A Year in Review: 2011
Gov. Walker’s Budget Repair Bill (Act 10): Very few will soon forget the public employee union changes contained in Gov. Scott Walker’s budget repair bill (Act 10) and the fallout that ensued.
Before it was enacted, 14 state Democratic Senators fled to Illinois for 21 days while thousands of protestors descended upon the Capitol for weeks of intense debate over the controversial legislation. Before the ink could dry on Act 10, lawsuits were filed challenging the law and opponents of the new law gathered signatures to recall nine state Senators.
Dane County Circuit Court Judge Maryann Sumi struck down Act 10, ruling that the Legislature violated the Open Meetings Law when it enacted the law. Judge Sumi’s decision was later reversed by the Wisconsin Supreme Court in a highly contentious 4-3 decision. The issue has not subsided, as Act 10 opponents are circulating petitions to recall four more Republican senators as well as Gov. Walker.
Justice David T. Prosser Reelection: A normally sleepy April reelection race for the State Supreme Court Justice seat held by David T. Prosser ended up in a heated and close election with a political unknown – Assistant Attorney General JoAnne Kloppenburg – coming within a hair of unseating the longtime Justice. Gov. Walker’s opponents turned the election into a referendum on the Governor’s public employee union changes.
The election also had major implications given that the Supreme Court would eventually rule on a lawsuit challenging Act 10. Election results were so close that it led to a recount, with Justice Prosser holding on to his seat. Shortly thereafter, the Wisconsin Supreme Court, and Justice Prosser himself, made headlines after an alleged altercation between Justice Prosser and Justice Ann Walsh Bradley due to a disagreement over the Court’s decision upholding Act 10.
2011 Recall Elections: Both parties claimed victory in August when voters in eight districts went to the voter box for highly unusual recall elections. Democrats gained two seats, but came up short in their bid to take control of the Senate. The Senate Republican majority was narrowed from 19-14 to 17-16, making it more difficult for Republicans to pass some pieces of legislation.
Redistricting: The Legislature is charged every ten years with redrawing legislative boundaries based on population data from the U.S. Census. Wisconsin’s population increased 300,000 over the past decade. There has been growth around the Madison and Fox Valley region, while northern Wisconsin and Milwaukee saw a decline.
The three bills passed by the Senate and Assembly redrawing the maps are Senate Bills 148, 149, and 150. Democrats decried the legislation as a power grab by Republicans, claiming that the newly drawn districts will unfairly help Republicans retain control of their majority in future elections. Meanwhile, Republicans argue that the new maps should apply in the upcoming Senate Republican recall elections. Both sides have filed lawsuits over the redistricting, with opponents arguing the new maps be thrown out, and Republicans asking the courts to apply them in the upcoming recall elections.
Major Legislative Enactments: Lost in much of the rancor and headline-grabbing news was the amount of substantive legislation that was passed into law in 2011. With Republicans holding control of both legislative chambers and the Executive Branch for the first time since 1995, legislators and Gov. Walker wasted no time passing major legislative policies, including:
Preview of 2012 – More Recalls and Elections: The collective bargaining debate will continue into 2012 as more recalls are on the way. Gov. Walker’s opponents and the Democratic Party began collecting signatures in November to recall the Governor. Pundits expect there will be enough signatures to place Gov. Walker on the ballot in May or June, depending on how long it takes to verify the signatures and the length of any legal challenges.
In addition, four more Republican senators are being targeted with recalls, with a possible fifth recall for Democratic Sen. Bob Jauch (Poplar). In addition to the recall elections, 2012 is an election year. In the fall voters will elect a new U.S. senator to replace retiring Sen. Herb Kohl (D). The winner of the Republican primary – featuring former Gov. Tommy G. Thompson, former Congressman Marc Neumann, and Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald – will likely face Democratic Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin.
2011 will certainly go down as one of the most controversial and active in the history of Wisconsin state politics.