MADISON, Wisconsin — Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Ann Walsh Bradley defended herself from accusations by challenger Rock County Circuit Judge James Daley in a debate Friday that she's a liberal with "extreme beliefs," saying she has a broad base of bipartisan support in her re-election bid.
Bradley, in the only debate broadcast statewide in the race, said Daley is injecting partisanship into the officially nonpartisan race by actively courting Republicans and accepting donations from the state and county GOP parties.
"Political parties have agendas and we can't have courts with agendas," Bradley said. "I need, want and have support from Republicans, Democrats and independents from all around the state. But it's a whole new step when you have a political party funding a campaign."
The race will be decided April 7. The winner will serve a 10-year term on the seven-member court that has been at the center of some of the biggest issues in Wisconsin in recent years, including upholding Gov. Scott Walker's law that curtailed collective bargaining for public workers.
Conservatives hold a 4-2 majority on the court, with Bradley in the minority. One justice is considered a swing vote.
The debate, like much of the race, focused on whether party politics are taking over the contest.
Daley accepted a $7,000 in-kind contribution from the state Republican Party and $500 from the Walworth County GOP. He deflected Bradley's criticisms, saying he was exercising his First Amendment rights and speaking to like-minded voters by going to Republican events around the state.
"I have not done anything illegal," he said.
Daley accused Bradley of pursuing her "own brand of liberal, extreme political beliefs" and said she was placing that above the rule of law and common sense.
Bradley rejected Daley's labeling of her as a liberal, activist judge.
"My philosophy is to call them like I see them," she said. "Based on the facts in the law, each case is different. ... We aren't to support any policy of a political party. Our only agenda is to uphold the constitution and serve the people of the state."
She cited her support from more than 170 judges around the state as evidence that her judicial philosophy was acceptable. Daley's website lists support from sheriffs, district attorneys and other officeholders, but no judges. He also has the backing of several organizations including Wisconsin Right to Life and the Milwaukee Police Association.
Daley criticized Bradley for dissenting from the ruling upholding the collective bargaining law and another upholding the voter identification law.
The U.S. Supreme Court this week refused to hear a separate challenge to the voter ID law. It will take effect after the April 7 election.
Daley served three terms as Rock County district attorney before then-Gov. Tommy Thompson, a Republican, appointed him as a judge there in 1989.
Bradley has been on the Supreme Court since 1995 and is the second most veteran member behind Abrahamson.
State elections officials are predicting 20 percent turnout for the April 7 election.
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