MILWAUKEE — A conservative
candidate for Wisconsin Supreme Court whose views on gay rights
have come under scrutiny said Wednesday the criticism he's
received is an unfair attack on his faith.
State Appeals Court Judge Brian
Hagedorn blamed his opponents for making his personal beliefs part
of his candidacy and insisted that he would be an impartial
justice. Hagedorn is an evangelical Christian who helped start a
private school where students can be expelled for being gay.
"The articles are attacking a
statement of faith," Hagedorn said, answering questions at
the Milwaukee Press Club. He was referring to coverage about his
private school and a personal blog he kept more than a decade ago,
where he once opined that a U.S. Supreme Court decision striking
down a Texas anti-sodomy law could lead to the legalization of
"Everyone should be treated
with dignity and respect. That's the way I've conducted myself,
that's the way I've always conducted myself," Hagedorn said,
insisting that he doesn't allow his personal beliefs to influence
his judicial work. "What we have here are people who I think
want me to sign on to a moral and religious code of themselves.
And if I don't sign on to it they're saying I am not fit for
Hagedorn is running against state
Appeals Court Judge Lisa Neubauer, who is backed by liberals. The
April 2 contest gives liberals a chance to control the Supreme
Court if they win this race and another seat up for election next
year. Conservatives currently control the court 4-3.
The court could face big decisions
on several partisan issues in the coming years, including on the
next round of redistricting that follows the 2020 Census, lawsuits
challenging the massive Foxconn Technology Group project backed by
President Donald Trump, and attempts to undo laws that Republicans
passed during a recent lame-duck session to weaken the incoming
Democratic governor before he took office.
The race has drawn the attention of
former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, who announced Monday
that his National Democratic Redistricting Committee will spend
$350,000 to help Neubauer.
Also on Wednesday, the liberal
Greater Wisconsin Committee launched an attack ad
against Hagedorn that it said was running on broadcast and cable
channels as well as digitally. The spot says Hagedorn's past
comments and actions show that he can't be trusted to be fair. The
group last month reported spending $10,000 on a digital ad, but
how much it was spending on the latest effort was not immediately
Hagedorn previously argued that the
U.S. Constitution gives deference to the states on whether to
allow prayer in schools and that nothing in the Constitution bars
a state from declaring its own official religion. But he reversed
course in an email to the Journal Sentinel Tuesday, saying that
"under current doctrine, it is clear no state may establish
their own religion."
MADISON, Wis. — The leader
of the Wisconsin Senate's sporting heritage committee spent more
than three hours interrogating Gov. Tony Evers' pick for
Department of Natural Resources secretary during a confirmation
hearing Thursday, peppering him with questions about his
management style and how tough he would be on polluters.
Minocqua Republican Tom Tiffany said he was worried about going
back to the "dark Doyle days," when then-Democratic Gov. Jim
Doyle's secretaries ran the DNR. Republicans felt the agency
threw up too many regulatory roadblocks to business expansion
under Doyle and they spent the last eight years under GOP Gov.
Scott Walker rolling back environmental protections, to the
benefit of industry.
Tiffany's questions for new DNR Secretary-designee Preston Cole
focused on his leadership style, signaling that the GOP is
worried that Evers will take a firmer hand on regulation.
"I have confidence in (Cole), but who's going to run the
Department of Natural Resources? Is it going to be the east
wing?" Tiffany said, referring the section of the state Capitol
that houses Evers' office. "We want them to do their job as
regulators, but we don't want to go back to the dark Doyle
Tiffany asked Cole how he differs from Evers and how he would
approach things if he and Evers disagreed about an issue. Cole,
keeping his voice even, responded that Evers hired him and if
they disagreed he would act not just as an employee but as an
Tiffany went on to ask Cole how he would combat "bloat" in the
DNR and how he would deal with employees who believe the DNR has
more authority than it does under state law, at one point
calling DNR Assistant Deputy Secretary Todd Ambs "a one-man
wrecking ball" on water regulation. Ambs led the agency's water
division under Doyle and most recently worked as director of
Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition, which works to
preserve the Great Lakes, before Cole brought him back to the
DNR in January.
Cole defended Ambs as "honest, trustworthy and brave."
Tiffany also questioned Cole on how he'll approach pollution
enforcement, asking if the department will measure success by
the number of compliance agreements or violations cited.
"Maybe a little of both," Cole said. "You have the enforcement
arm of the organization for a reason."
Tiffany also complained that he'd heard from some businesses
that the DNR had "slow-rolled" permits for wetland construction.
Cole said hadn't heard that term before and added that the
agency was within its self-imposed deadlines for issuing general
and individual permits.
The committee also questioned Cole on the lack of a long-term
strategy for dealing with chronic wasting disease. The fatal
deer brain disease has spread to 26 counties since it was
discovered near Mount Horeb in 2002. Walker took a largely
hands-off approach, drawing the ire of conservationists and
Democrats. Evers' state budget doesn't call for any additional
money to combat the disease or offer a long-term plan to slow
Cole said the agency wants to continue researching the disease
and watching what other states do in an effort to save money. He
noted that Michigan State University is working on a test that
would allow hunters to confirm whether their kills are infected
within days. He also said the agency is in the midst of a
four-year deer mortality study that will inform strategy. The
agency is about two years into the study.
"We're going to let the science come to us," he said. "It's a
multi-faceted issue. We're on it."
Tiffany seemed frustrated with that response.
"Gov. Walker took tremendous heat for not doing something about
CWD and you guys can't commit to doing something by 2020?"
His questioning was so extensive that at one point, his fellow
Republican, Sen. Devin LeMahieum, said he had to ask a question
because "I need a break from listening to Tom talk."
It's unclear if or when the committee will vote on whether to
recommend the full Senate confirm Cole. Tiffany said after the
hearing he needs to consider whether Cole is a good choice for
secretary and he needs to confer with GOP leadership.
Cole can serve until the Senate votes to reject his appointment.
Evers' capital budget calls for $2 billion in new borrowing
MADISON, Wis. — Gov. Tony
Evers' capital budget proposal calls for borrowing $2
billion over the next two fiscal years for projects ranging
from building new juvenile corrections facilities, a new
state office building in Milwaukee and upgrading buildings
around the University of Wisconsin System.
The proposal must pass both the state building commission
and the Legislature's budget-writing committee.
The plan calls for $90 million in new borrowing to help
build three new facilities for juvenile inmates to replace
the state's troubled youth prison near Irma. State law
already has authorized $25 million in borrowing for the
The budget also calls for $94 million in new borrowing to
help build a new state office building and parking structure
in Milwaukee and nearly $900 million in new borrowing for UW