MADISON, Wisconsin (Reuters) - A Wisconsin Supreme Court judge claimed victory on Monday in a tight local election widely viewed as a referendum on a hotly contested Republican measure curbing the power of unions.
Incumbent Justice David Prosser said the tally from the April 6 election showed him beating challenger JoAnne Kloppenburg, by 7,316 votes — a margin of just below 0.5 percent of the almost 1.5 million votes cast.
Prosser, a former Republican legislator, said “powerful forces, not always clearly identified” tried to turn the election into a referendum on Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, a Republican who pushed for and signed the anti-union bill.
“Fortunately, Wisconsin voters rejected this effort,” Prosser told reporters. “They ultimately understood that this election was about filling a 10-year term on the Supreme Court of Wisconsin and that candidates for the office should not commit themselves, directly or indirectly, on cases that have not yet come before the court.”
Also on Monday, Wisconsin Democrats filed petitions to force a recall election against a third Republican state senator who voted for the union curbs in March and said they expected to file against a fourth Republican senator Tuesday.
Wisconsin’s law that sharply curbs collective bargaining rights and threatens unions has been challenged in state court, and the Wisconsin Supreme Court could eventually decide its fate. Prosser provides the seven-member court a majority of four conservatives against three liberals.
The polarizing law sparked raucous demonstrations in state capitals in Wisconsin, Ohio, Indiana and other Republican-led states enacting similar measures.
The law also has sparked recall efforts against all 16 Wisconsin state Senators who are eligible to be recalled this year, eight of them Democrats who left the state to avoid a vote on the measure and eight Republicans who voted for it.
Democrats filed petitions on Monday to force a recall election against Republican Sen. Luther Olsen of Ripon, who represents the 14th district. They expect to file petitions against Republican Sheila Harsdorf on Tuesday.
Democrats previously filed petitions against Republican Senators Dan Kapanke and Randy Hopper. The deadlines to file petitions against the other senators range from next week to mid May.
The state Government Accountability Board has 60 days to review petitions, during which the targeted lawmaker may challenge them. Kapanke challenged his petitions on Friday.
In the Supreme Court election, Prosser’s aides urged there be no expensive recount of the vote, though the slim margin would allow Kloppenburg to request one paid for by the state.
The day after the election, Kloppenburg was leading in the vote count and claimed victory. But a local official subsequently discovered 14,000 uncounted votes, which overturned the result and provided Prosser’s victory margin.
Reporting by Jeff Mayers and David Bailey; Writing by Andrew Stern; Editing by Greg McCune