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A post-mortem on another close election

District may try again; pendulum swings right in court race

No one knew quite what to expect from the spring local and state elections two weeks ago, and many of us are still trying to sort out what looks to have been a series of upsets.

The biggest surprise to many was the defeat of the $47 million West Bend school referendum. The term “surprise” applies, because the last two school building referendums passed — the Badger Middle School vote for $29 million in 2009 and the Silverbrook/ Green Tree vote for $32 million in 2012.

This year’s decision was scheduled in an off-year when the only major contest was for the Wisconsin Supreme Court. People with strong opinions, such as anti-spending advocates, are highly motivated to show up in any election and therefore have more leverage than when a broader cross-section of voters makes it to the polls. The tea party people worked hard to attain the “no” vote.

As the seven School Board members deliberate over next steps, they may want to take note of that timing. The November 2020 presidential elections will probably be the best timing for the next school referendum. There will be a big turnout as the Democrats — now 15 in the running for president — try to say President Trump’s favorite words to Trump himself: “You’re fired!”

Note that all seven sitting School Board members supported the passage of the $47 million project. They sincerely believe that Jackson needs a better building and that the high school needs upgrades for safety and STEM education purposes.

So does Superintendent Don Kirkegaard.

So does the business community for economic development purposes. It’s hard to recruit talented employees without a first-class school system.

None of them will drop this issue from their priority lists for the district. They will undoubtedly listen to the voters and come back with a lesser number in 2020.

*** Conservative Brian Hagedorn was the underdog in his high court contest with liberal Lisa Neubauer. The liberal side of Wisconsin’s purple electorate won last year’s election by a wide margin.

Neubauer’s campaign made a big deal of Hagedorn’s religious views on social issues and that may have backfired. The voters must have looked at the race more broadly.

One largely hidden issue that may have tipped the balance was Act 10. Neubauer would have supported rulings to restore public union advantages, while Hagedorn, who worked for former Gov. Scott Walker, will brook no retreat on that fundamental change in Wisconsin governance.

Act 10 has saved the state, schools districts and local units of government many millions of dollars by enabling less political, more market-oriented management to state and local employment. Management of benefits in a creative way and merit pay for teachers are two examples.

Deep down, voters appreciate that realignment of political power and do not want to go back to the tense relations between public employee unions and government managers and, in the end, taxpayers.

Note the recent standoffs, even strikes, in other states between teachers unions and government leaders.

Note also that Gov. Tony Evers has embarked on many measures to reverse what was put into place during Walker’s eight years as governor, but he has not pushed back on Act 10.

Voters may also have been turned off by Neubauer’s flip-flop on big money in judicial races. She changed her tune when big dollars rolled into her campaign from the left.

Still, Hagedorn’s win was razor-thin. That’s a far cry from 2017 when Annette Ziegler, a conservative, won a second term uncontested or 2018 when Rebecca Dallett, a liberal, won by 11.5 points.

Nobody ever said Wisconsin voters as a whole are easy to figure out.

(John Torinus is chairman of the board of Serigraph Inc. in West Bend and blogs regularly at



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