Steven Walters
The State of Politics

Hard Right Dominates GOP Senate

Eight or nine senators could dictate much of Gov. Walker's 2017-19 state budget.

By - Oct 31st, 2016 12:11 pm
Scott Fitzgerald

Scott Fitzgerald

When Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald looks over his shoulder next session, it will be his right shoulder.

If he’s still the majority leader – and Capitol insiders and power brokers are almost unanimously predicting that he will be – Fitzgerald will face the most conservative Senate Republican caucus in decades, and maybe ever.

Whether Fitzgerald oversees a GOP majority (in the 33-member Senate) of 19, 18 or 17 senators, a majority or close to it will be hardcore conservatives who like Grover Norquist’s vision of a government so small “we can drown it in the bathtub.”

Eight or nine Republican senators sticking together is a voting bloc with the power to dictate parts of the 2017-19 state budget scheduled to pass by July 1, and dictate when that budget passes.

And, if those eight or nine Republican senators back Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s vow to not raise the 30.9-cent gas tax, or the $75 annual vehicle registration fee, without a tax or spending cut that offsets it, any long-term transportation funding plan adopted by Assembly Republicans dies in the Senate.

Those eight or nine Republican senators can also adopt take-it-or-leave-it changes to the budget that Walker with submit early next year.

Three Republicans – incumbent Sens. Alberta Darling and Duey Stroebel and now-Rep. David Craig – have no opponents in Nov. 8 elections. Darling is co-chair of the Joint Finance Committee, which will draft the first changes to Walker’s budget proposal.

If GOP Sen. Tom Tiffany is re-elected, Fitzgerald will have a caucus anchored by conservatives who are a Murderer’s Row for liberal and moderate ideas: Darling, Stroebel, Craig and Tiffany would join five senators whose don’t face re-election for two years – Chris Kapenga, Howard Marklein, Steven Nass, Leah Vukmir and Frank Lasee.

This is not saying that other Republican senators aren’t conservative; they just pick their fights on a more issue-by-issue basis.

One signal of what changes the most hardcore GOP senators may push next session is to look at what they, and Rep. Craig, introduced last session. Individually, or with co-sponsors that varied by subject, here are some of their past proposals.

*Creation of a special legislative committee with the power to subpoena records of closed secret John Doe investigations conducted by local district attorneys. Republicans would love to see the records of DAs who, with the cooperation of the now-shuttered Government Accountability Board, investigated fund raising by Walker and his supporters before and after he survived a 2012 recall election.

*Changing the state Constitution so governors appoint – instead of voters electing – the state superintendent of public instruction.

*Making it a felony to injure or kill a child younger than one year by co-sleeping, if the adult is intoxicated.

*Making it harder to collect workers’ compensation and unemployment benefits, and requiring state agencies to verify personal details in court orders before they approve public benefits.

*Eliminating the personal property tax, which the nonprofit Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance says is $287 million that helps local governments pay for public services.

*Legalizing the sale of unpasteurized milk.

*Creating a legislative Office of Inspector General to probe actions legislators believe suspicious or wasteful, or programs run by their political enemies.

*Telling local governments they can’t regulate homes that are rented for seven or more consecutive days.

*Requiring school boards to schedule referendums to boost spending beyond state-set limits that coincide either with April or November general elections.

*Raising the retirement ages for public employees in the Wisconsin Retirement System (WRS) from 55 to 57, and from 50 to 52 for law officers.

*Basing WRS pensions on the five highest-earning years, instead of the current three years.

As a past leader of the Assembly of State Legislatures, Kapenga has also pushed for a national constitutional convention that would adopt an amendment requiring Congress to pass balanced federal budgets. When he served in the Assembly, Kapenga got it to join the call for federal constitutional convention. It died in the Senate he now serves in, however.

Not all conservatives’ ideas would save large amounts of cash. One of Kapenga’s bills, for example, would end the practice of each legislator getting 500 highway maps they can hand out like candy.

Other priorities of conservative Republican senators are dictated by culture and history. Lasee, for example, tried to make booyah the official state soup.

Steven Walters is a senior producer for the nonprofit WisconsinEye public affairs channel. Contact him at

5 thoughts on “The State of Politics: Hard Right Dominates GOP Senate”

  1. Rich says:

    Telling local governments they can’t regulate homes that are rented for seven or more consecutive days.

    What the hell does that mean? City ordinances don’t apply to rental property?

  2. Robert says:

    Steven Walters does a poor job, full of errors, describing many of these “legislative priorities”.

    If one is going to pen a column, they should at least get it right.

    “*Creating a legislative Office of Inspector General to probe actions legislators believe suspicious or wasteful, or programs run by their political enemies.”

    …..that’s false. Probing “programs run by their political enemies” isn’t in the bill, and is pretty cynical rhetoric, and is a low blow that shows extreme bias.

    “*Telling local governments they can’t regulate homes that are rented for seven or more consecutive days.”

    …..also false. This bill specifically clarifies that homes rented between 7-30 days CAN be regulated, but such rentals cannot be banned.

    There are other distortions and misrepresentations that show bias by this writer. Media is an important part of our political process, and if those we rely on to report the goings on of our government can’t get it right, how can we expect the voters to fulfill their duties?

  3. blurondo says:

    The ultra right cabal that controls the state government has already demonstrated their drive to take control of every level of government in the state. Over 100 measures that take away or limit local control have already become law. Mr. Walters is merely pointing out where they are headed next.
    In addition, the most often used tactic of the Tea Party is retaliation. The piece is reminding the reader of that.

  4. old baldy says:

    blurondo hit the nail on the head. For the “party of small government”, the current dictatorship in Madison has gone whole hog for central control of decisions left to locals in the past.

  5. sjsresh says:

    It’s hard not to compare the right wing conservative Tea Party Republicans to the control mongers of the Adolf Hitler era Nazi party. There is very little difference except that one flourished in 1930’s pre-war Germany and the other in post-war United States. Both were brought to power by a disgruntled, mostly uneducated population hoping for something better, but end up getting grossly screwed by what they thought would be their salvation. It is unfortunate that the Republican Party has allowed themselves to be infiltrated by a group of wealthy self-serving, undemocratic thieves intent on stealing a once great country from the American People. They care nothing about the democratic process, or the constitution that provides for it. They only care about buying political power, and destroying the institutions that protect this great land, and the American People. It is irritating and pathetic to hear what a grass roots organization the American Tea Party is, when it is actually founded, organized, and financed by wealthy individuals with a specific self-serving agenda that has nothing to do with helping the middle class or expanding jobs. For all intensive purposes the Middle Class is the enemy, but if you lie to them enough and hand them enough empty promises they will easily follow. Perfect example is this last election, the American people are so desperate for a leader they will elect a lier, a cheat, a bigot, and a failed business man. And look at Wisconsin, they keep electing the little dictator who hates everything they stand for. How sad is that!

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