After a series of court decisions and appeals, Gov. Scott Walker has called special elections to fill the vacant Senate District 1 and Assembly District 42. Walker had previously declined to hold special elections because he argued the legislature would wrap up session before new legislators would be elected. The vacancies came after the appointments of Sen. Frank Lasee (R-DePere) and Rep. Keith Ripp (R-Lodi) to the administration in late December.
On March 22, a Dane County judge ordered Walker to call the elections within 10 days of the order. The Walker administration then asked an appeals court for a deadline extension for issuing the call while the legislature worked on a potential statutory fix. The appeals court denied the motion, and legislative leadership opted not to readjourn for an extraordinary session to change the special elections laws.
On March 29, Walker issued Executive Order 280, ordering the elections for the two open seats to be held on June 12, 2018. Nomination papers for the races are due April 17, and primaries will be held May 15.
So far, the candidates running for Senate District 1 are the same ones running in the 2018 fall election: current Rep. Andre Jacque (R-DePere), Republican businessman from Green Bay Alex Renard, and Democrat Door County Economic Development Corporation Executive Director Caleb Frostman.
In the 42nd Assembly District, the Republican candidates registered so far are Jon Plumer, a business owner from Lodi, and Spencer Zimmerman, who also ran in the January special election for the 58th District. Democrats registered are Ann Groves Lloyd of the Lodi Common Council and Nicholas Schneider of Portage.
The June specials will be another test of the “blue wave” that some are predicting will elect an elevated number of Democrats in the 2018 November midterms. The 1st Senate District has been held by a member of the Republican party for over 40 years, with the candidate often topping 60 percent of the vote against Democratic opponents. A Democratic win in the 1st would continue the trend of surprising election results in Wisconsin in 2018 following Sen. Patty Schachtner’s double digit win in the 10th Senate District and the recent election of Rebecca Dallet to the Supreme Court. Dallet’s win marked the first time a liberal candidate has won an open seat on the court in over 20 years.
In the 42nd Assembly District, a Democrat flip would be less surprising as the race will take place in what is considered as more of a toss-up – if not a democratic leaning – district that was held by Ripp. While less surprising, Assembly Republicans have been dominant in recent elections and any chink in the armor would be reason to give hope to the shrunken Assembly Democratic caucus.
Even though the June special elections in Senate District 1 and Assembly District 42 are simply a preview of races that will once again be run in November in those same disricts, we expect significant resources to be spent in order to give the winning candidate an upper hand heading into November where the stakes will be higher.