Steven Walters
The State of Politics

Democrats Retain Capitol ‘Firewalls’

Barnes sets record, the most telling campaign quote and Northwest Wisconsin turns red.

By - Nov 14th, 2022 11:15 am
Wisconsin State Capitol. Photo by Dave Reid.

Wisconsin State Capitol. Photo by Dave Reid.

“Firewalls.” You heard that term a lot before Tuesday.

Democratic Gov. Tony Evers had to win to keep the “firewall” that vetoed 126 bills passed by Republican legislators over the last two years. And Democrats needed a “firewall” to stop those Republican legislators from having the two-thirds majorities in the Legislature needed to override Evers vetoes.

So the 51%-to-49% win by Evers over Republican Tim Michels was a major victory for Democrats. And although Republicans will have a two-thirds grip on the 33-member Senate, there will be no two-thirds Republican majority in the 99-member Assembly.

Assembly Republicans gained three seats, giving them 64-35 control.

Because about 68,500 voters helped re-elect U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson but then voted for Evers, some Republicans are asking if former Republican Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch – and not Michels – could have beaten Evers. Kleefisch and Capitol veterans who ran her campaign never reconciled with the Michels campaign after his August win in the primary. What if they had?

It’s just one of many takeaways from Tuesday’s election. The others:

Mandela Barnes a record breaker: Despite the loss to Johnson, the Democratic Lt. Governor got 1.3 million votes in his loss to Johnson — a record for an African American candidate from Milwaukee. That’s three times the 402,798 votes that another African American, former Supreme Court Justice Louis Butler, got in his 2008 loss to former Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman.

Barnes is Milwaukee’s “hometown hero,” Democratic Congresswoman Gwen Moore bragged before Barnes gave a short, Bible-laced (“I have run the race”) concession speech.

The 35-year-old Barnes, is now a tested – and wiser – candidate who must carefully pick his next opportunity. He’s wiser because he will learn from the political mugging he got from “soft on crime” ads run by Johnson and third-party groups supporting Johnson.

Crime, which polls suggested was not a top priority of Democratic voters, was not a major issue before the August Democratic primary – a primary that could have sharpened Barnes’s response to that issue. It didn’t, so his campaign failed to have an effective answer to blunt Johnson’s aggressive ads on crime.

-The most significant final-days quote: Michels told supporters, “Republicans will never lose another election in Wisconsin after I’m elected governor.”

In damage-control mode, campaign aides scrambled to say that their candidate meant that a Michels administration would result in “lower taxes, better schools, uniform election laws and safer communities.” prompting thankful voters to then elect Republicans.

But Evers and Democrats told voters that the Republican’s meaning was clear: As governor, he would work with GOP legislators to rig future elections. Michels “admitted  he would undermine the will of Wisconsin voters,” the Evers campaign charged.

-Northwest Wisconsin goes red: Tuesday’s election ended – once and for all – Democrats’ claims on northwest Wisconsin. Four Republicans – Congressman Tom Tiffany, state Senator-elect Romaine Quinn, Representatives-elect Angie Sapik and Chanz Green won.

Consider that, 20 years ago, northwest Wisconsin was represented by Democrats Dave Obey (41 years in U.S. House), state Sen. Robert Jauch (then in his 20th year in the Legislature) and Reps. Frank Boyle, Gary Sherman and Mary Hubler.

Republicans got their first major win in that region in 2010, when Obey’s retirement led to the election of Republican Congressman Sean Duffy. But even then, the region was represented in the Capitol by Democrats Jauch and Representatives Nick Milroy, Janet Bewley and Stephen Smith.

Jauch retired in 2014; Sen. Bewley and Reps. Milroy and Beth Myers did not seek re-election

-Expect a short break from campaign ads: Look for those campaign ads you hated to return early next year, because a Feb, 21 primary is likely before the April general election that will decide whether conservatives or moderates dominate the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s next term. Justice Pat Roggensack, a former chief justice who will retire after 20 years on the court, is a member of the court’s four-justice conservative bloc.

Because the justice elected on April 4 could continue that majority, or join the three moderates, expect another expensive partisan fight between candidates endorsed by both political parties.

Although the filing deadline is weeks away, announced candidates are former Justice Daniel Kelly, Dane County Circuit Judge Everett Mitchell and Milwaukee County Circuit Judge Janet Protasiewicz. Kelly is a conservative who was appointed to the court by former Republican Gov. Scott Walker, and was endorsed by former President Donald Trump, before he lost the April 2020 election. Protasiewicz said she was running against “radical right-wing extremists” who are attacking “our most closely-held constitutional rights.”

That campaign battle will commence soon.

Steven Walters started covering the Capitol in 1988. Contact him at

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One thought on “The State of Politics: Democrats Retain Capitol ‘Firewalls’”

  1. TransitRider says:

    If, indeed, Kleefisch would have beaten Evers, then this is yet another Republican loss caused by Donald Trump, since it’s unlikely Michels would have won the nomination without Trump’s endorsement.

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