On the Saturday before the April election, JoAnne Kloppenburg visited Whitewater, and I went out to see her. Like most people, I’d never seen her in person, and wanted to hear her talk. (Justice Prosser’s had a more public career, in the legislature and more recently on the court; many people have run into him, one place or another, over the years.)
There were about sixty-five people in a UW-Whitewater auditorium waiting to meet her. Her previous campaign stop had been, I think, in Stevens Point, so she had a long drive to reach Whitewater.
She spoke for a bit, and then answered questions. In her address, she was what one would have expected — intelligent, educated, cautious & measured, and sincere in her manner. There’s been all sorts of rhetoric that Kloppenburg’s too extreme, too ideological, etc., but that contention has always been silly. There’s no one who, having served for over twenty-years in Wisconsin’s Justice Department, could possibly be outside the mainstream of her profession. In her other pursuits, she’s very much an example of a successful, capable attorney with an interest in charitable causes and a kind of social justice.
(In his own way, Justice Prosser is also representative of a type of Wisconsinite. Prosser and Kloppenburg may differ on many things, but they’re only eleven years apart, and both are graduated from UW-Madison Law School.)
If one, having heard her speak, and learning of her background, doesn’t see that she’s an example of an accomplished professional — apart from any given political view — then one simply lacks an understanding of contemporary upper-middle-class life. She should be immediately recognizable as a smart, socially-committed Madisonian. Her views are not always my own, but that’s not necessary to appraise her accurately.
As I listened to her, I thought: the right will mistake your careful, thoughtful manner for weakness.
Sure enough, Jim Troupis, Republican attorney, Prosser’s attorney, and defender of caucus-scandal Republicans, thought he could scare her from a recount by declaring that even the request for a lawful recount would be met with a legal challenge, as frivolous. The law allows her a recount, at state expense, but Troupis threatened to sue to stop any recount request.
Prosser paid Troupis too much — Kloppenburg was likely to demand a recount in any event, but Troupis’s challenge made it certain that she would. He wanted to scare her away from exercising her legal right.
He may have felt that she’d request a recount regardless, and so that he might as well state the GOP position in response — that she was just wasting money on a futile effort.
I don’t think that’s all of it, though. I’d guess he and others thought they saw weakness in her, weakness in upper-middle-class, left-of-center women like her, and that she could be induced to back down. (When she made her request for a recount yesterday, the Wisconsin GOP used this theme of her supposed weakness, contending that “JoAnne Kloppenburg is too weak to say ‘no’ to the liberal special interests that pushed her into the spotlight in the first place.”)
Even if there are upper-middle-class women, somewhat left-of-center, who are particulary weak, then I don’t think Kloppenburg’s one of them. One can be quite sure, though, that the Wisconsin GOP — by its own account — sees her this way.
They’re mistaken about her, having confused — perhaps wishfully — a careful manner for timidity.