The Voters Of Ozaukee County Versus Tom Wolfgram
If Ozaukee County Circuit Judge Tom Wolfgram loses his re-election bid three weeks from now, he'll have no one but himself to blame.
Typically, it is almost impossible to defeat a sitting judge. Heck, after being elected a first time, judges almost always run for subsequent re-election unopposed.
So why is Tom Wolfgram, a former Ozaukee County DA and an appointee of former Governor Tommy Thompson, in a battle for his political life?
The answer is simple.
For reasons that pass understanding, Wolfgram was one of a relative handful of judges statewide who decided to inject themselves into partisan politics and sign the Scott Walker recall petition. Compounding the problem is that Wolfgram's explanation for this decision doesn't exactly ring true.
The Wisconsin Judicial Commission says that it was not a violation of ethical rules for judges to sign the recall petition. Still, I think it was definitely bad judgement on the part of those that did. At the very least, any judge who signed the recall petition should certainly recuse himself or herself from hearing any legal action that might involve the genesis of the recall - Act 10.
After this emerged as a campaign issue, Tom Wolfgram claimed that signing the recall petition was "not a political statement". If he didn't consider it to be such, he's undoubtedly the only person in Wisconsin who felt that way.
Instead, Wolfgram claims he signed the recall petition as a way of giving himself more time to familiarize himself with the issues surrounding the recall. Yeah, right. Why do I suspect that if a criminal defendant tried to peddle an explanation like this to Judge Wolfgram, Judge Wolfgram wouldn't be buying such weak tea?
Honestly, I think I would have respected Judge Wolfram more if he had simply come out and said that he didn't like Act 10 - or didn't like Scott Walker - or liked Tom Barrett - whatever. His proffered explanation though sounds - well - ridiculous.
I suspect the real reason Judge Wolfgram is reluctant to come clean on his decision to sign the recall petition is largely electoral math. The voters in Ozaukee County are simply not with him on this issue.
In 2010, Scott Walker carried Ozaukee County with 69% of the vote. In the recall election, Walker won with almost 71% of the vote (34,200 to 14,000). In this instance at least, the judge is certainly out of step with his constituents.
People I know and respect say that Wolfgram is a pretty decent judge. I'm also told that his challenger Joe Voiland would make a pretty good judge as well. In other words, they're both quality candidates.
As evidence of how contested this race has become, Wolfgram has contributed $20,000 toward his re-election bid. Reaching into your own wallet is something I imagine no incumbent judge would appear to be too excited about.
I don't live in Ozaukee County and can't vote in the election. As someone who lives in Milwaukee County where the majority of the judges were probably sympathetic to the recall effort (even if they didn't actually sign petitions), I don't know that I'd vote against a sitting judge simply because of this. However in Milwaukee County, voters don't often have the choices that this race offers.
Recall controversy notwithstanding, I believe Wolfgram remains the favorite. Still, I think election night will be extremely interesting up in Ozaukee County.
And if Tom Wolfgram loses, he'll have no one but himself to blame.