Highlights from the Daniel Kelly, Janet Protasiewicz debate

The 2023 candidates for an open seat on the Wisconsin Supreme Court clashed directly in personal terms during their lone one-on-one debate, hurling accusations of partisanship, lying and slander.

By Zac Schultz, Frederica Freyberg | Here & Now

March 24, 2023

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Like prizefighters entering the ring, Daniel Kelly and Janet Protasiewicz descended opposite sides of a curved staircase on their way to the stage on March 21 for their only debate of the Wisconsin Supreme Court election — and then spent the next hour hitting each other with verbal blows.

“I am running against probably one of the most extreme partisan characters in the history of this state.” Protasiewicz said.

“Again, this is you being quick to lie,” Kelly said.

The 2023 election will determine the ideological balance of the Wisconsin Supreme Court, and as the campaign became the most expensive state high-court election in United States’ history, the debate became more and more partisan, with a heavy focus on topics like Wisconsin’s 1849 abortion ban.

“But I can tell you that if my opponent is elected, he can tell you with 100% certainty — that 1849 abortion ban will stay on the books. I can tell you that,” said Protasiewicz. “Take a look at Wisconsin Right to Life’s website. There’s a picture of him as their endorsed candidate with the language that he has pledged, pledged to uphold their values.”

“Justice Kelly, your response?” a moderator asked.

“Yeah, that’s absolutely not true. Once again, this seems to be a pattern for you, Janet — just telling lies about me,” said Kelly. “You don’t know what I’m thinking about that abortion ban. You have no idea.”

The accusations of lying and slander covered topics like what promises they made to special interest groups, whether their campaign ads are distortions of the truth, and whether electing their opponent was a threat to democracy.

“Andrew Hitt, who was the head of the Republican Party, testified in the January 6th hearings that he had extensive conversations with my opponent — extensive, extensive conversations with them about the fake electors. He is a true threat to our democracy,” Protasiewicz said.

“Justice Kelly, you have 30 seconds,” a moderator said.

“So once again, you’re lying,” Kelly said. “So you might not know this, but the Republican Party had multiple attorneys. His testimony was he had extensive conversations with his attorneys — plural.”

The debate ended as it began, with no handshake and the campaigns arguing the other side was lying.

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