As the MasterCard commercials used to say, certain life experiences are “priceless.” My campaign for Branch 47 of the Milwaukee County Circuit Court was just that in so many ways, and what an incredible experience it was.
This was my first campaign for public office. I thought I jumped into a contested open seat with my eyes wide open. Much of what I expected proved to be true, but an equal amount of my experience was unanticipated. Fortunately, I was blessed by the kindness and help of so many individuals, including assistance from a person whose invaluable knowledge of judicial campaigns was instrumental to our success. His political intuition and contribution to the campaign were priceless.
My back story was an important component of my campaign, but it had to be told in a credible way. I was not and do not think of myself as a victim. I spent the first six years of my life in a refugee camp in Thailand. My father, who lost brothers in the Vietnam War, fled from Laos to the refugee camp where I was born. After years there, my parents and my, then, seven siblings left Thailand to take up a new life in Sheboygan. Initially, we, along with other Hmong refugees, were greeted with less than welcoming arms, but we persevered. In truth, were it not for many acts of kindness, I would not be writing this column for Wisconsin Lawyer.
We worked hard, all of us. We became part of America, and it became part of us as we worked hard to fulfill our dreams and meet our own expectations for a better life. We have prospered as a family through hard work, sacrifice, and education. My eight sisters are all college graduates, and one of them is also, like me, a graduate of the University of Wisconsin Law School. My two brothers are responsible, hardworking members of their communities, too.
I started the campaign determined to work hard in a race in which I was not the courthouse pick. My back story was an important part of my campaign, but so was the message of my achievements as a practicing lawyer. I believe my twofold message was a crucial part of why people voted for me. I take great pride in my legal acumen and the recognition I have received from my peers in the legal community. My story was the story of all that America should be. Our messaging was to inspire and lift people because it was important that the campaign be more than just me. The campaign was made up of long hours and hard work. As a wife, mother, and solo practitioner, this experience absolutely included challenges.
After years in a refugee
camp, my parents and my,
then, seven siblings left
Thailand to take up a new
life in Sheboygan.
The result was breathtaking. It was a substantial victory and was announced less than 30 minutes after the polls had closed.
In many respects, the campaign was brutal. The hearsay, gossip, and innuendo were manifest; dirty tricks and way too much nastiness directed at me and my campaign. As former First Lady Michelle Obama said, when they went low we went higher, and we prevailed.
My campaign for judge has reinforced in me far more positive things than negative. Did I encounter bigotry? Yes. Was I subjected to misinformation and behind-the-scenes wheeling and dealing? Yes.
Did it matter? No. In the end, the voices of the electorate were what mattered. It was a privilege to be able to run for judge, and it is an honor to have received 57 percent of the votes cast. For that, I will always be grateful.