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Rebecca Bradley: Belling is wrong about Daniel Kelly

In his recent column in this newspaper, Mark Belling says Justice Kelly “seem(s) mostly motivated to avenge an unfair defeat” and is “likely to lose again.” Mr. Belling is wrong on both counts.

Justice Kelly is running to uphold the constitutional rights and liberties of the people of Wisconsin, just as he did unwaveringly, in decision after decision, for four years. At a recent forum, Judge Dorow said she is running because the timing is good for her. Justice Kelly is the only candidate who can defeat the progressive activist most likely to survive the primary, who has promised to infect the Wisconsin Supreme Court with her “values” instead of applying the law.

Tellingly absent from Mr. Belling’s case for Judge Dorow is any explanation of why she would be the better justice. All he submits on Judge Dorow’s behalf are unsupported declarations that she can win but Justice Kelly cannot. These candidates are not interchangeable, and suggesting they would decide cases the same way misunderstands the judicial role. Justices do not vote on cases the way political actors cast votes on proposed legislation. We are supposed to base our decisions on the original public meaning of the Constitution and the text of the statutory laws. That’s what being a judicial conservative means. And Justice Kelly is the only candidate in the race with a record establishing a commitment to that philosophy.

If voters follow Mr. Belling’s advice to vote for the “‘now’ candidate” instead of Justice Kelly, they will be taking a gamble. We have no idea how Judge Dorow will decide cases. In 2019, I supported Justice Brian Hagedorn. In 2020, he voted to uphold the governor’s unlawful lockdown order.

Thankfully, Justice Kelly’s deep understanding of the law ensured there were four votes to protect the constitutional rights of the people from governmental overreach. How does Mr. Belling know that Judge Dorow would have done the same? At the first debate in this race, Judge Dorow wouldn’t answer questions about settled cases, instead repeating the same mantra about the rule of law that every candidate echoes.

That first debate, hosted by WisPolitics, was the easiest one there will be in this election cycle. I encourage everyone to watch it in its entirety; it is available on YouTube. In response to every question, Judge Dorow was the only candidate who responded with prepared statements read from a binder. Whoever makes it out of the primary must be prepared to fight through the general election. A candidate using a binder to provide answers to questions is simply unprepared for the rigors of a statewide campaign, much less to do the job of a Supreme Court justice.

Mr. Belling says that “if (Justice) Kelly gets through the Supreme Court primary” he “is likely to lose the general election (again) to the surviving liberal candidate.” Mr.

Belling does not, however, tell us why he thinks that. With no presidential preference primary on the ballot, history tells us Justice Kelly is likely to win. In 2020, Justice Kelly earned nearly 700,000 votes. In the most recent Supreme Court election without a presidential preference primary on the ballot, Justice Hagedorn won with just over 600,000. The year before that, Justice Dallet won with about 550,000 votes. Judge Dorow has never run a contested campaign.

Mr. Belling next touts Justice Pat Roggensack’s endorsement of Judge Dorow. He does not mention that Justice Roggensack declined to endorse me when I was challenged by uberliberal Judge JoAnne Kloppenburg in 2016. Most recently, Justice Roggensack endorsed Judge Jeff Davis (appointed by Governor Evers) for the court of appeals instead of endorsing Judge Shelley Grogan, the most pre-eminent constitutional conservative on that bench. Justice Roggensack, by the way, lost her first race for Supreme Court. So did Justice Patrick Crooks.

Mr. Belling repeatedly attacks Justice Kelly and his campaign staff with name-calling, going so far as to accuse them of “planting anti-Dorow stories in the media.” Of course, the same people who join Mr. Belling in criticizing Justice Kelly for comparing his record to Judge Dorow’s are guilty of attacking Justice Kelly. Setting aside the hypocrisy of this double standard, Mr. Belling (along with much of the conservative media) does a disservice to the voters of Wisconsin by refusing to objectively investigate the candidates and report their records. Rest assured the mainstream media will likewise protect its preferred candidate, but will employ the usual politics of personal destruction against Judge Dorow should she survive the primary.

Mr. Belling says “Kelly should get out of the race now” or “(t)he alternative is to, in desperation, use his PAC money donations to slime Dorow and pave the way for a liberal to win the general election.” Mr. Belling is doing the very thing he (wrongly) accuses Justice Kelly of doing: sliming the only proven constitutional conservative in this race, thereby “paving the way” for the progressive candidate to win the general election. If there is something with which to “slime” Judge Dorow, does Mr. Belling really think her opponents (including the mainstream media) won’t come after her post-primary?

Insulating Judge Dorow now from the inevitable attacks to come only sets her up to lose.

I agree with Mr. Belling on the only valid points in his column: “Kelly was an outstanding state Supreme Court justice” and “(t)his Supreme Court election is too important to lose.” Like Mr. Belling, I once supported a candidate on blind faith. I won’t make that mistake again. I urge the people of Wisconsin to join me in voting for Justice Daniel Kelly.

(Rebecca Grassl Bradley is a Wisconsin Supreme Court justice.)