MADISON, Wis. — Democratic Gov. Tony Evers on Thursday appointed one of the most liberal members of the Wisconsin Legislature and a former Planned Parenthood policy director to the Dane County Circuit Court, drawing criticism from anti-abortion groups and Republicans.
Evers appointed Democratic state Rep. Chris Taylor, of Madison, to replace Judge Jill Karofsky, who is joining the Wisconsin Supreme Court in August.
Taylor, who was first elected to the Assembly in 2011, said in March that she would not seek reelection. She made the surprise announcement on the same day that state Senate after Sen. Fred Risser, who had held his Madison seat since 1963, said he was retiring. Taylor had been mentioned as a potential candidate to run for the seat Risser held for more than five decades.
Taylor said Thursday that she has long been interested in serving as a judge and applied for another vacancy on the Dane County court in April. Taylor said she was given no assurances by Evers that she would be appointed before she decided not to run for the Legislature again.
"There's a while process that I went through, like everybody else, and it's a very rigorous process," she said. "There certainly was no guarantee to me."
Taylor said she has long admired trailblazing female judges in Wisconsin and nationally, including former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson, and she would not rule out a run for the state's highest court at some point.
"I will never say never because I never thought I would run for the Legislature either," Taylor said. "Right now I'm focused on getting to the trial court and learning from these incredible colleagues I'm going to have."
Wisconsin Right to Life legislative director Kristen Nupson called Taylor "one of the most liberal elected officials our state has ever seen," citing her longtime advocacy for abortion rights.
Republican Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke, who served alongside Taylor and often sparred with her during legislative debate, reacted to the appointment on Twitter.
"Me: Dane County court judges can't possibly get more liberal," Steineke said. "Evers: Hold my beer."
Taylor said despite those comments, she expects most Republicans who worked with her wish her well.
"I know you're just going to miss me. Wink, wink," she said of Steineke. "I think in his heart of hearts he knows how hard I work."
Taylor, 52, was a vocal advocate for abortion rights, gun control and programs for sexual and domestic violence victims, while also being one of the leading critics of Republicans. Before joining the Legislature, she worked as an attorney and as public policy director for Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin.
Taylor will join the circuit court on August 1, when Karofksy departs for the Supreme Court. She won election to a 10-year term on the state's highest court on April 7.