The envelopes, please, because it was another historic year in Wisconsin politics.
No. 1: Foxconn’s build-here incentives. No state has ever placed a bigger—$4 billion, if you total state and local governments’ antes—bet on a foreign-owned company. One way to measure it: The Foxconn deal equals more than 1 percent of Wisconsin’s entire GDP, estimated by the Federal Reserve at $309 billion in 2015. The Foxconn deal, and how much the company invests before November, will dominate elections for governor and the Legislature.
No. 2: Yes, Virginia, there is a state budget. A $76 billion spending plan passed in September, two months late, boosting K-12 school aids but failing to include a long-term solution to paying for state highways. That funding squeeze will become even more controversial as more aid is poured into Racine County for Foxconn, at the expense of highways statewide.
No. 3: John Doe won’t die. Attorney General Brad Schimel issued a December report torching the now-shuttered Government Accountability Board (GAB) for a “John Doe III” investigation that, he said, grossly invaded the privacy of dozens of Republican state officials, their family members, conservatives and contributors and backers of Gov. Scott Walker.
Top GOP legislators then demanded the resignations of the administrators of the state Ethics and Elections commissions and asked Schimel for a criminal investigation of GAB. Schimel also recommended unusual contempt-of-court actions against nine officials.
No. 4: Lincoln Hills problems continue. While a federal probe into misconduct at the state’s Lincoln Hills prison for boys threatens to drag into a third year, violence at the facility continued to cause problems. Democrats hope to make this a major campaign issue against Gov. Scott Walker.
No. 5: The U.S. Supreme Court agreed to decide whether legislative district lines drawn in 2011 unfairly helped the Republicans who drew them and decimated Democrats.
The court could adopt a new national standard, based on political impact, to judge future redistricting maps nationally and order new lines drawn.
No. 6: Walker announced a third-term bid. He first won the job in 2010, held off a historical recall in 2012 and won again 2014. The Republican touts a record number of Wisconsinites working, the lowest unemployment rate in a generation and controls on home property taxes. A staggering 16 Democrats line up to run against him.
No. 7: Speaker Paul Ryan’s year. Wisconsin’s year. The First District congressman started 2017 having to react to outbursts of a tweeting president, was then blamed for congressional Republicans’ failure to “repeal and replace” Obamacare but ended the year claiming victory with the passage of tax-code changes and insisting, that no, he has no plans to retire.
No. 8: Assembly Democrats dump Barca, denounce Zepnick. The 35 Assembly Democrats finally grew weary of the leadership of veteran Rep. Peter Barca, the Kenosha Democrat who cast one of four Dem votes for the Foxconn deal. They replaced him with Oshkosh Rep. Gordon Hintz, who ended the year by calling for Rep. Josh Zepnick to resign after two women accused the Milwaukee Dem of forcefully kissing them. Banned from closed party caucuses, Zepnick said he has been sober for two years.
No. 9: State Supreme Court. Controversial Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman, a leader of court conservatives, announced that he will not run again, and Justice Annette Ziegler was easily re-elected. If Gableman gets a Washington job, Walker could appoint former aide and Sauk County Judge Michael Screnock, who would have a head start in the campaign for Gableman’s seat.
No. 10: Sheriff David Clarke’s saga ends. After two years of becoming a national spokesman for Trump and conservative causes—including coining the phrase “Black Lies Matter”—Clarke packs his cowboy hat and ends a 15-year run as Milwaukee County sheriff.
After winning a third term, Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers runs as a Democrat against Walker.
Former state and national Republican Party Chairman Reince Priebus named, and then ousted as, White House chief of staff.
Republican U.S. Senate candidates state Sen. Leah Vukmir and Kevin Nicholson each find wealthy backers to underwrite their primary fight against Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin in November.
Owners of high-capacity wells in central Wisconsin are allowed to repair and sell them without state review.