It's already a done deal for one-third of legislative seats
Officially, 115 of the 132 seats in the Wisconsin Legislature are up for election Nov. 6.
Not really. The civics books don’t always get it right.
Gwyn Guenther, publisher of The Wheeler Report newsletter on the state Capitol, reports that who will occupy 44 of those 132 seats—or one-third—when the Legislature convenes in January has already been determined.
Those 44 include: 16 holdover senators midway through their four-year terms and not up for re-election this year and 28 other districts where voters will have no choice Nov. 6. Those voters have no choice either because the August primary decided it or because one party so dominates the district that there is no November contest.
The Republican-dominated 33rd Senate District is vacant and will be filled in a special election after Nov. 6.
The Wheeler Report lists this breakdown of the 44 already-settled seats: 21 in the 33-member Senate and 23 of the 99 Assembly seats.
In reality, though, political pros say only about 11 Assembly seats—out of the 99 that will be filled Nov. 6—are really competitive.
Because Republicans drew 97 of those Assembly district lines, and federal judges tweaked and then aligned the other two, the pros also bet that Republicans keep control of the Assembly in 2013-14. Republicans had a 59-39-1 majority for much of the last two years.
The real drama is in the state Senate, where only two or three of the 12 elections with contests Nov. 6 are competitive. Seven senators who survived recall elections are up again Nov. 6, but, having survived recall fever, they are favored to keep their jobs in November.
But then it gets much more interesting.
Just two or three Senate races could decide whether Republicans get back the 18-15 majority they had in January 2011. Another possibility is a 17-16 Republican margin in January, which would really mean two former majority leaders—Republican Sen. Dale Schultz of Richland Center and Democratic Sen. Tim Cullen of Janesville—would determine what passes in 2013-14.
Senate races drawing the most attention are:
--The 18th District, where Democratic Sen. Jessica King of Oshkosh is fighting to keep the seat she won when voters recalled former Republican Sen. Randy Hopper in August 2011. Her opponent is Richard Gudex, a former Mayville mayor who has also led local governments in Eden and Fond du Lac.
Although Republicans represented the 18th District for decades, King works it intensely and has a powerful personal story. She also could be helped if President Obama does well in the Fox Valley on Nov. 6.
--The 12th Senate District, which includes the eastern half of northern Wisconsin.
Democratic Sen. Jim Holperin of Eagle River, who may be the only state legislator in U.S. history to survive two recalls, is retiring. Republican Rep. Tom Tiffany of Hazelhurst, one of three GOP Assembly members in that Senate district, is running to replace Holperin.
Tiffany, because he now represents one-third of the 12th Senate District, is better known than his Democratic opponent, first-time candidate and former prosecutor Susan Sommer of Phelps and Libertarian candidate Paul Ehlers.
If Tiffany and Gudex win, Republicans could have that 18-15 margin of control back.
If that happens, it doesn’t matter how Schultz votes because Republicans would still have the 17-vote majority needed to pass bills.
But if Tiffany and King both win, the GOP’s 17-16 margin of control could be meaningless.
That’s because 17-16 means Republican Schultz and Democrat Cullen could dictate what passes the Senate. Schultz and Cullen voted against Gov. Scott Walker’s repeal of collective bargaining for most public workers, killed a bill to open the door for a huge open-pit iron ore mine in northern Wisconsin and recently called for a nonpartisan panel—instead of lawmakers—to draw new district lines every 10 years.
Here’s another long-shot scenario that Republicans say could put them back in control, 18-15: Tiffany and King both win, but Republicans sneak up on and defeat Assistant Senate Democratic Leader Dave Hansen of Green Bay.
Hansen survived a recall vote, but he faces a stronger candidate, John Macco of DePere, on Nov. 6.
Steven Walters is a senior producer for the nonprofit public affairs channel WisconsinEye. This column reflects his personal perspective. Email email@example.com.