State News

As opponents mount legal challenge, Democrats see special elections as opportunity to build momentum

After initially challenging a circuit judge’s order to call new special elections, Gov. Scott Walker has complied with the similar ruling of a higher court, and issued an executive order to hold new elections.

Image By: Jade Sheng

On Monday, a group headed by former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder sued Gov. Scott Walker for refusing to hold special elections for two open state Legislature seats, leaving many Wisconsin citizens without representation in the state government.

While opponents of the decision say it denies residents of those areas a democratic voice, Democrats hope races in the two legislative districts could help them extend their run of success in special elections.

Walker’s decision to not hold the special elections was initially questioned by critics, referencing Wisconsin state law that specifies any vacancy occurring before May “shall be filled as promptly as possible by special election.”

The petition was filed to support residents in state Assembly District 42, which includes most of Columbia County, and state Senate District 1, which includes parts of Green Bay and all of Door County.

The suit states the people of each district have “a clear legal right to elect representatives to fill those vacancies (and to representation in the Legislature) and Governor Walker has a plain legal duty to issue the writs of election to hold a special election as promptly as possible.”

Both seats have been vacant since December when state Sen. Frank Lasee, R-De Pere, and Rep. Keith Ripp, R-Lodi, resigned to join Walker’s administration.

State Democrats were quick to call for special elections to fill their seats, as currently Republicans hold a strong majority in both chambers of the Legislature. In the meantime, constituents of the affected districts are represented by staff in the vacated offices.

In the last state legislative elections for each respective seat, Lasee won reelection with a large majority of 62 percent of the vote, while Ripp did so as well with a safe margin of 59 percent of the vote.

However, earlier this year Democrat Patty Schachtner upset state Rep. Adam Jarchow in a special election after former state Sen. Sheila Harsdorf resigned to take a position in Walker’s cabinet. This flipped a district that had been held by Republicans for 17 years.

The same district had voted for Trump by a large margin of 17 points, marking a 26 percent swing toward Democrats in less than a year. Walker tweeted that Schachtner’s win was “a wake-up call” for state Republicans.

Despite the safe margins of victory for Republicans in both vacated districts, Democrats feel they could contest for the seats in the case of a special election, as Harsdorf had won with 63 percent of the vote in 2016 prior to Schachtner’s surprising victory.

Walker has argued by not holding new elections, he is avoiding wasting taxpayer dollars, as the state Legislature would have already adjourned for the end of the 2018 session before the seats could be filled.

If a special election is not held, the vacancies will remain unfilled until normal elections in Nov. of 2018. This would leave the affected districts without representation for over a year, until Jan. 7, 2019.

“Forcing citizens to go more than a year without representation in the General Assembly is a plain violation of their rights and we’re hopeful the court will act quickly to order the governor to hold elections” Holder said in a statement.

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