Two June 12 special elections for legislative seats will signal whether Wisconsin Republicans have staunched the bleeding or whether a “blue wave” of Democratic wins may loom on Nov. 6.
Elections in the Door County-centered Senate District 1, and Columbia County-based Assembly District 42, have split Republicans and energized Democrats.
Democrats have the most to gain on June 12 because:
- No Democrat has won in Senate District 1 since 1974, when Sen. Jerome Martin won a second term.
Martin’s death prompted the May 3, 1977, special election won by Alan Lasee, the first of two Lasees to hold the seat for 30 years. His relative, Frank Lasee, resigned to take a job in the Gov. Scott Walker’s administration last December.
In all, Republican senators have represented that region—mainly Door and Kewaunee counties—for 55 of the last 62 years, records show.
- Republicans—including former Gov. Tommy G. Thompson in the 1970s—have represented the region that makes up most of Assembly District 42 since at least 1966.
The seat is vacant because former GOP Rep. Keith Ripp also took a Walker administration job in December.
All this means Democrats can claim victory—and more pre-November momentum—if they win just one of the June 12 elections. And, if they lose both, Democrats can shrug and say those two seats have pretty much always been safely Republican.
Wisconsin Democrats have been on a roll that worries Walker, who wants to win a third term on Nov. 6, and Republican leaders who have controlled the Legislature since 2011.
Democratic Sen. Patty Schachtner, of Somerset, won a special election in a district Republicans had held for 17 years. Then, the Democrat-backed Supreme Court candidate, Milwaukee County Judge Rebecca Dallet, trounced the GOP’s choice, Sauk County Judge Michael Screnock, in April.
Splits among Republicans add to the drama in both special elections.
The Assembly Republican running in Senate District 1, Andre Jacque, has said leaders of his party, including former Assembly Speaker John Gard, who represented part of the region from 1987 until 2007, recruited his opponent, Alex Renard, in Tuesday’s primary.
Gard is now a lobbyist with many clients, including a union that fought Jacque’s bill to repeal the state’s prevailing wage law, which specified what workers on certain public projects had to be paid.
Jacque got that bill signed into law.
Because he pushed so hard for prevailing wage and anti-abortion bills, often clashing with Assembly GOP leaders, Jacque says he is being challenged by Alex Renard, operations manager for his family’s Green Bay business.
For his part, Renard won’t say how he would have voted on the prevailing wage bill, or how he would have voted differently than Jacque on any issue.
Jacque says Gard is behind efforts by an independent group, Midwest Growth Fund, to elect Renard.
In a radio ad, Midwest Growth calls Jacque a “career politician… looking to climb the political ladder.”
“From the city payroll to the state staffer payroll, now to the state elected payroll, over a decade of living off the taxpayer, all the while increasing his pension on taxpayers’ backs, pocketing over $70,000 of tax-free per diems” during his eight years in the Assembly, the ad says.
A Jacque campaign radio ad attacks the “Madison crowd”:
“We need someone with the leadership experience and strong work ethic to get results, even if it makes some folks in Madison uncomfortable… André has stood up for conservative principles and against the Madison crowd.”
Democrat Caleb Frostman, director of the Door County Economic Development Corp., will face the winner of the GOP primary on June 12.
In the 42nd Assembly District, there is a four-way Republican primary Tuesday. It’s also included accusations of meddling by Madison-based GOP power brokers.
One of the candidates, Darren Schroeder, a farmer and veteran local government leader, said he was told that Assembly GOP leaders had decided to forego neutrality and do all they can to help karate school owner Jon Plumer win Tuesday’s primary.
But, “This is a democracy,” Schroeder said, so he’s running.
The two other GOP candidates are lawyer Colleen Locke-Murphy and Spencer Zimmerman, who does not live in the district.
The winner of the Republican primary will face Lodi alderperson Ann Groves Lloyd.
Reasonable bet: Democrats win one of the June 12 special elections.