Storm brewing from the southwest; Dems should pick up seats

Nearly lost in the brouhaha over the statewide Supreme Court race is that there were three primaries for special elections in the Wisconsin Assembly caused by GOP incumbents taking new positions in the Walker administration.

Reps. Mike Huebsch of West Salem, Mark Gottlieb of Port Washington and Scott Gunderson of Waterford resigned their positions shortly after being sworn in, setting up special elections to fill the three Assembly seats.

Gottlieb’s seat in Sen. Glenn Grothman’s district will be easy to defend for the Republicans and so will Gunderson’s, which is in Sen. Mary Lazich’s district. While both of these senators may officially have recall efforts against them underway, it would be surprising if the organizers could come up with the signatures in those areas and it would be nothing short of shocking if the effort resulted in flipping the seats. (It won’t, because about the only way to take either of Grothman or Lazich out would be to run somebody to the right of them. If there is any air between them and the far fringes, I can’t see it.)

But a fairly large region in western Wisconsin came across blue or purple in the Kloppenberg-Prosser Supreme Court race and it isn’t rocket science to figure out why the Republicans should have more than a passing interest in the change of shade since last November. It’s literally becoming a three-alarm fire.

Over the weekend, Rep. Jennifer Shilling of the 95th came out as a candidate against Sen. Dan Kapanke in the upcoming 32nd Senate District recall race. She will be in a very good position to take Kapanke out, since everything known about that area over the past several months shows that Kapanke is in trouble. Shilling is solid, well known and has been serving in the Assembly in 2000.

While his district comprised two Republican Assembly representatives besides Shilling when he last ran for re-election in 2008, that is no longer the case.   The vacant Huebsch in the 94th is being contested strongly by La Crosse County Board Chair and attorney Steve Doyle.  He has an impressive resume and he looks to have a decent tailwind. Likewise, the Dems should be able to defend Shilling’s current Assembly seat, if she should move to the Senate.

The other GOP representative, Lee Nerison of the 96th, was one of only four GOP representatives to vote against Walker’s “budget repair” bill and that is looking like a very good call on his part. (Note that 17th District Sen. Dale Schultz, whose district adjoins Nerison’s, was the only GOP senator to break party ranks on the measure.)

In short, a Wisconsin Senate district that came out of the November 2010 elections with a GOP senator and two Republican Assembly reps out of three could be heading toward solid Democratic representation before 2011 is out. Interestingly, Kapanke came within less than 10,000 votes of being elected to Congress as he took his off-election year in the middle of his four-year Senate term to challenge incumbent Democrat Ron Kind. Thanks to the impunity of Walker and the new GOP majorities in both Wisconsin legislative houses since taking office at the beginning of the year, Kapanke is already fighting for his political life.

Meanwhile, Oshkosh Deputy Mayor Jessica King, an attorney who lost to Sen. Randy Hopper in the 18th by only 163 votes in November 2008, is expected to enter the recall election against Hopper tomorrow. Hopper’s stock has only declined since people began collecting signatures for his recall and let’s just say the guy is a bit nicked up going into this contest:
King is a proven vote-getter and fundraiser in the district who will be able to provide a stiff challenge to Hopper as he tries to hang on to his seat – particularly with the elements of the present scenario in play.

As for other recalls around the state, it remains to be seen who will be coming up with enough signatures and whether they can follow through with solid candidates and funding to take out their targeted incumbents. Right now, the advantage goes to the Democrats.  And while a couple of seats may not seem like a big deal against the majorities the GOP now holds, folks need to remember that losing any seats at all in an odd-numbered year is not a typical part of anyone’s playbook. 

It seems like a good time to reprise Gov. Walker’s quote from last week:

“But those Senate recall elections on both the Democrat and Republican side aren’t being held in Madison, they aren’t being held in Milwaukee.”

Very true.  And it’s also true that the GOP could break even in the Senate after all of the recall dust clears, but they still have only seats to lose in the Assembly.  If the Prosser-Kloppenburg Supreme Court race proved nothing else, it may be that Wisconsin is more evenly divided between the parties than the current legislative makeup seems to indicate.




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