Steven Walters

Legislative Musical Chairs

A new Republican leader and many other changes coming this fall.

By - Aug 19th, 2013 11:36 am
State Senator Mike Ellis

State Senator Mike Ellis

Let’s give the late-summer personal dramas in the Wisconsin Legislature a name: “As the Dome Turns.” The future episodes of interest:

*Will Republican Sen. Dale Schultz, of Richland Center, run again next year? Schultz’s best Senate friends for the last two years have not been Republicans, but veteran Democratic Sens. Bob Jauch, of Poplar, and Tim Cullen, of Janesville.

The Three Amigos — Schultz, Jauch and Cullen — each led their party in the Senate at one point in their careers; they have a total of 76 years in the Legislature. Although Jauch and Cullen have not officially announced that they will seek re-election next year, they are expected to do run again.

*Will the bull of the Senate, Republican President Mike Ellis, of Neenah, a legislator since 1971, act differently now that a two-term Assembly member, Democratic Rep. Penny Bernard Schaber, of Appleton, has begun what she promises will be a vigorous fight to defeat Ellis in November 2014.

*Can Assembly Republicans avoid a bitter two-way knife fight to replace Majority Leader Scott Suder, of Abbotsford, who is expected to resign soon for a better-paying job. And, will there soon be two or three other Assembly resignations, triggering special elections?

Even though Suder has not official resigned, two others – Assembly Speaker Pro Tem Bill Kramer, of Waukesha, and two-term Rep. Dean Knudson, of Hudson – are buttonholing peers to try and line up support to replace Suder.

The departure of Suder was so imminent that a candidate, Republican Rep. Tyler August, of Lake Geneva, began seeking support for Kramer’s current job of presiding over the Assembly in the speaker’s absence.

Understandably, Kramer is attempting to move up the Assembly GOP leadership ladder. He started making contacts at the start of this month, forcing Knudson’s hand.

Knudson is ambitious, since he is attempting to leapfrog two of his political elders –Assistant Majority Leader Jim Steineke, of Kaukauna, and Caucus Chair Joan Ballweg, of Markesan – to  move from a seat on the Joint Finance Committee to Majority Leader, the second-most-powerful Assembly leadership job.

One Assembly Republican speculated that Knudson has the backing of Speaker Robin Vos, who named the former Hudson mayor to the Finance Committee.

Knudson and Steineke were both among the 27 new Assembly Republicans elected in 2010; Ballweg has seniority on both of them, since she was first elected in 2004.

Assuming Suder’s new job comes through, expect the 59 remaining Assembly Republicans to meet to name his successor before the Labor Day weekend.

Which brings us to Sen. Schultz’s Dilemma.

A former Senate majority leader and 3rd Congressional District GOP candidate, Schultz is now the target of GOP conservatives for voting against Gov. Scott Walker’s Act 10 changes to collective bargaining in 2011, for voting against Republicans’ pro-mining bills in 2012 and this year, for voting against the GOP’s 2013-15 state budget, and for aligning with Cullen and Jauch.

Hard-right GOP conservatives encouraged two-term Republican Rep. Howard Marklein, of Spring Green, to run against Schultz, forcing the incumbent to either wage a bitter primary fight against Marklein next year or retire.

On his official Website, Schultz claims a “reputation as a consensus builder who can reach across party lines to get results.”

But Schultz also has also bluntly criticized Walker, his party’s leader.

For example, Schultz said this of the 2013-15 state budget as reshaped by Walker vetoes: “This is not the Wisconsin agenda I’ve fought for over 30 years, and it’s not the Wisconsin agenda I hear from people as I travel around my district and across the state.”

Although even Schultz’s biggest fans expect him to retire next year, he said last week he won’t decide until he meets with family members later this year.

And the brash, outspoken Ellis? Having spent 60 percent of his life in the Legislature, he can’t imagine life without it. But he’ll have to be convinced to not underestimate Bernard Schaber. Ellis has never had an opponent like her.

Update: The Wisconsin Supreme Court canceled Oct. 23 oral arguments in two unions’ lawsuit against Act 10, the 2011 limits to collective bargaining. The Oct. 23 date was mentioned in last week’s column. No new date for oral arguments was set.

Steven Walters is a senior producer for the nonprofit public affairs channel WisconsinEye. This column reflects his personal perspective. Email

3 thoughts on “Legislative Musical Chairs”

  1. Nicholas says:

    Also Rep. Amy Sue Vruwink D-Milladore is rumored to be leaving her seat soon to take an appointment with the Walker Admin.

  2. tim haering says:

    Bernard Shaber a “vigorous fight to defeat Ellis”?! There is nothing on her face or in her voice to suggest she could even spell “vigor.” And she will run contemporaneously for re-election. Bold as love, just ask the axis.

  3. GT says:

    That’s one of the worst toupees I’ve ever seen.

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