Top 10 State Political Stories of 2022
Evers and Johnson victories and suddenly changed battle over abortion lead the list.
It’s an annual tradition and it was a very newsworthy year. Here are the Top 10 political and Capitol stories of 2022:
1. Democratic Gov. Tony Evers won a second four-year term, defeating Republican construction executive Tim Michels. The win also meant a new lieutenant governor, Rep. Sara Rodriguez, will be sworn in with Evers on Tuesday. He will still wield the veto pen used 126 times over the last two years to kill bills passed by Republican legislators.
2. Republican U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson won a third six-year term, holding off Democratic Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes and again proving the ticket-splitting penchant of Wisconsin voters. Johnson and third-party backers targeted Barnes with “soft on crime” charges and used past statements by the progressive Democrat against him. Johnson won despite controversies about COVID-19 vaccines, his promotion of an alternate slate of Electoral College voters that favored President Donald Trump in January 2021 and a pledge to not seek a third term. The win ended — for now — Johnson’s claims of voting irregularities.
4. State has historic budget surplus. Several factors gave Evers and Republicans who control the Legislature a record $6.5-billion surplus to spend in the next budget. Evers promised to offer a $600-million tax cut in the 2023-25 budget he will propose in mid-February, but Republicans want a much bigger cut. The surplus resulted partly from higher federal Medicaid health-care reimbursements and pandemic aid.
5. Gerrymandered districts approved again. In April, the Wisconsin Supreme Court ordered legislators to run in districts drawn by Republicans for the next 10 years. The court, which in March had chosen maps submitted by Evers, split 4-3 with Justice Brian Hagedorn breaking the tie.
6. Republicans fall short of two-thirds majority in Legislature. Republicans picked up one state Senate seat in the Nov. 8 elections, giving them – temporarily – a two-thirds majority in that 33-member chamber. Whether they keep that two-thirds majority depends on the April special election in the Milwaukee-area Senate seat vacant because of the retirement of Sen. Alberta Darling. Republicans also gained seats in the 99-member Assembly, although they don’t have the two-thirds majority needed to override vetoes.
8. The UW System got two new leaders. Foley & Lardner law firm CEO Jay O. Rothman was named UW System president in June, after former Gov. Tommy Thompson ended two years as interim president. UCLA Law School Dean Jennifer L. Mnookin became UW-Madison chancellor in August. The latter appointment got some criticism, with Republican Sen. Steve Nass criticizing Mnookin, saying she “advocated for the forced indoctrination of college students with critical race theory.”
9. Republican Party leaders oppose former President Trump’s 2024 presidential bid. At a Wispolitics forum late in the year, Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu said some voters told him they voted against Michels because Trump had endorsed him. And, after being elected for a record sixth term as speaker, Vos said, “We have to be smart enough to say, ‘I want to win.’ I can’t stick with one person and ride the ship down.'”
10. Evers administration uses $228 million in federal pandemic recovery aid for grants to businesses and workers. The Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) budgeted $100 million for $10,000 grants to individual small businesses and $128 million for “work incentive” grants that aid and train workers. Evers touted this during his reelection campaign, but Vos told a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reporter in December that WEDC is an “abject failure” and an audit criticized the Evers Administration’s failure to report details of how it spent federal COVID-19 aid.
Honorable mentions for top stories: Republican Derrick Van Orden was elected in southwest Wisconsin’s 3rd House District, after 26-year Democrat Ron Kind retired. And the state Supreme Court ruled that Evers appointees to boards and commissions can’t assume those roles until confirmed by the state Senate.
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