hearts and minds

April 13, 2009

Springtime in Ozaukee, Wisconsin – Election Report

In Ozaukee County, Darcy McManus got 44 percent of the votes from the 23 percent of those registered who voted. Therefore, long-time District Attorney Sandy Williams will be the new Branch 3 Circuit Court Judge here. Ozaukee residents might be interested to learn about an earlier but unsuccessful candidate for election to be the Ozaukee/Washington County District Attorney, one Leland Stanford. Name sound familiar? After losing the election for D.A., Mr. Stanford lost his library in a fire, was reported by the news media as “failed in winning most of his cases” in Washington/Ozaukee county, became disgusted with “this neck of the woods”, and hightailed it for California. Mr. Stanford soon returned to the Midwest to nominate Abraham Lincoln for President in 1860 in Chicago, was elected Governor of California in 1861, drove the last spike in the railroad at Promontory Point, and in 1885, was elected to the U.S. Senate from California. Stanford University was built and named after him.

Coincidentally, only 44 percent of those who voted in Ozaukee County selected Shirley Abrahamson over Randy Koschnick for Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice. In contrast, a comfortable majority of 59 percent of those who voted throughout the entire state decided to re-elect the first woman to ever sit on the Wisconsin Supreme Court, so Chief Justice Abrahamson will continue to serve.

In Ozaukee County, a minority of 40 percent of those who voted selected current Deputy Superintendent Tony Evers over Rose Fernandez for Superintendent of Public Instruction. In contrast, 57 percent of those who voted throughout Wisconsin decided to elect Tony Evers.

This election dissonance is only the latest echo of how Ozaukee and Washington counties have often voted entirely out of synch with the state as a whole. The first example to consider is from the Civil War years. From 1855 through 1871, Republican candidates won every election for Governor in Wisconsin. From 1856 through 1888, Republican candidates for President (including Abe Lincoln) won the popular vote in Wisconsin, usually by very wide margins. However, none of those Republican victors in Wisconsin during those years ever won in Ozaukee and Washington counties, which was a hard-core, persistent base of the “Copperhead” Democrats, and the only Wisconsin county in which an armed violent insurrection against the U.S. government ever occurred during war time. (The Republican Party was founded principally to arrest the spread of, and then abolish, slavery in the USA.) After the Civil War was won (at a cost of over twelve thousand Wisconsin lives lost in combat) Wisconsin ratified the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. Those historic, landmark amendments abolished slavery in America, extended due process and equal protection of the law to all persons in every state, and guaranteed the right to vote everywhere in America regardless of race or color. Those were three very important milestones in the development of American democracy and the evolution of the U.S. Constitution towards freedom, justice, and human rights for all. It’s shocking to realize that not a single legislator representing Ozaukee or Washington counties voted in favor of the 13th, 14th, or 15th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. That’s a stark and startling example, for starters, of exactly where Ozaukee and Washington counties have stood in the past, in relation to the arc of history, freedom, and human rights.

It was during the Great War (WWI) when Ozaukee and Washington counties finally shook off the stubborn long and lonely adherence to the pro-slavery/anti-civil-rights Copperhead faction of the Democratic party. This was likely because of strong opposition to Democratic President Woodrow Wilson and U.S. participation against Germany in the Great (World) War. Ozaukee and Washington county legislators then switched and became “stalwart” Republicans. Subsequently, in 1919, Wisconsin became the first state to ratify the 19th Amendment which, at long last, guaranteed the right to vote to women throughout the United States. However, if it had been left to the now Republican legislators who represented Ozaukee and Washington counties, the amendment would not have been ratified, and women would not have gotten that right. Even the one legislator who did vote “Aye” at the final reading of the bill, after Wisconsin ratification became inevitable, voted (prior to the final vote) for all delaying procedures and killing amendments, along with the tiny minority who actually voted “No” for the record at the end. All other senators or assemblymen representing Ozaukee and Washington counties either voted “No” or were not present to vote. On April 7, 2009, a woman was elected for the first time ever to serve as a Judge in Ozaukee County, in the first contested election for circuit court in thirty years. (There was no chance for a man to win, since both candidates in the April 7, 2009 election were women.) So, on a couple of historical notes, Ozaukee County made noteworthy progress this spring.

As you may have surmised, neither Abrahamson, Evers, nor McManus were the choice of the current Ozaukee ruling party. But in recent decades, up until last fall, a candidate who is not the choice of the Ozaukee ruling party could hope for no more than a third of the vote in a general election. However, last November, Barack Obama got just shy of 40 percent of the vote in Ozaukee County, while winning quickly and decisively in Wisconsin and in the United States. So the bar was raised significantly in Ozaukee County last year. And this spring, the bar was raised further yet in the general election, when Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson and Circuit Court Judge candidate Darcy McManus each got 44 percent of the vote, running against the status quo prevailing wind that has blown in Ozaukee County, regardless of the name of the ruling party here, since statehood.

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