With the 2008 State Supreme Court election considered one of the most negative and costly in state history, many Wisconsin residents are concerned about the potential for another nasty campaign this spring.

The 2009 Supreme Court election pits current Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson against Judge Randy Koschnick, current Jefferson County circuit court judge. Although the election is considered non-partisan, Abrahamson identifies as a Democrat while Koschnick identifies as a Republican.

After the negative tone of last election, during which one candidate accused the other of being sympathetic toward child molesters, both candidates are making an effort to help clean up this year’s election, which will be held April 7.

Abrahamson’s campaign manager Heather Colburn said the campaign will follow the judicial ethics code while educating the public.

“Certainly as people are attacking the core of who Justice Abrahamson is, we have to tell them who she is, but that doesn’t mean making Wisconsinites watch another negative ad while placing more meaningless titles on candidates,” Colburn said.

Koschnick is making similar efforts to clean up his campaign.

“I signed a clean campaign pledge the day I announced my candidacy,” Koschnick said. He said he promises to run a substantive campaign that focuses on each of the candidates’ records, qualifications and judicial philosophies. He said he will avoid personal attacks and repudiate false claims made by third parties while engaging in at least six debates.

Despite efforts by both candidates to run positive campaigns, most of the negativity voters see is often a result of the efforts of third party special interest groups, according to Wisconsin Democracy campaign director Mike McCabe.

“The problem is that in both races the candidates were pushed to the sideline by special interest groups,” McCabe said. “In these campaigns there needs to be a dialogue between the voters and the candidates, not a special interest monologue, since they control most of what voters read, see and hear about the candidates.”

As a result of these negative ads, voters are often discouraged from voting, according to McCabe.

In addition to efforts made by the candidates, the watchdog group The Judicial Campaign Integrity Committee will also monitor the campaign. The group is composed of lawyers, former judges and media representatives to function as an informative service to the committee.

Former attorney John Basting started the group in late 2007 and said it will be examining materials and ads released by the candidates to make sure they comply with judicial code.

“I think it’s important to have a citizen’s committee looking at the issues in the election in an effort to inform the public as to what they should be looking for and how they should make a decision to vote in this election,” Basting said.