State News

Blue wave sweeps statewide offices; Republicans ready to strip them of power

State Superintendent Tony Evers wins in the closest governor election Wisconsin has seen in over 50 years.

Image By: Jacob Schellpfeffer

After a pair of races that were too close to call until early Wednesday morning, Democrats took control of all statewide offices on the ballot Tuesday in dramatic fashion.

In one of the closest races for governor in state history, head of schools Tony Evers upset two-term incumbent Scott Walker on road to the key win of the night.

“It’s time for a change, folks, and it is a change that we have delivered,” Evers told supporters in Madison. “Now that the race is behind us, I look forward to moving forward together.”

Walker has won a series of tight re-election campaigns throughout his tenure, and it looked as though he may survive yet another challenge late into the night, until the Milwaukee City Clerk announced there were a shocking 47,000 absentee ballots yet to be counted.

Those ballots split decisively for Evers, giving him a 38,000 vote boost and flipping the race on its head as the final tallies came in.

These same votes led to an even bigger upset: Attorney General Brad Schimel looks like he will lose his re-election bid to Democratic underdog Josh Kaul. Too close to call even well into Wednesday, the race was largely seen as uncompetitive, with Schimel expected to cruise to yet another term.

But record-breaking levels of midterm turnout swung against state Republicans, seemingly unseating even the most entrenched statewide incumbents.

In declaring victory, Kaul announced his intentions to fight to expand Medicaid, push for increased gun safety reforms and be tough on pharmaceutical companies in their role in the opioid epidemic.

“As Wisconsin’s next attorney general, I will be a watchdog for Wisconsinites,” Kaul said at a press conference. “While this was a race that was close, the results were also clear, and we look forward to moving forward.”

By far the least competitive race of the night, Democratic U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin handily defeated Republican challenger Leah Vukmir by 11 percent.

Campaigning on universal health care and protecting domestic manufacturers, Baldwin was seen as a heavy favorite to keep her seat despite significant GOP money pouring into the state against her.

“For us, it wasn’t simply a political fight, it was a fight about doing what’s right,” Baldwin said to supporters in Madison. “And for me, it’s always been about doing right by Wisconsin.”

In the race for state treasurer, progressive Democratic candidate Sarah Godlewski won on the promise to expand the role of the disempowered office and act as a financial watchdog for Wisconsin taxpayers.

Secretary of State Doug La Follette was easily re-elected as well, a result that came with little surprise and rounded off state Democrats’ clean sweep.

Schimel and Walker did not concede until Wednesday afternoon, and Republicans ended election night seemingly prepared to challenge the results.

Once news of the Evers’ surge broke at Walker’s and Vukmir’s Pewaukee event, the crowd fell mute, along with the sound of the broadcast.

Lieutenant Governor Rebecca Kleefisch took the stage shortly after.

“I’m here to tell you that the fight is not over… we are preparing for the likelihood of a recount in the state of Wisconsin,” Kleefisch said. “We need to prepare ourselves for a long, drawn-out recount that the other side will surely seek.”

Come Wednesday morning, the result of the election became more clear to both parties. Evers had won, just outside the margin of victory for a recount.

“It has been my honor to serve as your governor for nearly eight years. We’ve come a long way together and it is my sincere hope that the progress we’ve made during our time in office will continue,” Walker said in a statement.

With his victory now expected to remain uncontested, Evers emphasized his willingness to work with Republicans to pass reforms.

“My priority has always been what’s best for the people of the state of Wisconsin,” Evers said. “I can promise you this: I’ll be focused on solving problems, not picking political fights.”

Regardless, state Republicans have made it clear that they do not see Walker’s ousting as referendum against their conservative reforms during the soon-to-be former governor’s tenure.

“While yesterday was a win for Governor-elect Evers, it cannot be seen as any kind of mandate for change,” Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, said in a statement. “Assembly Republicans will continue to deliver on our conservative promises to our constituents and won’t allow Wisconsin to slide backward.”

Though they fared well on the statewide level, Democrats had little hope of making gains in Wisconsin’s notoriously Republican-friendly Assembly map, approved by Walker and the Assembly in 2010.

“The people of Wisconsin will finally get a governor in Tony Evers who cares about them, rather than one who constantly prioritizes his own political career… but this election also showed that we desperately need election reform,” State Rep Chris Taylor, D-Madison, said. “We need to pass nonpartisan redistricting legislation that Democrats have championed for years so that people are picking their policy makers, rather than politicians picking their voters.”

With Evers set to remain in office for the next four years, though, Democrats are now assured a vital stake in the next redistricting process, set to take place after the 2020 U.S. Census, with the governor’s veto power over the Assembly proposed maps.

But, in an effort to limit the effects of having a Democrat in office, Vos said state Republicans are even considering stripping away some of the governor’s existing powers: “If there are areas we could look & say 'Jeez, have we made mistakes where we granted too much power to the executive,' I'd be open to taking a look & saying 'what could we do to change that?’”

Set to be chained by the leg to a near Republican supermajority in the Assembly, Evers may end up as more of a check on the state’s conservative reformers than a harbinger of progressive change.

Regardless, he and the rest of the new Democratic faces of the state will take office early next year.

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