Bruce Murphy
Murphy’s Law

Why Walker Opposes Special Elections

He's not serving the voters. He's serving his party.

By - Mar 1st, 2018 11:13 am
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Governor Scott Walker. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Governor Scott Walker. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

On December 29 of last year, two Republican lawmakers, Sen. Frank Lasee of De Pere and Rep. Keith Ripp of Lodi, announced they were taking jobs in the administration of Gov. Scott Walker. Yet Walker’s spokesperson Tom Evenson let the press know Walker was not calling a special election to replace them.

This leaves the 175,000 people of these districts without representation for more than a year, until January 7, 2019, when legislators elected in November 2018 would be sworn in. Voters in Ripp’s district would have no representation for more than half of his entire term.

Evenson said that not holding special elections would save taxpayer money. This thin pretext for not holding the special elections was slapped down by Sen. Dave Hansen (D-Green Bay), who noted the elections could have been simply added to the normal Feb primary and April general election.

Walker’s decision means residents of these two districts can’t go to their state representatives with any problems for more than a year.

Evenson also argued the ex-lawmakers‘ staff will remain in their jobs during this time and can field constituents‘ concerns, but they will be lame-duck, non-legislators who will have zilch clout to advocate for the district’s voters. These residents — and the majority tend to vote Republican in both districts — will effectively have no representation for a year, while taxpayers‘ money is actually wasted paying the salaries of these staff.

Jay Heck, Executive Director of the non-partisan good government group Common Cause, notes that if the U.S. Supreme Court decides to overturn state legislative maps as unconstitutional and orders them redrawn, “those two legislative districts will be without a say in the Legislature about the composition of the redrawn districts.” Same for any Special or Extraordinary Session called by the legislature this year, he notes: these districts will have no representation.

I doubt any politician in either party believes Walker’s stated reason for this extraordinary decision. In fact, Walker himself called a special election when Republican Sen. Sheila Harsdorf joined his administration back on November 10, with the primary election if needed on December 19 and a general election on January 16. That’s a much faster time table than holding the primary and general elections for the Lasee and Ripp seats on the normal February and April election cycle.

So why didn’t Walker do this? Because the Democrats have been outperforming Republicans across the country in special elections. The special election for Harsdorf’s seat saw Democrat Patty Schachtner win in a heavily Republican district by increasing the Democratic percentage by 18 points over the previous election.

“Gov. Walker feared that a special election held in the 1st State Senate District and the 42nd Assembly would have produced Democratic victories which, in turn, would bode ill for his own re-election prospects,” Heck charges. “There is no doubt that pure partisan self-interest is driving Walker’s decision.”

Walker called the Schachtner election “a wake up call for Republicans in Wisconsin,” and clearly wanted no more such results.

On Monday, a group called the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, led by former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, sued Walker for refusing to hold special elections. “A right to representation in the lawmaking body is a bedrock of democracy, and Governor Walker’s refusal to comply with his plain legal duty” causes voters in the districts “substantial harm,” the lawsuit charges.

The case will hinge in part on a state law that says Walker must promptly call a special election to fill any legislative seat that becomes vacant “before the 2nd Tuesday in May in the year in which a regular election is held,” the Journal Sentinel’s Jason Stein reported.

In this case the seat became vacant four-and-a-half months before that date, but Evenson makes the torturous argument that because the seat didn’t become open this year, but at the end of the last year, the law doesn’t apply.

Yes, this is a democratically elected governor showing this kind of contempt for the law, and to disenfranchise Republican-leaning districts at that.

But it’s far from the first time: Their efforts at voter suppression, making photo ID difficult to get and restricting early voting, has more impact on Democrats, but also deters some Republicans from voting. Their redistricting maps — creating one of nation’s most gerrymandered states  — don’t just protect Republican incumbents, but Democratic office holders as well, giving voters, particularly independents, less say over who their representatives are. Walker and Republican legislators have consistently favored less voting rights for citizens of all political persuasions, even if it wins more GOP victories. Denying 175,000 people in two legislative districts their right to representation is simply one more way to do this.

The silence of the state’s largest newspaper on this issue is remarkable. The Journal Sentinel conducted a front-page campaign to condemn Republican leaders for trying to restrict open records, including running the names and contact information for legislators. Editor George Stanley wrote columns praising his paper for standing up for “the people” on this issue. Of course, the paper was also standing up for its own right to get information it requests under the open records law.

Surely it’s just as important for the people to have the right to vote. But the newspaper hasn’t offered one editorial on the issue.

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Categories: Murphy's Law, Politics

8 thoughts on “Murphy’s Law: Why Walker Opposes Special Elections”

  1. PMD says:

    “Surely it’s just as important for the people to have the right to vote. But the newspaper hasn’t offered one editorial on the issue.”

    I agree that this is a problem and negligence on their part, but is it the direct result of the paper writing far less editorials in general now?

  2. Terry says:

    “Saving government money” By refusing people their constitutionally protected right to representation?

    Career Politician Scott Walker canceled the special elections because he is afraid republicans will LOSE! What a dirty, greasy, scheming crook! These Republican con-men and liars like Career Politician Scott Walker must go in November!

    Dump Walker 2018!!
    Dump ALL republicans 2018!!

  3. Tom bamberger says:

    “Evenson said that not holding special elections would save taxpayer money.”

    We can save a lot more money if we decided not hold other elections.

  4. Good story and I also am curious at the lack of editorial comment by JS. Seems to me we pay yearly salary to legislators precisely so they can interact with constituents outside of as well as during legislative sessions, so that doubly reinforces that Walker was trying to put his thumb on the election scale.

  5. Willie Ray says:

    Power 101. Doing anything and everything to maintain the power over your political opponents through the cunning use of the “abuse of power.” Plain and simple malfeasance in office. “…. at the end of the last year, the law doesn’t apply.”

    Sound familiar?

    Example: “I believe the overwhelming view of the Republican Conference in the Senate is that this (Supreme Court) nomination should not be filled, this vacancy should not be filled by this lame duck president,” Senate Majority Leader McConnell said last year.

    Just because they can! Right?

  6. Jake currently of the MKE says:

    More evidence that Republicans are authoritarian and tyrants.

  7. snowbeer says:

    No walker fans even attempting to defend this one…

  8. old baldy says:

    Another cowardly act by our cowardly governor.

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