Why Walker Opposes Special Elections
He's not serving the voters. He's serving his party.
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.
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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