Reid Epstein in The New York Times reports Wisconsin is facing two pivotal elections that will determine the course of democracy in Wisconsin. The first is the election for governor this November, the race between Republican Tim Michels and Democratic incumbent Gov. Tony Evers.

During the primary campaign, Mr. Michels promised to replace the Wisconsin Elections Commission with an agency that would effectively be under the control of Republicans. And while he never explicitly endorsed decertifying Wisconsin’s 2020 presidential election, Mr. Michels did not rule it out, either, saying enough to appease Mr. Trump — who has repeatedly demanded such a move.

At campaign stops and during primary debates, Mr. Michels invoked films about the 2020 election that propagate conspiracy theories falsely suggesting that Mr. Trump was the real winner. He claimed without evidence that there had been fraud in the state and pledged to prosecute the perpetrators.

“I’ve seen the movies ‘2000 Mules’ and ‘Rigged.’ And I’ll tell you, I know that there was a lot of voter fraud,” Mr. Michels said at a recent rally in Kaukauna, a small industrial city in the state’s politically swingy Fox Valley. “When I am sworn in as governor, I will look at all the evidence that is out there in January and I will do the right thing. Everything is on the table. And if people broke the law, broke election laws, I will prosecute them.”

Yes, really, Michels is endorsing the movie 2000 Mules. It’s not often that being a horrible judge of cinema makes someone unfit to hold public office, so Michels is definitely breaking new ground here. Someone should ask Michels if he thinks Oliver Stone’s JFK was a documentary, if man really walked on the moon, if the Sandy Hook shooting really happened or if 9/11 was faked by the Bush Administration.

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But the danger is not so much whether Michels is merely a tin foil hat conspiracy theorist. In addition to probably rubber stamping election law changes by a Republican-controlled legislature that will make it more difficult to vote absentee, Michels will be in a position to refuse to certify the results of the 2024 presidential election, potentially putting Wisconsin at the center of a constitutional crisis.

The other race that’s of concern, according to Epstein, is the 2023 race for the Wisconsin Supreme Court.

While Mr. Evers has presented himself as a human guardrail against a Republican takeover of the state’s election system, the Supreme Court election in April will affect the state’s voting laws for years.

Two liberal candidates, Janet Protasiewicz, a Milwaukee County judge, and Everett Mitchell, a county judge in Madison, have already begun their campaigns. Former Justice Dan Kelly, a conservative appointed by Gov. Scott Walker who lost re-election in 2020, is considering running again but has yet to announce a bid. The candidates will all run together in a single nonpartisan primary in February, with the top two advancing to a general election in April.

Epstein points out that the Wisconsin Supreme Court narrowly ruled, 4-3 with Justice Brian Hagedorn joining the court’s three liberals, that against President Donald Trump’s challenge to the 2020 election results in Wisconsin. What Epstein is not reporting here is that Kelly is currently on the “election integrity” tour of Republican gatherings around the state. While Kelly has claimed that the evidence presented to the Supreme Court would not have been enough to overturn the election, he told WisPolitics, “I think substantively they took a swing and a miss on some questions they should’ve answered.”

Clearly, if Kelly had been on the Court, Trump’s challenge would have continued, throwing doubt on the outcome and giving Republicans an excuse to overturn Wisconsin’s election results in Congress.

On the other hand, Wisconsin Democrats seem determined to providing the argument for putting Kelly back on the Supreme Court. Epstein reports:

Electing a liberal justice to replace the retiring conservative, Justice Patience D. Roggensack, would give Wisconsin Democrats an opportunity to enact a host of measures that currently have no shot at passing in the Republican-led Legislature. Bringing new lawsuits through the courts, they could potentially undo the gerrymandered legislative districts; reverse the drop box decision; and overturn the state’s 1849 law criminalizing abortion, which went back into effect in June when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade.

And if you think Epstein is overstating Democrats’ desire for an activist Supreme Court,

Wisconsin Democrats are already envisioning, if they win the election in April and take a 4-to-3 majority, a political transformation of the state.

“In terms of the ability to change Wisconsin in two years, this could be an utterly different state,” said Kelda Roys, a Democratic state senator from Madison. “That is our real opportunity to not just stop the bad stuff from happening, but actually restore real democracy and accountability to Wisconsin, things like abortion rights and fair elections where your candidate might actually win.”

If Democrats try to make the 2023 Supreme Court race the election of all elections, they should not be surprised when Republicans respond accordingly.

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