In This Episode
- Judge Janet Protasiewicz won a seat on the Wisconsin Supreme Court, giving liberals control of the state’s highest court for the first time in 15 years. Ben Wikler, chair of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin, joins us to discuss the impact it will have on the battleground state.
- And in headlines: former Vice President Mike Pence won’t appeal a ruling ordering him to testify in the DOJ’s January 6th probe, a judge said Rupert Murdoch can be forced to take the stand in the Fox News defamation trial, and Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer officially repealed the state’s 92-year-old abortion ban.
- Vote Save America – https://votesaveamerica.com/
- What A Day – YouTube – https://www.youtube.com/@whatadaypodcast
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Priyanka Aribindi: It’s Thursday, April 6th. I’m Priyanka Aribindi.
Juanita Tolliver: And I’m Juanita Tolliver. And this is What A Day where if Showtime is going to cancel Ziwe’s talk show after just two seasons, we are fully prepared to give her ours. Are we though Priyanka? [laughing]
Priyanka Aribindi: I mean at the very least, she’d be an iconic guest.
Juanita Tolliver: Truth and her outfits do deserve cameras. But we’ve got a microphone for her any time she wants to pull up a chair. Come on over. [music break]
Priyanka Aribindi: On today’s show, former Vice President Mike Pence agreed to testify before the grand jury investigating the January 6th insurrection. Plus, it may be time for all of us to take back every bad thing we have ever said about New Jersey.
Juanita Tolliver: Everything?
Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah, I don’t know. But we’re going to find out more details. [laugh]
Juanita Tolliver: But first, we are still riding high from Judge Janet Protasiewicz’s glorious one in Wisconsin that flipped control of the state Supreme Court to liberals for the first time in 15 years. Listen to how she kicked off her victory party on Tuesday night:
[clip of unidentified speaker] Janet Protasiewicz! [cheers] [clip of Lizzo’s About Damn Time music plays]
Priyanka Aribindi: [?] dancing.
Juanita Tolliver: I mean she is indeed a bad bitch, though like come on.
Priyanka Aribindi: It’s a fact, facts only.
Juanita Tolliver: Honestly, Lizzo is the only appropriate option when you beat somebody the way that Judge Protasiewicz beat Daniel Kelly. And for our listeners who may not know, Dan Kelly is the MAGA Republican who tried to orchestrate a fake elector scam in 2020 and whose top donors were anti-abortion groups. So yeah, that guy, well, Protasiewicz beat him with an 11 point margin, which is huge when you consider the fact that Biden won Wisconsin by less than one percentage point in 2020. So that’s remarkable in and of itself.
Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah.
Juanita Tolliver: And to fuel her win, preliminary analysis shows that the Protasiewicz campaign made massive gains with youth voters, rural voters and women voters. I saw the lines on college campuses. The videos were on Twitter all day Tuesday. And I was thrilled because the young people showed up and showed out.
Priyanka Aribindi: Definitely. It’s what you want to see.
Juanita Tolliver: Now, a lot of that is thanks in part to the organizers on the ground who worked tirelessly knocking on doors and getting voters to the poll, as well as the fact that the themes that Judge Protasiewicz ran on resonated across the board. Our own Vote Save America team has been invested in this race and during the past two months, the VSA community raised more than $111,000 to support voter turnout, which wound up being the highest ever voter turnout for a Wisconsin spring election. Had 490 virtual volunteer signups and made 50,000 voter contacts. So talk about impact from the VSA Team. I’m here for it.
Priyanka Aribindi: That is huge. Congratulations to the VSA community, our listeners who participated. That’s amazing. Thank you so much for your efforts. It did not go unnoticed. It is not unappreciated.
Juanita Tolliver: And now let’s take it back to the messaging point. And I need Democrats to listen up. Protecting abortion rights is a winning message. Protecting our democracy is a winning message. And this win could not have come at a better moment as the Wisconsin Supreme Court is set to hear cases related to abortion access, redistricting and fair maps, as well as any potential challenges to Electoral College votes in the upcoming 2024 presidential election. Since we all know that is one of Trump’s favorite pastimes.
Priyanka Aribindi: Hmm. Absolutely. I mean, the scope of what this court will touch is so broad, so impactful, and it is so important that Judge Protasiewicz has been elected to this post, it is huge.
Juanita Tolliver: Now, to dig into all the details of this long and expensive election, as well as why Republicans will probably learn absolutely nothing from this off year loss. We caught up with the chair of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin, Ben Wikler. Ben, thank you so much for joining the show.
Ben Wikler: It is great to be with you.
Priyanka Aribindi: We’re so excited to have you. So this campaign was relatively short. But as you said in your statement, this victory is the result of years of work. So how are you feeling about this win and what does this mean for the people of Wisconsin?
Ben Wikler: I kind of was just floating on a cloud until I was driving home today. I stayed overnight in Milwaukee. I live in Madison. And it just hit me that this kind of state of almost panic that we’ve all experienced in Wisconsin in some ways for the last 12 years, that things could fall apart completely and in many ways have fallen apart, like we have this total abortion ban on the books. We’ve lost more union density than any other state in the country. We have some of the biggest racial disparities in the country across pretty much every indicator. We’ve had crises of OB-GYNs, of teacher shortages of all these different things, and things could get even worse. It could be permanently rigged for Republican control and the sense that, like the state could be permanently broken, that now is lifted and we actually have a chance to fight for and win changes that could make life better for everybody here in a way that didn’t seem possible a few days ago and that it’s so profound. I started crying in the car. I am still wrapping my mind around it. My kids are going to grow up in something resembling a democracy instead of whatever Wisconsin has been for the last 12 years.
Juanita Tolliver: And we know that Judge Protasiewicz’s campaign was driven by her personal principles. Right. And she didn’t necessarily talk about how she’d rule in future cases, but she made it clear she supports a woman’s right to choose. She supports free and fair elections, for example. Right. Like. What do you think resonated most in her messaging to voters that really put her over the line in this race?
Ben Wikler: I think you just said it. Her belief in reproductive freedom and her belief in democracy were just exactly what people needed to hear and a huge breath of fresh air after this very kind of hard right extremist rogue court and the state legislature that it’s essentially created as an ultra gerrymandered Republican lock. Janet Protasiewicz is talking about a very different future for the state and the biggest issue for voters that caused people to cast ballots who wouldn’t have otherwise. And it persuaded voters who might have gone the other way, really was the question of whether people should have the freedom to access a safe and legal abortion. The issues of abortion and democracy are linked because it’s only in a broken democracy that the Republicans could think they could get away with an almost total ban on abortion in a state that is two thirds supportive of Roe versus Wade. So you have to fix the democracy to be able to address reproductive freedom. And reproductive freedom is also the thing that energized the electorate so directly in order to be able to fix the democracy.
Priyanka Aribindi: Definitely. I mean, we have talked quite a bit on our show about this being such an important race, if not the most consequential race of 2023. And this isn’t just about issues specific to Wisconsin. You know, why should people in other states be paying attention? Why should people in other states be excited and energized by this win?
Ben Wikler: One reason is Wisconsin is a microcosm of the whole country. So if this worked here, it shows that this message can work in battleground states across the nation in any place where there’s a contested race between the kind of MAGA extremists and people who believe in freedom and democracy in the United States. But the other reason is that Wisconsin’s the tipping point in the Electoral College, and so whatever happens here could determine the winner of the next presidential election. Having a Supreme Court that believes in voting rights instead of attacking voting rights can make all the difference in November. And even kind of alarmingly, Wisconsin came closer than any other state to overturning its 2020 election results by way of the state Supreme Court. If Dan Kelly had been on the state Supreme Court in 2020, we would have overturn the election results. And the election deniers who funded Stop the Steal were the biggest funders of his campaign. So the fact that he will not be on the court and we’ll have someone who believes in the sanctity of the vote and of honoring what voters choose, it means that we don’t have to be on alert for the winner of the 2024 presidential election to be determined by four state Supreme Court justices in Wisconsin. And frankly, this also is 2028 and 2032 because it’s a ten year term.
Juanita Tolliver: I think the look ahead is so critical, especially knowing that Trump has spawned, you know, acolytes who are running with his same vision and same intentions, who actually could be smarter than him in getting more things done. So having this layer of protection, I think, is critical, like you said, for the next ten years and you already called Dan Kelly a MAGA extremist candidate. Right. But he’s also a candidate who Wisconsin voters have rejected not once but twice. So multiple time loser now. Do you think his loss is going to help the GOP to finally understand that these extremist candidates aren’t who voters want, especially when you look at young voters, women voters who overwhelmingly supported Judge Protasiewicz?
Ben Wikler: I hope with all my heart that this will de-radicalize the GOP eventually. If they want to actually win elections, then they’ll have to figure out where most of the voters are. That said, there’s a Republican civil war going on, and the biggest donors are also the most extreme right wingers in the GOP camp right now. To give one example of how this works, there was a moment when a few Republican state legislators proposed adding an exception for cases of rape or incest to Wisconsin’s abortion ban, and then they immediately got engulfed in political flames by other Republicans who refused to even consider that having a ban that starts at zero weeks but has that one protection if you have a police report showing that you made an allegation against your own family member, that is no comfort to the people in Wisconsin who might get pregnant in those conditions. But even that was a bridge too far for a lot of the people pulling the strings within the Republican Party. So it might take a little while for the GOP to reconfigure itself. I hope that they do. I’d rather not have this kind of cataclysmic state.
Juanita Tolliver: I know you heard a bit of Dan Kelly’s concession speech. He had some choice words about Judge Janet. And I would love your quick reactions to what he had to say and how it shows that he hasn’t learned any lessons. I mean, we’re talking about the GOP learning some lessons here. Dan Kelly has not learned any lessons. And he seems to stand ten toes down in his position in this extremist MAGA reality he’s living in.
Ben Wikler: Dan Kelly gave the most graceless pseudo concession speech that I’ve ever seen in American politics, and he did it from this place of entitlement as though he deserved not only to be awarded the state Supreme Court seat, but also that he should have been able to waltz into it with no scrutiny or accountability. This is a guy who helped advise the fake elector scheme in 2020 and is furious because he keeps getting called out on it. Meanwhile, his campaign was running shot by shot remakes of the Willie Horton ad attacking Janet Protasiewicz. I mean, it was the most despicable, disgusting, racist, transphobic campaign I’ve ever seen. And that’s saying a lot because I was here when Ron Johnson ran against Mandela Barnes last year. I really think it was a moment when the mask came off and people could see what this movement thinks of the public and what they think of the people that they’re fighting to take rights away from.
Priyanka Aribindi: Definitely. And just one last question for you and all the organizers on your team, who you work with. I remember in the lead up to the 2020 election, working with your team at tireless, and even after that you know big ticket election when a lot of people started tuning out, you guys were still there. You guys were on the emails, pounding the pavement, making the calls. I just want to ask you how you stayed energized and how you think that this win is going to help you and everyone you work with continue to do the work that you do.
Ben Wikler: I often say on our all staff calls, we have them every Tuesday that the only real measure of our work is the impact it has on people’s lives. It’s not about how many elections we win. It’s not about how many dollars we raise or how many doors we knock. Except insofar as those things actually create change for actual human beings. And for years, we’ve been on defense. We’ve been trying to prevent Trump from you know getting reelected and trying to stop Republicans from getting supermajorities that could make horrible things happen. But this election is actually the one that moves us across the bridge to being on a road to creating positive change. And that is such a breath of fresh air. I was talking to a colleague who has been with the party on and off for a decade, and he said that this is the best he’s ever felt because at this moment we’re actually on the road to doing things that can help people lead the lives that everyone deserves to be able to live. And the possibility that this could be in the cards is what has kept us going through all the darkest time. This is where the joy really starts to begin.
Juanita Tolliver: I honestly hope you absorb every bit of this. I just want to say congratulations again and thank you for making the time to join us. We know you had a long, long, long night, early morning, shall we say. But thank you so much, Ben.
Ben Wikler: Thank you. Thank you so much. Juanita and Priyanka so grateful to be with you today.
Juanita Tolliver: That was our chat with Ben Wikler, chair of Wisconsin Democrats. And I don’t think we can stress enough how critical this outcome will be for years to come. As Ben said, this win will impact elections for the next ten years, and it has national importance when you consider any challenges to the ever critical Wisconsin Electoral College vote. So this matters, people. And honestly, I want this to be a new trend like nationally. Pay attention to these races and elections for the courts because they matter and we need to mobilize for these elections every single time.
Priyanka Aribindi: Totally. The groundwork has been laid here. We’ve seen why it’s so important. So let’s replicate this. Let’s do it over, over and over and over again around the country. We know why these races are so important, and now we know how to win them.
Juanita Tolliver: And we will definitely bring you updates as Judge Protasiewicz is inaugurated and formally becomes Justice Protasiewicz, has a very nice ring to it.
Priyanka Aribindi: Love it.
Juanita Tolliver: And as the Wisconsin Supreme Court begins hearing critical cases. But that’s the latest for now. We’ll be right back after some ads. [music break].
Priyanka Aribindi: Let’s wrap up with some headlines.
Priyanka Aribindi: As Donald Trump faces criminal charges in Manhattan, there is more movement underway in the Justice Department’s investigation into his role in the January 6th insurrection. A spokesperson for former Vice President Mike Pence said yesterday that he will not fight an order forcing him to testify before a special grand jury. That means that in the coming weeks, Pence could appear under oath before the panel to spill the tea, and he would be the highest ranking person in Trump’s orbit to do so.
Juanita Tolliver: Oh, my God. Spill all the tea. Like my brain is excited right now because this is fully giving Julius Caesar. I’m so excited. Let’s do it.
Priyanka Aribindi: Seriously, we want it all. To be clear, so far the tea is shaping up to be less of the piping hot variety and more of a throw it in the microwave for a second wind. Pence won’t have to testify about his own actions on January 6th. That is because his legal team argued that since he was acting as president of the Senate that day, he is protected by the Constitution’s speech and debate clause, which is designed to protect members of Congress from testifying about official legislative business. Not sure why he really cares. I mean, they were out there chanting hang Mike Pence like you should probably want to talk, but whatever. Neither here nor there. Nevertheless, Pence will still be on the hook to answer questions about anything illegal that his former boss may have been up to that day or the days leading up to it.
Juanita Tolliver: The hits just keep coming for a newly eligible 92 year old bachelor, Rupert Murdoch, because a Delaware judge yesterday ruled that Dominion voting systems can force him and other Fox executives, including his son Lachlan, to take the stand in the upcoming defamation trial this month. It’s a major blow to the famously unhinged cable network, which is defending itself from a $1.6 billion dollar defamation suit brought on by Dominion. The company has accused Fox of repeatedly boosting Donald Trump’s lies about widespread voter fraud following his defeat in the 2020 presidential election. Meanwhile, in separate filings earlier this week, Fox agreed to have some of its hosts testify live at the trial, including Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity and Maria Bartiromo. So there’s a line up for you.
Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah, listen, it’s great that Rupert’s getting back out there uh doing things after the break up, but uh between this and Mike Pence, truly, truly so many primetime events, so little popcorn, I’m going to need to go to the grocery store and stock up. All will be wild. Never judge a book by its cover and never judge New Jersey for being New Jersey. Hmm.
Juanita Tolliver: Hmm.
Priyanka Aribindi: On Tuesday, Governor Phil Murphy signed an executive order making the state an effective safe haven for transgender, nonbinary and other gender diverse people seeking gender affirming health care. Okay. That actually is positive. Really great. So we can’t give New Jersey shit here. The order will protect patients who travel to the Garden State from other parts of the country for that care, as well as the health care professionals who provide those services. Additionally, Murphy’s order bans state agencies from cooperating with other states’s investigations into such visits and procedures. As of now, 13 states have banned gender affirming care for youth and young adults, and over 200 bills targeting the rights of LGBTQ people were introduced in state legislatures last year. Hate to break it to everybody, but New Jersey is cool now. At least they did a really cool thing here. We must give them credit for that. They have come a very long way since Chris Christie, whose name I feel upset to even say in such an otherwise good headline.
Juanita Tolliver: Noted and I just want to question the cool because let’s be real, their rest stops are horrendous throughout that state, but they get a thumbs up. This is amazing. They did great work here.
Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah.
Juanita Tolliver: Now I want that to translate to the rest of the state. [laughing]
Priyanka Aribindi: It’s the first time I’ve wanted New Jersey to set a trend.
Juanita Tolliver: Good point.
Priyanka Aribindi: We could all take a page from New Jersey today, and that’s the nicest thing I have to say.
Juanita Tolliver: Yesterday, while wearing a Barbie pink pantsuit, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer signed three measures into law that would officially repeal the state’s 92 year old abortion ban, further guaranteeing access to the medical procedure and making good on a promise she ran on during her reelection campaign. The outdated law, which had been originally drafted in 1846.
Priyanka Aribindi: Jeez.
Juanita Tolliver: Before being codified in 1931, had been in legal limbo since the overturning of Roe v Wade, thanks to consecutive lawsuits from Whitmer’s administration, as well as Planned Parenthood of Michigan. While those legal challenges and an amendment added to the state’s constitution last year effectively protected abortion access in Michigan, a repeal of the long inert law finally stood a chance of becoming reality after Democrats won a majority in both the state House and Senate last November. Take a listen to Governor Whitmer celebrating the huge win for abortion access in the upper midwest.
[clip of Gretchen Whitmer] After the last year that I have lived through, I can tell you we are going to win this fight. We just stay organized. We stay vigilant, we stay active, and we work together. So who would like to watch me slay a zombie? [cheers] All right. I am about to slay three zombies with one pen. Let’s do it.
Juanita Tolliver: I want to see that. I want to live that. I love a zombie reference. I love a zombie movie. It’s giving Walking Dead effectiveness. And so shout out to Governor Whitmer for making good on this campaign promise, but just protecting people’s basic rights to have bodily autonomy and seek basic health care in the form of an abortion.
Priyanka Aribindi: Protecting their basic rights. I want Big Gretch to protect me if there’s a zombie attack, I feel like she’d be very effective. [laughter] I don’t know. I’m all for it. And those are the headlines. [music break] That is all for today. If you like the show, make sure you subscribe. Leave a review. Throw in a Barbie pink pantsuit before kicking some anti-choice ass and tell all your friends to listen.
Juanita Tolliver: And if you’re into reading and not just about the latest inconvenience in Rupert Murdoch’s long life like me, What A Day is also a nightly newsletter. Check it out and subscribe at Crooked.com/subscribe. I’m Juanita Tolliver.
Priyanka Aribindi: I’m Priyanka Aribindi.
[spoken together] And let’s slay some more zombies.
Juanita Tolliver: I have an exit strategy. If there is ever a zombie attack, I’m like, we’re meeting up at this lake and this random house. We have fresh water source. Like, I’m thinking through this shit.
Priyanka Aribindi: You’re so prepared. I’m like, how do you even kill a zombie? Like, what do I need a pen? That’s what Gretchen told me.
Juanita Tolliver: Priyanka. [laughing] [music break] What A Day is a production of Crooked Media. It’s recorded and mixed by Bill Lancz. Raven Yamamoto is our associate producer. Our head writer is Jocey Coffman and our executive producer is Lita Martinez. Our theme music is by Colin Gilliard and Kashaka.