Meet the activist pastor who could transform Wisconsin politics
Judge Everett Mitchell (campaign photo).

Judge Everett Mitchell began life betrayed by adults and facing an uncertain future — now a new Politico report describes how the activist pastor could play a pivotal role in the future of Wisconsin's politics.

"By the time he reached his teens, Mitchell felt lost, invisible, mostly muted, intensely dour," wrote Douglas Foster of Politico. "He could not read properly; he trusted none of the adults closest to him; he felt gutted by the fact that he had failed to protect his younger sister from sexual predation by their stepfather. By the time he entered high school Mitchell no longer dreamed of going to college. 'I was so angry in ninth grade. I was drinking Mad Dogs, skipping classes, hanging out,' he remembers. His highest ambition at the time was to play basketball or become a rap artist."

Soon after that, he says he heard the voice of God, which compelled him to preach the gospel. Then a teacher finally reported the stepfather's abuse to Child Services, getting him out of the house. Despite not knowing how to read, he managed to get through high school by "copying out" phrases. He enrolled in a historically Black college in Texas, where professors finally taught him to read. From there, he studied mathematics and theology at Morehouse College, divinity and ethics at Princeton Theological Seminary, got a law degree from the University of Wisconsin, and went on to serve first as a prosecutor and then a reform-minded judge.

Now the liberal is running for a seat in the Supreme Court of Wisconsin, a battleground state divided between a Democratic governor and a Republican-held legislature. The court, controlled by a conservative majority for a decade, holds the balance of power.

Politico profiled how a typical day goes in his courtroom.

"Michael Lucas, a slightly built white man, approaches the bench. He had been addicted to drugs at 13, his life punctuated by a pattern of arrest, conviction, imprisonment, release and repeat. Now, he reports, he has managed to keep sober for six months, the longest spell since his teens," wrote Foster. "The judge asks: 'What’s your trigger? What takes you off your square?'" When Lucas replied "anger" and then admits he feels "vulnerable" as his teenage son won't talk to him, "Mitchell leans forward, sounding a little like a life coach. 'There are no perfect fathers or perfect mothers. Kids don’t look for perfection. They just look for presence,' notes the judge who never knew his own father."

Mitchell is in a crowded primary race for Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice, with longtime right-wing judge Patience Roggensack retiring and the entire direction of the court in the balance. The races are officially nonpartisan, but candidates typically get either liberal or conservative endorsements, and the court has had a conservative majority for years. A win by Mitchell, or by fellow liberal circuit judge Janet Protasiewicz, would shift the court to a liberal balance, with massive implications for redistricting, abortion rights, and labor rights.

Conservative candidates include former state Justice Daniel Kelly, and Jennifer Dorow, a Waukesha County Judge who is seeking to open a gun range with a liquor bar alongside her husband.

The primary for the Wisconsin Supreme Court race will take place this week, with two winners advancing to a general election in April.