MADISON, Wis. — Wisconsin Supreme Court candidate Brian Hagedorn unveiled the first television ad of the campaign on Tuesday, a spot highlighting his adoption of an opioid-addicted newborn that comes as he's been on the defensive about his conservative Christian beliefs.
The spot will begin airing Wednesday in Milwaukee and Green Bay as part of a $50,000 ad buy. Hagedorn faces fellow state appeals court judge Lisa Neubauer in the April 2 election.
Hagedorn's ad tells the story of how Hagedorn and his wife, Christina, adopted a newborn girl who was born addicted to opioids because of her biological mother's drug use. Hagedorn uses the story to promise to fight the opioid crisis as a Supreme Court justice.
Hagedorn's ad comes in the wake of accusations from opponents that he's unfit to serve because he helped found a private Christian elementary school in 2016 that bars anyone working there from being in a same-sex relationship and could expel students who are LGBTQ.
Hagedorn, an evangelical Christian, has also defended blog posts he wrote in law school in 2005 and 2006 where he espoused his conservative views and said, "The idea that homosexual behavior is different than bestiality as a constitutional matter is unjustifiable."
Hagedorn, in an interview with The Associated Press, said he's being unfairly attacked. The ad, he said, is an attempt to focus the race on issues that he said matter.
"I've been trying to talk about the real issues the whole time but I keep getting attacked for things that are not really what this race is about," he said.
The winner of the April 2 election will serve a 10-year term. The race is officially nonpartisan, but Hagedorn is the choice of conservatives and Neubauer is backed by liberals. Conservatives currently have a 4-3 majority and the race is to replace one of the liberal justices, Shirley Abrahamson, who is retiring.
Hagedorn says his daughter's battle brought home the opioid crisis and how it affects families. The ad ends with images of Hagedorn in his judicial robe, walking next to police officers as he promises to "hold people accountable" as a Supreme Court justice.
Such a claim is "largely nonsense" given the types of cases that come before the Supreme Court, said Howard Schweber, a law school and political science professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison who is not endorsing anyone in the race.
Justices deal with constitutional issues and interpretations of law, not "holding people accountable or not," Schweber said.
"Ideally, a voter would recognize this is a smoke screen," Schweber said. "This is a nonsense issue to gin up enthusiasm."
Hagedorn disputed that, telling the AP that a justice can have an impact by ruling to broaden or narrow the rights of criminal defendants and through administrative work and programs run by the court system.
He said it was "completely fair" to talk about combatting opioids while also introducing his family to voters through the ad.
The Hagedorns also have four biological children. Brian Hagedorn told the AP that adopting a child had always been one of their dreams.
They ultimately connected with a couple in the Peoria, Illinois, area who were looking to give up their child for adoption because they knew they weren't going to be able to care for her, he said.
Neubauer's campaign manager Tyler Hendricks had no comment on the ad itself. Instead, he said Neubauer's endorsements by more than 400 current and former judges, district attorneys and sheriffs show that the law enforcement community trusts her to be fair, impartial and independent.
Also Tuesday, Hagedorn's campaign questioned why Neubauer, a decade ago, stopped making public a list of customers for her husband's cleaning supply business on disclosure forms.
Hagedorn campaign adviser Stephan Thompson told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that Neubauer not disclosing the names "raises serious ethical questions" about her personal judgment.
Hendricks said Neubauer is following state disclosure laws in not including the names of hundreds of businesses and government entities that bought supplies from Kranz Inc., a firm owned by her husband, Jeff.
Jeff Neubauer wanted to stop providing the information because of concerns that competitors might try to steal customers, said Richard Brown, who was chief judge for Neubauer's court at the time. Brown said he advised Neubauer that under state ethics rules she did not have to make the information public.