LeMahieu Grows Into Majority Leader Role
Republican Senate leader has worked at times with Democrats to get legislation passed.
Exactly three years after his surprise choice as the state Senate’s new leader, Republican Sen. Devin LeMahieu has grown into his role as majority leader.
LeMahieu had only been in the Senate six years when he rose from being a Finance Committee member to majority leader in November 2020. Capitol veterans wondered how the 51-year-old would lead a Republican caucus dominated by hardcore conservatives.
But, in the fall session alone, the LeMahieu-led Senate put its stamp on a bill subsidizing improvements to American Family Field to keep the Brewers there until 2050, agreed with the Assembly on a bill reorganizing liquor sales laws, rewrote an Assembly-passed major income tax cut and tried to fire state Elections Administrator Meagan Wolfe.
Before the Legislature’s summer recess, LeMahieu played a key role keeping alive a major package that will give one-fifth of the state’s 5% sales tax – projected to total $7.6 billion this year – to local governments.
Last week, a LeMahieu statement showed how he had evolved as majority leader. “If there’s important bills that make a huge difference in the state of Wisconsin, we can’t let small members of our caucus block them,” LeMahieu told Wispolitics.
The 22 Senate Republicans – two-thirds of the members of that house – often disagree with each other. That means LeMahieu sometimes must rely on votes from some of the 11 Democrats to pass important bills, which vexes some conservative Republicans.
In passing the bill reorganizing liquor sales laws and creating a new State Department of Revenue division to enforce those laws, for example, LeMahieu bucked three of his fellow Republicans: Senate President Chris Kapenga, Rob Hutton and Steve Nass.
Hutton’s committee had not acted on the liquor sales law bill, which LeMahieu cosponsored and had passed the Assembly 90-4. That prompted LeMahieu to offer it as an amendment to another bill awaiting Senate action last week. Hutton told Wispolitics he had not been told LaMahieu’s amendment would be coming.
Kapenga initially ruled that the amendment could not be considered. But, in a rare rebuff of the Senate’s presiding officer, a bipartisan coalition overturned that decision.
Nass repeatedly tried to kill the major changes to decades-old practices of liquor sales. “Lobbyists and attorneys wrote the bill,” he complained. “Nothing benefits consumers.”
The LeMahieu-led Senate added changes to the $706-million stadium subsidy bill for the Brewers, that included a surtax on non-baseball events.
The Senate vote that finally passed the stadium package was 19-14, with 11 Republicans and eight Democrats voting for it. Eight southeast Wisconsin senators – including Milwaukee Democrats Tim Carpenter, Chris Larson and Lena Taylor – voted against it. Kapenga, Hutton and Nass also voted against it.
“This is a great day for Wisconsin,” Evers said. “After months of hard work … we’re going to be keeping the Brewers in Milwaukee, supporting thousands of family-supporting jobs—including union jobs—and ensuring a new generation of Wisconsinites can grow up cheering for the home team.”
Republican senators also adopted their own version of a $2.2-billion tax cut, which would lower the rate on the most used tax bracket from 5.3% to 4.3%.
The Senate Republicans’ tax cut also would increase a state income tax credit for those who are eligible to claim the federal child and dependent care tax credit and increase what tax deductions a parent can claim for tuition at private schools.
LeMahieu also deftly shifted the controversy over the future of elections administrator Wolfe to Assembly Speaker Robin Vos. On Sept. 14, Senate Republicans passed a resolution declaring Wolfe’s job was vacant, since her term ended on July 1.
A handful of Assembly Republicans then drafted a resolution impeaching Wolfe, prompting third-party groups to run ads targeting Vos for refusing to act to fire her.
It’s up to the Assembly whether to impeach Wolfe, and Vos has said the Assembly won’t soon act to fire her.
When the fall legislative session ended, LeMahieu and Vos were equal Capitol power brokers.
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