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State & Local

Wisconsin Justice Pressures Challenger to Forego Recount

MADISON, Wis. -- Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice David Prosser's campaign consultants pressured his challenger to forego a re-count in their messy race Monday, warning that such efforts would be costly and frivolous. 

County tallies completed last week showed Prosser defeated JoAnne Kloppenburg by 7,316 votes. She has until Wednesday to request a re-count, which would be conducted at the expense of local governments across the state. 

Kloppenburg's campaign said Monday she was still weighing her options, but Prosser's allies pressured her to accept defeat. Prosser consultant Brian Schimming told reporters at a state Capitol news conference that Kloppenburg can't realistically make up 7,000-plus votes and a re-count would mean hundreds of hours of work for local election officials and cost taxpayers. 

"It's just not close enough to merit it," he said. 

Prosser's attorney, Jim Troupis, promised to fight any re-count request. He declined to say on what grounds, saying he wanted to see what Kloppenburg would use as a justification for a request. Under state law, a candidate must supply a reason for a re-count. 

"The idea that this is anything but frivolous ... is unsustainable," Troupis said. 

In response, Kloppenburg campaign manager Melissa Mulliken noted that state law provides for a recount at government expense if the margin between the candidates is less than one half of one percent of the total votes cast. The total falls within that margin, she said. 

"We are weighing the options and carefully making this decision and we have not made it yet," she said. 

Schimming and Troupis' remarks came after Prosser delivered a 25-minute victory speech. 

Wearing a tie emblazoned with tiny scales of justice, the conservative-leaning justice thanked voters for rejecting Kloppenburg supporters' efforts to link him to Republican Gov. Scott Walker and Walker's polarizing union legislation. 

He said judges should be impartial and their decisions should never be based on personal desires. 

Moments later he thanked people he met during the campaign whom he said were committed to advancing conservative values. He also thanked the high court's conservative majority for its support. 

He didn't directly address a re-count in his speech, referring questions to Schimming and his attorneys. But he did vow to fight. 

"I want my friends to know that come what may ... I do not intend to go gently into that good night," he said. He left the news conference with a wave and didn't take questions. 

Prosser, a 12-year court veteran and a former Assembly Republican speaker, went into the race as the heavy favorite against Kloppenburg, an unknown state attorney. 

But Walker's collective bargaining proposal changed the face of the race. 

The bill stripped nearly all public workers from of most of their collective bargaining rights and required they contribute more to their pensions and salaries, changes that amount to an average 8 percent pay cut. 

Walker said the plan would help close the state's budget deficit and help local governments deal with deep cuts to state aid. Democrats saw the plan as an attack on unions, which are among their strongest constituencies. 

The law sparked massive protests in Madison and 14 Senate Democrats fled to Illinois to block a vote on the plan. Republicans maneuvered to approve the measure without them, and Walker signed the plan into law last month. But the law is now tied up in court and hasn't taken effect. 

Kloppenburg's supporters redefined the Supreme Court race as a referendum on Walker, hoping a Kloppenburg upset would tilt the court to the left and set up the justices to strike the law down. 

Kloppenburg's campaign surged in the final weeks before the April 5 election. 

Initial returns showed she had beaten Prosser by about 200 votes, but then Waukesha County's clerk announced she had failed to report 14,000 votes. Those ballots flipped the race to Prosser. 

The clerk, Kathy Nickolaus, worked for Prosser when he was in the Assembly in the mid-1990s, but she has insisted she made an honest mistake and wasn't overtly trying to help the justice. 

Officials with the state Government Accountability Board, which oversees Wisconsin elections, planned to issue a report Tuesday on whether Waukesha County's numbers were accurate. A more comprehensive review of Nickolaus' election night practices is ongoing. 

Board spokesman Reid Magney said the board didn't have any estimates of what statewide recounts have cost in the past.