While Republicans in the Wisconsin Legislature are known for running a tight ship, the number of GOP Assembly lawmakers who jumped that ship on this year’s biennial budget more than tripled since the last budget was passed in 2013.
That year three Assembly Republicans voted with Democrats in opposing the spending plan; this year there were 11 GOP defectors, the biggest GOP opposition Gov. Scott Walker has yet seen as he readies to declare his candidacy for the 2016 presidential nomination. (In the Senate, only Rob Cowles, R-Allouez, voted against the plan. He cited the insertion of non-fiscal policy items into the process.)
As of mid-afternoon on Thursday, only three of those 11 issued press releases explaining their votes: James Edming, R-Glen Flora, Scott Krug, R-Nekoosa, and Keith Ripp, R-Lodi. All three cited the repeal of the state’s prevailing wage — a minimum wage for public building projects — as a reason. Krug also pointed to education cuts and insufficient environmental protections. Ripp also opposed the level of borrowing for the transportation budget.
The conservative news site Right Wisconsin categorized the 11 in terms of electoral vulnerability, listing Ed Brooks, R-Reedsburg, Todd Novak, R-Dodgeville, Kathy Bernier, R-Chippewa Falls, Nancy VanderMeer, R-Tomah, Dave Heaton, R-Wausau, and Warren Petryk, R-Eleva as “truly vulnerable.”
“With an eye on 2016, and the likelihood of higher Democratic turnout, there’s little doubt the majority of these representatives voted against the budget with concerns over their re-election at the top of their minds,” says the analysis by Kevin Binversie. “Given recent teeter-tottering between the parties in these swing districts, even a ‘No’ vote might not be enough to ensure a return to the Madison in 2017.”
Ripp, Krug and Edming are listed as the “Prevailing Wage Trio.” Of those, only Krug doesn’t have the security of a safe seat, having “won a squeaker in 2012.”
Then there are two listed by Right Wisconsin as “Big-Government, College Town Republicans.” Those are Travis Tranel, R-Cuba City, and Lee Nerison, R-Westby, who represent college-aged voters from UW-Platteville and UW-La Crosse, respectively.
Binversie noted that both opposed the prevailing wage repeal and opposed Act 10, the law that ended collective bargaining by public employees, in 2011.
"Both essentially are longshots to be beaten in 2016, but they’ll be on the radar anyway,” according to Binversie. “Tranel, elected in 2010 and one time was seen as a rising conservative star, has quickly developed a reputation as ‘the next Dale Schultz’ in the sense he talks a solid conservative game in district, but is rarely there when the votes are counted.”
Dale Schultz, you’ll remember, was the lone Republican senator to vote against the budget in 2013 who later issued blistering commentary on his fellow Republicans before retiring from the Senate.