Wisconsin and Chicago elections today have national implications
Voters in Wisconsin and Chicago will cast ballots today in elections with nationwide consequences. | AP photos

MILWAUKEE—April 4 elections today in the Midwest will impact major policies across the country. In Wisconsin voters, in perhaps the most important judicial election ever, will select a state supreme court judge who will be a swing vote in determining the future of abortion rights in that state and possibly the outcome of the 2024 presidential election nationally.

In Chicago voters will elect either Paul Vallas, a corporate-backed machine politician who will continue the politics of the past, or Brandon Johnson, a progressive candidate determined to improve the quality of public education and to support democratically controlled community policing. The results will motivate like-minded political forces in cities across the nation.

The race for an open state Supreme Court seat in Wisconsin pits progressive Milwaukee County Circuit Court Judge Janet Protasiewicz, who is also a former assistant DA, against former State Supreme Court Justice Daniel Kelly.

Kelly’s a right-winger whom union and worker-hating former Gov. Scott Walker (R) dumped on the court in 2016. When Kelly tried to win a full 10-year term two years ago, he lost to another progressive, 55%-44%. He also backed Republicans’ attempts to steal swing state Wisconsin’s electoral votes that year for Donald Trump, even though Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden narrowly won the state.

The Wisconsin race, like the other key race on April 4, for the Chicago Mayor’s chair, is officially non-partisan. Progressive groups, including unions and reproductive rights groups, line up behind Protasiewicz, while anti-abortion groups and the state’s Republicans openly back Kelly.

The Wisconsin race is important nationally for several reasons:

  • The two seek an open, but now conservative-held, swing court seat in a key swing state. Protasiewicz has already said that if elected—giving the court a 4-3 progressive majority—she would favor revisiting the state’s voter restrictions which the Republican-dominated legislature enacted. She also would overturn Wisconsin’s 1849 law, never repealed, virtually outlawing abortions, and would revisit Walker’s notorious Act 10 which emasculated worker rights in the Badger State.

“We’re saving our democracy in the state of Wisconsin,” she said after winning 46% of the vote—double Kelly’s 24%–in the first non-partisan primary on Feb. 28. Another progressive won 7% and another right-winger won 22%.

Milwaukee County Circuit Court Judge Janet Protasiewicz | PBS Wisconsin
  • A progressive majority would be able to prevent state legislative attempts to dictate the outcome of the 2024 presidential election in Wisconsin, and its 10 electoral votes, regardless of who actually wins the popular vote.

“I’m talking about the ability to vote, to have a vote that counts about women’s rights, reproductive freedoms, the fact the 2024 presidential election results could likely come into our Supreme Court chamber, just everything people care about,” Protasiewicz said after the Feb. 28 results came in.

  • Protasiewicz has also been forthright about overturning the draconian 1849 anti-abortion law, which went back into effect when the U.S. Supreme Court, in the Dobbs case in 2022, overturned the U.S. constitutional right to abortion. A Marquette University poll nationwide, done March 13-23, showed a continuing and strong two-to-one national majority for women’s reproductive rights in some or most circumstances.

Kelly favors Republican headquarters sites statewide for campaign appearances. The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reported last week he’s deliberately avoided campaigning in the city of Milwaukee—the state’s largest Democratic stronghold—turning down requests from, among others, the NAACP.

  • The race is also important for the enormous impact of the outside groups’ spending, $37 million and counting, blasting through the prior national record for a state Supreme Court race ($15 million).

Spending on TV ads

Most of that spending has gone into television ads, particularly on abortion. At least three of those ads backfired. The state affiliate of a leading business group had to pull the ads, which criticized Protasiewicz’s ruling in a rape case after the victim said the ads were lies.

“Groups bankrolling pro-Kelly commercials have been emphasizing the word ‘conservative,’ in their spots, and state Republican Chairman Brian Schimming said the party’s backing him in the nominally non-partisan election because a loss would put ‘25 years of conservative reform at risk,’” Ballotpedia reported.

Each candidate has spent more than $12.5 million on TV and digital ads, Ballotpedia reports, quoting AdImpact. “In Democratic strongholds around Milwaukee and Madison, commercials by the candidate and outside groups are emphasizing Protasiewicz’s support for abortion rights and Kelly’s alignment with anti-abortion groups,” Ballotpedia said.

Meanwhile, the Wisconsin AFL-CIO, the state’s teachers unions, and the Milwaukee Area Labor Council all endorse Protasiewicz, with the labor council running phone banks up to and through Election Day.

The Chicago Mayor, by virtue of the city’s size—it’s #3 in the U.S.—is always politically prominent nationally. But in the wake of the near-miss by a crypto-Republican in #2 Los Angeles, and the triumph of a former police commissioner in #1 New York, Chicago’s also being watched for signs of a national trend towards so-called “law and order” candidates.

In Chicago, both mayoral hopefuls, former Schools CEO Paul Vallas and Cook County Commissioner and Chicago Teachers Union member Brandon Johnson, are registered Democrats. Vallas, who hates CTU, has financial and verbal support from right-wingers as well as “establishment” Democrats led by U.S. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin and former Chicago Schools CEO Arne Duncan, who was Barack Obama’s Education Secretary.

Duncan’s “endorsement of Vallas…should not be a surprise,” CTU retorted. “Arne Duncan called Hurricane Katrina in 2005 ‘the best thing that happened to the education system in New Orleans,’” where Vallas was superintendent starting in 2007. The union called Duncan, “Vallas’s former partner-in-crime in destabilizing New Orleans’ public schools— through policies, actions, words, and deeds.”

Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson | AP

Vallas’s political affiliation is now up for grabs since his backers include two notoriously anti-worker and anti-union Republicans: Former Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner and former Donald Trump Education Secretary Elizabeth “Betsy” DeVos, part of Amway’s ruling family and its fortune, plus conservative columnist George Will.

The Chicago Federation of Police, which is not a union and whose members are known for racist policing, backs Vallas. He’s pushed crime-fighting, a thinly disguised dog whistle. And he’d lift a moratorium on new “charter” schools, which right-wingers use as a device to undercut teachers and unions.

Johnson told a recent forum at the Kenwood Academy on the South Side that he’s trying to stitch together a multi-racial, multi-cultural coalition of white progressives, Blacks, Latinos, and Asian Americans. His big backers, especially in precinct walks, include progressive unionists from the CTU, National Nurses United, and Service Employees Local 73.

The city is around 30% each white, Black, and Latino and 10% everybody else. The latest poll, of 900 registered voters, released the morning of April 3, gives Vallas 49.6% to Johnson’s 45.4%, with a 3.27% margin of error.

There are two other factors which could help Johnson. One is 14 city council runoffs, many of them involving progressive hopefuls, for a 50-person council which already has six Democratic Socialist members. The other is citywide elections, in 22 police districts, for members of a new oversight commission which will have a measure of power over the city’s cops, including recommendations for who should be superintendent.

We hope you appreciated this article. Before you go, please support great working-class and pro-people journalism by donating to People’s World.

We are not neutral. Our mission is to be a voice for truth, democracy, the environment, and socialism. We believe in people before profits. So, we take sides. Yours!

We are part of the pro-democracy media contesting the vast right-wing media propaganda ecosystem brainwashing tens of millions and putting democracy at risk.

Our journalism is free of corporate influence and paywalls because we are totally reader supported. At People’s World, we believe news and information should be free and accessible to all.

But we need your help. It takes money—a lot of it—to produce and cover unique stories you see in our pages. Only you, our readers and supporters, make this possible. If you enjoy reading People’s World and the stories we bring you, support our work by donating or becoming a monthly sustainer today.


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.