Madison City Council President Syed Abbas announced Sunday he would run for state assembly in the 46th District — a reversal of his decision two days earlier to run for the 37th district.
The change came as a result of the Wisconsin Supreme Court's decision to adopt Republican-drawn legislative maps on Friday.
In a 4-3 decision, swing Justice Brian Hagedorn joined the rest of the court's conservatives in selecting the legislative district proposals from Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu (R) and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R), which Gov. Tony Evers vetoed last November. Last month, Hagedorn sided with the court's liberals to approve the Governor's map that would have reduced state republicans' entrenched advantages to alleviate Wisconsin's notoriously gerrymandered districts.
However, this map was struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court, leading to last week's decision that chose the maps drawn by the GOP in October. This new map will be in effect for this year's legislative election.
Prior to the court's decision, Abbas had announced he would run for the 37th District, which is currently held by a Republican. But flipping the seat would have been a more attainable task under the map proposed by Gov. Evers, which would have extended the district's lines into Madison.
The adoption of the GOP legislative map prompted Abbas to run in the Democrat-friendly 46th District instead. In the most recent election, voters from the 46th District chose Rep. Gary Hebl over his Republican opponent with over two-thirds of the vote. Redistricting has made the 46th even more appealing for Democrats since it now contains portions of Sun Prairie, Stoughton and rural areas east and south of Madison.
The 46th District is currently held by longtime state Rep. Gary Hebl, who’s served since 2005. In a statement Wednesday, Hebl said he would not run for re-election, saying it was time to begin “the next chapter” in his life. Hebl becomes the 7th assembly Democrat to announce their retirement, in addition to thirteen assembly Republicans who have also declined to run for a second term. The State Assembly has 99 seats, all of which are up for election in November.
Abbas, who plans to run as a Democrat, has represented Madison's 12th district since 2019 and has served as Common Council President since last year, with that term ending next week. He intends to remain on the Common Council while he campaigns, but will resign if he is elected to the assembly. Born in Pakistan, Abbas is also the Business Development Manager for Slipstream, a nonprofit that looks for climate change solutions. On the City Council, he’s promoted affordable housing and racial justice initiatives, and has said that he would make affordable childcare and workforce development priorities if elected.
“As a Democrat, I value investment in our future generations and building a society which creates opportunities for everyone,” Abbas said in a statement on Friday. “As a first-generation immigrant originally from Pakistan, I had to be focused and driven to get where I am today. I am passionate about bringing people together and my record shows I work hard to build bridges. I will work across the aisle to get things done.”
Abbas touted his record on Madison's city council, saying that the problems facing Wisconsin are ones he’s suited to confront.
“The issues of workforce development, inflation, environmental justice and racial equity need great leadership and bipartisan efforts,” Abbas said. “My track record is clear on this. Good leadership is all about uniting and not dividing people.”
Abbas has been viewed as a potential challenger to Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway, who is up for re-election in April 2023, but with his announcement, Abbas shut down speculations about his mayoral ambitions.
“I never made any kind of announcement that I was running for Mayor,” Abbas told the Isthmus. “But if you’re asking me now, the answer is no … I’m super pumped about running for Assembly.”
Abbas is the second person to enter the race for the 46th District. Melissa Ratcliff, who represents Dis. 36 on the Dane County Board of Supervisors, announced her intention to run for the seat a few hours after Hebl declined to run again. Ratcliff, who is also a Cottage Grove Village Board Trustee, has served in her position since 2018 and has said she would bring her skills working with the county board to the legislature.
Candidates have until June 1 to file their campaign paperwork, with a primary held August 9 and a general election on November 8. In a statement, Hebl said he was excited to see what the future would look like for himself and the 46th District. Hebl expressed optimism that whoever his successor ended up being would be a strong advocate for his longtime home.
“I am confident that my replacement will work hard for the district and find commonsense solutions to the problems facing Wisconsin. I look forward to getting to know my successor and helping them with their transition to the legislature.”