Governor Scott Walker has been fighting to not hold a special election for two vacant seats in the State Senate and Assembly. After three judges rejected his request, Walker has decided to abandon court action.
Judge Reynolds ordered that Walker must call for the special elections by March 29th at noon.
The two legislative districts in question are the First Senate District in northeastern Wisconsin and the 42nd Assembly District, located north of Madison. They have been vacant since December 2017, when State Senator Frank Lasee and Representative Keith Ripp, both Republicans, resigned their seats to take positions in Walker’s administration.
WORT has followed the story this week, bringing daily updates to our listeners.
Monday, March 26th, 2018
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The State Legislature will come back to Madison once again to change a law that calls for Governor Walker to call special elections to fill vacancies.
A Dane County Judge ruled last Thursday that Walker must call special elections to fill the seats held by former Senator Frank Lasee and former Representative Keith Ripp.
Both Legislators retired in December of last year, nearly a year before the next election. In response, Speaker Robin Vos called Judge Reynolds an activist judge and accused her of working outside of the law. Though now, Vos says the legislature will change the law in order to overrule the court.
Currently, the law says the Governor must fill any vacancies that occur before the second Tuesday in May. The proposed change would move the deadline up to the date of the spring general election, the first Tuesday in April.
The extraordinary session in which this bill is scheduled will begin in the State Senate on April 4th with a public hearing on the measure this Wednesday.
Democrats criticize the move calling it a political play. Senator Jennifer Shilling said in a statement today, “Gov. Walker and legislative Republicans are so desperate to maintain their grip on power that they are changing laws to silence voters.”
The offices of both Speaker Vos and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald did not respond to the requests for comment.
Tuesday, March 27th, 2018
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Another Dane County Judge ruled that Governor Walker must call special elections to fill empty seats in the state legislature and that he must do so by noon Thursday.
Critics of the Governor say that voting rights and government representation are at the center of the issue.
Senate minority leader Jennifer Shilling says the ability for voters to be represented is important.
The Governor’s lawyers asked the court for a one-week delay before the Governor had to call for the elections.
Dane County Circuit Judge Richard Niess ruled against the Governor.
According to Shilling, the motivation for Walker and the Republicans to delay the elections is political. The most recent special elections this January saw a traditionally Republican Senate District flip ‘blue.’
The judge criticized Governor Walker. In his decision, Niess says “I am not ruling on what the law might be in the future. I am enforcing the law as it is now,” and he will not “give the benefit of the doubt to the one who failed to do his duty.”
According to the judge today, if Walker had called special elections to fill the seats within four days of them becoming vacant, the special elections could have been included in the April 3rd statewide general election next week.
Chair of the Door County Democratic Party Kathleen Finnerty says already the Senate has called multiple special sessions where residents of District 1 have had no representation.
Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald says the senate is moving ahead with the public hearing for a change in the law tomorrow. They are set to vote on the bill April 4th.
The move has drawn criticism with some Democrats calling it ‘legislative gymnastics’ as well as ‘crooked as a bag of snakes.’
Republican Representatives and officials did not respond for comment by press time.
Wednesday, March 28th, 2018
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Walker and the Department of Justice appealed a court order requiring Governor Scott Walker to call a special election by noon on Thursday, but Walker was rejected again, this time by Judge Paul F. Reilly of Waukesha.
Walker specifically went outside of the Dane County circuit court after Assembly Speaker Robin Vos leveled insults at Dane County residents and called Dane County Circuit Court Judge Josann Reynolds an activist judge.
Reynolds was a Walker appointee and was the first judge to reject the Governor’s plan.
Judge Reilly ruled against Walker on Wednesday saying elections are never a waste of resources in a representative democracy and that the Governor has an obligation to call a special election.
The Walker Administration warned the Wisconsin Supreme Court that they would likely file an appeal.
Meanwhile, the State Senate held a public hearing Wednesday afternoon on a bill that would remove the Governor’s requirement to call a special election.
Voting rights advocates and Democrats are deriding the bill as an attack on Democracy, with Senator Lena Taylor referring to it “as a bag of crooked snakes.”
Kitchens, a Republican, says he’s not comfortable changing the law in the middle of the court case and likely won’t vote for the bill if it comes to the assembly.
Representative Andre Jacque is the Republican candidate running to replace former Republican State Senator Frank Lasee. He says he doesn’t see a special election as necessary and says he hasn’t heard any complaints from constituents.
The Democratic Party in Door County says they have a candidate ready to go when needed, but would not specify whom.