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Walters: Special election results define state Senate battlegrounds

The upset win by Democrat Patty Schachtner in what had been a Republican Senate stronghold not only gave Democrats new bragging rights. It also highlighted the November Senate elections that will determine party control of the Senate next session.

Senate elections with no incumbents in northeast and western Wisconsin, and battles in southwest and northwest Wisconsin where first-term senators are seeking re-election, will determine whether Republicans keep Senate control they have had since 2011,

When Schachtner takes her Senate, Republicans will have 18-14 control of the Senate. One vacancy won’t be filled until November.

Schachtner, the St. Croix County medical examiner, got an unofficial 54 percent of the votes in Tuesday’s 10th District election, beating Republican Rep. Adam Jarchow.

Since 2001, Republican Sen. Sheila Harsdorf had represented that western Wisconsin district bordering Minnesota. Harsdorf resigned to become state secretary of agriculture.

In 2016, Harsdorf was re-elected with 63 percent of the vote; in 2012, she got 59 percent.

Schachtner refused to say an anti-President Trump backlash elected her. Trump won the 10th District by a 17-point margin in November 2016.

“It wasn’t Trump or Paul Ryan’s race, it was District 10’s race,” Schachtner told a reporter. “I focused on western Wisconsin and western Wisconsin values.”

But how much the loss stunned Republicans was illustrated by a blunt tweet from GOP Gov. Scott Walker, who is seeking a third term in November.

“WAKE UP CALL: Can’t presume that voters know we are getting positive things done in Wisconsin. Help us share the good news,” Walker tweeted.

Walker campaign spokesman Brian Reisinger said the governor has rebounded before, and will again: “We’ve had to mobilize our grass-roots army before—most notably, the recall effort in 2012. ... We will do it again.”

State Republican Party spokesman Alec Zimmerman noted the party will double—from four to eight—its regional offices.

He added: “The stakes are too high to sit on the sidelines and Wisconsin Republicans will be redoubling our efforts to engage supporters and take our message of results directly to voters.”

In another Tuesday special election, Republican Rick Gundrum won the 58th Assembly seat vacant because of the death of Republican Bob Gannon.

Although Gannon was unopposed in 2016 and 2014 elections in what was has been another Republican stronghold, Gundrum’s Democratic opponent, Dennis Degenhardt, got a respectable 43 percent of the vote Tuesday.

But Democratic control of the Senate may only come if:

  • Democrats hold Senate District 31, which has been represented by Democratic Sen. Kathleen Vinehout, of Alma, since 2007. One of 16 or 17 Democratic candidates for governor, Vinehout won re-election in 2014 with only 52 percent of the vote.
  • Democrats also hold Senate District 25, where Democratic Sen. Janet Bewley, of Mason, is seeking a second term. Bewley was elected in 2014 by an even tighter margin—51 percent—than Vinehout.
  • Democrats oust first-term Republican Sen. Howard Marklein, of Spring Green, in the 17th District. Marklein won with 55 percent of the vote four years ago and has used his Joint Finance Committee seat to help write tax-code changes and bring home projects for UW-Platteville.
  • Democrats can win the open 1st District seat vacant because former GOP Sen. Frank Lasee, who took a job with the Walker Administration. But only two Republicans—Alan Lasee and his relative Frank—have represented that district since 1977.

Still, veteran pollster and Marquette University Professor Charles Franklin said Democratic gains in the 10th Senate and 58th Assembly districts show “considerable reason for Republicans to be concerned and Democrats optimistic.”

He explained: “The 58th Assembly and 10th Senate districts are each considerably more Republican-leaning than the state as a whole.

“Yet each saw large swings in the Democratic direction, with Democrats winning Senate District 10 by a 10-point margin, in a district Trump won by 17 points.

“Perhaps more importantly, in District 10 the swing was fairly equal across all the wards in the district, both suburban and more rural parts of the district. Likewise turnout shifted about the same regardless of Trump support in 2016, suggesting these results were more about changing preferences than a greater drop in turnout among Trump voters.”

Tuesday’s elections let state Democratic Party Chair Martha Laning have—at least temporarily—the last word: “Change is coming.”

Our Views: Thumbs up/down for Monday, Jan. 22

To Gov. Scott Walker’s wake-up call tweet. Wisconsin Republicans are finally realizing they might be in trouble. Last month, we wrote Wisconsin Republicans should worry about the outcome

of the Alabama Senate race, with the deep-red state electing a Democratic U.S. senator. At the time, Wisconsin GOP leaders were dismissive, blaming the Alabama defeat on the GOP’s flawed candidate, Roy Moore. Well, they’re paying attention now that one of their own lost last week in a special election in a Republican-leaning Wisconsin district that President Trump won by 17 percentage points in 2016. Walker responded that Republicans “can’t presume that voters know we are getting positive things done in Wisconsin.” That’s true. The GOP also cannot presume that voters don’t have legitimate grievances, such as state government’s ongoing failure/refusal to address Wisconsin’s crumbling road infrastructure.

To blowing up vehicles for kicks: A large explosion heard in three Rock County cities last week triggered an investigation involving precious law enforcement resources. Investigators say they’ve

found no criminal intent, but the thrill-seekers certainly disturbed many people’s—and also some pets’—peace of mind. Why someone would want to blow up a vehicle for fun, you’d have to ask the adolescent (because only an adolescent would do something this stupid, right?) who did it, though investigators say they have no suspects. Go to YouTube—our infinite fountain of low-brow culture—for examples of others doing the same thing, apparently with a legal explosive known as Tannerite, which is made for long-distance target practice. It doesn’t get much dumber than this. No, wait. It does: A new teenage pastime is to film oneself chewing on laundry pods for fun, often getting poisoned as a result.

To $1 basketball league: Give credit to the Boys & Girls Club for working to give teens something safe and productive to do. The club noted a lack of local opportunities and has started

a basketball league, in which participants pay $1 for each game and their contributions count toward their Boys & Girls Club membership. Activities such as this bring out the best in our community. Teens need more than smartphones and video games to lead fulfilling lives. They need to be able to get out of the house and exercise. They also need mentors and role models, and UW-Rock County basketball players deserve kudos for volunteering to help run the league, teaching kids about basic skills and teamwork. If these college players improve the life of even one of these teens, it will have made the whole venture worthwhile.

To this year’s flu vaccine: Medical professionals lose some credibility when they preach about the importance of getting a flu shot each year, but it ends up being a poor match for

the current strain. We still wouldn’t recommend against getting the vaccine, however, as it might provide enough protection to keep from dying. So far in the U.S., at least 30 children have died from the flu, and experts say the number of flu cases hasn’t yet peaked. To complicate matters, some hospitals have reported a shortage of IV bags, though local hospitals say they have an adequate supply. Perhaps it’s time to begin lowering our expectations for the vaccine: Assume it won’t work, but if you’re lucky, maybe it’ll be a good match. Sort of like winning the lottery, though with slightly better odds.

Skenazy: Playing outdoors shouldn't be a crime

The Utah Legislature is reviewing a bill that would decriminalize the actions of responsible parents who let their kids walk or play outside.

If the lawmakers there pass Senate Bill 65, parents who want to give their kids a smidgen of childhood freedom won’t have to worry about a knock on the door from cops or child protective service workers second-guessing their decision to send the kids outside without a security detail.

State Sen. Lincoln Fillmore will present the bill. As he explained in the Deseret News, “loving parents who empower their children to practice and learn from a bit of independence should not be subject to criminal penalties.”


Utah is ahead of the curve when it comes to giving kids—and parents—their independence. It was U.S. Sen. Mike Lee of Utah who put an amendment in the Every Student Succeeds Act two years ago that said parents shall not be exposed to “civil or criminal charges for allowing their child to responsibly and safely travel to and from school by a means the parents believe is appropriate.”

But that federal law added, “Nothing in this ... shall be construed as preempting a State or local law.” So to make sure parents are not prosecuted for simply letting their kids take advantage of the very safe era we live in—the violent crime rate dropped yet again in 2017—Utah is now weighing similar legislation of its own. Every state should follow its lead.

The Libertas Institute supports the bill, saying it would help “steer Utah clear of the many notorious examples happening nationwide (where) police and bureaucrats intervene, separate children, arrest parents, etc. all because of reasonable activity ... that many of us engaged in as children.”

Connor Boyack, president of the institute (and father of two), says he was disturbed by stories about parents being arrested simply for letting their kids play outside or even for having them wait in the car for only a few minutes on a temperate day—another thing the Utah bill would allow, at least for kids supervised by someone older than 9.

The stories that disturbed Boyack include the cases of parents such as South Carolina’s Debra Harrell, whose 9-year-old daughter was taken away for 17 days by the government after Harrell let her play in a popular park without parental supervision; Connecticut’s Maria Hasankolli, who was handcuffed and arrested after she overslept and her 8-year-old walked to school alone; and Texan Kari Anne Roy, whose children were interviewed by caseworkers after she let her 6-year-old play 150 feet from home.

Roy’s 12-year-old daughter was asked whether her parents ever showed her movies with people’s private parts—something the girl had never heard of. And who could forget the Meitivs in Silver Spring, Maryland, investigated twice for letting their kids, ages 10 and 6, walk home from local playgrounds on their own?

As for arresting parents who let their kids wait briefly in the car, these instances are too numerous to detail. But if you want to get mad, consider the case of Illinois mom Julie Koehler, who let her kids—ages 8, 5 and 4—wait in the minivan while she got a Starbucks coffee. A passing cop saw the vehicle, and when Koehler came out after the three-minute coffee run, he threatened to have her children taken away. Two days later, a Department of Children and Family Services rep showed up at Koehler’s door and insisted the children be examined by a pediatrician for signs of child abuse.

All of these parents were eventually cleared, but only after suffering through terrible ordeals at the hands of overreaching officials.

Utah’s parents deserve the right not to worry that government authorities will disrupt their families’ lives simply for giving their kids some freedom.

Come to think of it, so do all American parents.