supervisor Tara Johnson. Supervisors Vicki Burke and Margaret Wood also were present.

Johnson, who ran for state Senate against incumbent Republican Dan Kapanke in 2008, said she had "a first-hand understanding of the disproportionate influence special interest funding can have on a state race."

Lawton said she and Johnson share the common experience of losing state Senate races, as she ran unsuccessfully in 1992.

"And we both learned a lot, getting a close look at the underbelly of the culture of elections here in Wisconsin," Lawton said.

Gonzalez was born in the Dominican Republic, where she said she remembered "people dying to vote, people fighting for the right to vote."

When elected as a circuit court judge in 1995, Gonzalez said she would "attend national conferences and there was sort of an aura of respect that was granted to me, simply because I came from Wisconsin, where justice was not for sale."

She said the recent campaigns have been "distressing to me. I would like to turn that clock back. It's time for Wisconsin to take its place once again as the beacon of justice."

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