Janet Protasiewicz, a judge on the Milwaukee County Circuit Court, has won a seat on the Wisconsin Supreme Court, NBC News projects, giving liberals their first majority on the state’s highest court in 15 years.
Protasiewicz defeated conservative Dan Kelly, a former state Supreme Court justice, on Tuesday in what became the most expensive state Supreme Court race in U.S. history and one of the most closely watched elections of 2023.
Protasiewicz’s victory will allow the court’s new liberal majority to determine the future of several pivotal issues the bench is likely to decide in the coming years, including abortion rights, the state’s gerrymandered legislative maps and election administration — including, possibly, the outcome of the 2024 presidential race in the battleground state.
With 77% of the expected vote counted, Protasiewicz had the support of 56% percent of voters, while Kelly had 45% percent.
Conservative-leaning justices currently hold a 4-3 majority on the court. Protasiewicz will fill the seat being vacated by retiring conservative Justice Patience Roggensack, giving liberals the majority for the first time since 2008. Protasiewicz was elected to a 10-year term.
Throughout her campaign, Protasiewicz made clear that her positions on many issues — most prominently abortions rights — aligned with those of the Democratic Party. She was endorsed in the race by the Democratic abortion rights group Emily’s List, Hillary Clinton, former Attorney General Eric Holder and several other prominent Democrats.
Democrats in the state, and nationally, described the race as the most important one in the country this year and focused their messaging on emphasizing abortion rights and fair elections — extending a strategy the national party employed last year to fend off a red wave in the House and keep the Senate. The win by Protasiewicz suggests that the strategy continues to pay off for the party — a data point national Democrats will be all but certain to rely on heading into next year’s presidential election.
Brandon Johnson, a union organizer and former teacher, was elected Chicago mayor on Tuesday, a major victory for the party's progressive wing as the nation's third-largest city grapples with high crime and financial challenges.Vallas lost because of his decades-long history of school privatization, having left New Orleans' schools post-Katrina in a privatized charter school disaster area, resulting in the city's schools being placed under a federal consent decree for over a decade because of shameful treatment of special needs students, where it remains to this day. Entire schools have shut down and remain vacant as a result, and Vallas vowing to do to Chicago schools what he did to NOLA got his ass handed to him.
Johnson, a Cook County commissioner endorsed by the Chicago Teachers Union, won a close race over former Chicago schools CEO Paul Vallas, who was backed by the police union. Johnson, 47, will succeed Lori Lightfoot, the first Black woman and first openly gay person to be the city's mayor.
Lightfoot became the first Chicago mayor in 40 years to lose her reelection bid when she finished third in a crowded February contest. The top two vote-getters, Vallas and Johnson, advanced to Tuesday's runoff after no candidate was able to secure over 50% to win outright.
Johnson's victory topped a remarkable trajectory for a candidate who was little known when he entered the race. He climbed to the top of the field with organizing and financial help from the politically influential Chicago Teachers Union and high-profile endorsements from progressive Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. Sanders appeared at a rally for Johnson in the final days of the race.
It was a momentous win for progressive organizations such as the teachers union, with Johnson winning the highest office of any active teachers union member in recent history, leaders say. It comes as groups such as Our Revolution, a powerful progressive advocacy organization, push to win more offices in local and state office, including in upcoming mayoral elections in Philadelphia and elsewhere.
The contest surfaced longstanding tensions among Democrats, with Johnson and his supporters blasting Vallas — who was endorsed by Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, the chamber's second-ranking Democrat — as too conservative and a Republican in disguise.
Among the biggest disputes between Johnson and Vallas was how to address crime. Like many U.S. cities, Chicago saw violent crime increase during the COVID-19 pandemic, hitting a 25-year high of 797 homicides in 2021, though the number decreased last year and the city has a lower murder rate than others in the Midwest, such as St. Louis.
Vallas, 69, said he would hire hundreds more police officers, while Johnson said he didn't plan to cut the number of officers, but that the current system of policing isn't working. Johnson was forced to defend past statements expressing support for "defunding" police — something he insisted he would not do as mayor.
Instead, he said, he planned to allocate more money to areas such as mental health treatment and youth jobs.