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In an unusual move, the Wisconsin Realtors Association has pulled its endorsement of conservative-backed Supreme Court candidate Brian Hagedorn following reports revealing the candidate’s controversial views about LGBT people.

The withdrawal, possibly the first ever announced by the organization that represents the real estate industry, comes from an influential underwriter of conservative-backed state Supreme Court candidates in recent years. The group has asked the Hagedorn campaign to return its $18,000 donation, which a campaign spokesman said it is processing.

Hagedorn, a state appeals court judge, in recent weeks has faced revelations he kept a blog about a decade ago detailing anti-gay views, such as arguing that a U.S. Supreme Court ruling striking down a Texas anti-sodomy law could lead to the legalization of bestiality.

He also helped found and continues to serve on the board of an academy that reserves the right to dismiss LGBT students and teachers for engaging in homosexual activity, among other things.

Hagedorn has not sought to distance himself from those reports but has continued to say he would treat everyone fairly under the law.

Realtors CEO Michael Theo in a statement this week said “recent disclosures regarding past statements and actions” by Hagedorn led to the group rescinding its endorsement.

“The real estate related issues that served as the basis for our endorsement have been overshadowed by other, non-real estate related issues — issues with which we do not want to be associated and that directly conflict with the principles of our organization and the values of our members,” Theo said.

Hagedorn spokesman Stephan Thompson brushed off the development Thursday, characterizing it as another smear by Hagedorn’s “liberal” opponent, Wisconsin Appeals Court Chief Judge Lisa Neubauer.

“Madison isn’t going to decide who sits on the Wisconsin Supreme Court, the voters are,” Thompson said. “Lisa Neubauer and her liberal allies will do anything to take over the court, including attacks on people of faith. Despite Neubauer’s smears, Judge Hagedorn will continue to spread his message of defending the rule of law, upholding the constitution, and protecting the public.”

Hagedorn on social media Thursday characterized the reports targeting his LGBT views as a “shameful” assault on his faith.

“The Constitution provides no religious test for public office,” he wrote on Twitter. “Attacks on people of faith have no place in public life. I’ll protect the religious freedom of all people.”

On Wednesday, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported Hagedorn had received more than $3,000 over three years from Alliance Defending Freedom, a legal organization that has supported criminalizing sodomy and sterilizing transgender people. Thompson told the Journal Sentinel those speeches were focused on career advice and unrelated to the organization’s goals.

To his defense

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, weighed in on Hagedorn’s candidacy Thursday, contending the conservative judge continues to be the best choice to replace retiring liberal Justice Shirley Abrahamson. Vos said he believes Hagedorn can rule fairly on LGBT issues and that he should not be demonized for his faith.

Meanwhile, Sen. Duey Stroebel, R-Saukville, on social media slammed the Realtors Association for being a group of “anti-religious zealots” attempting to censor Hagedorn’s beliefs.

Theo didn’t respond to a request for comment Thursday.

Neubauer campaign senior consultant Scott Spector said Neubauer continues to receive endorsements and that the Realtors’ move “is yet another sign that people are rejecting the partisan and radical views of Judge Hagedorn.”

The latest episode involving Hagedorn mirrors a similar incident involving conservative-backed Supreme Court Justice Rebecca Bradley, whose anti-gay college-era writings surfaced in the news media just weeks before the April 2016 election.

Bradley, who ended up defeating liberal-backed candidate JoAnne Kloppenburg, had immediately apologized for her comments. The Realtors Association did not rescind its endorsement of Bradley.

Partisan analysis

Mark Graul, a Republican strategist, downplayed any possible fallout from the Realtors’ announcement, and said it could even energize some donors to contribute to Hagedorn’s campaign.

“I don’t think endorsements from special interest groups in Madison ever make a big difference,” Graul said.

But Democratic strategist Joe Zepecki said the withdrawal of the Realtors’ endorsement underscores Hagedorn’s unorthodox views and suggests even conservatives are becoming more socially tolerant.

“Judge Hagedorn’s views are so far outside the mainstream that (the Realtors) can’t possibly afford to be associated with him,” Zepecki said.

He added that he expects “a real chilling effect” on Hagedorn’s ability to raise money, and that at the very least, his financial backers may choose to be more reserved in how they choose to support him.

Hagedorn faces off against Neubauer on April 2 for a 10-year term on the Wisconsin Supreme Court.

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Capitol reporter

Riley Vetterkind covers politics and state government for the Wisconsin State Journal. He can be reached at (608) 252-6135 or rvetterkind@madison.com.