Congressman Sean Duffy, the Republican who represents most of northern Wisconsin, will leave office Sept. 23 to attend to personal concerns. As soon as Duffy steps down, Gov. Tony Evers should step up and call a special election to fill the seat.
We expect that Evers will move immediately to schedule the election, which can easily be organized and decided this fall. In doing so, he will provide a firm indication that the electoral lawlessness of the Scott Walker years — which voters rejected when they turned the former governor out of office — is finally finished.
It is vital to send that signal.
One of the greatest of the many, many, many sins of Scott Walker’s governorship was the Republican’s scorching disregard for democracy. During his second term, Walker created a constitutional crisis in Wisconsin by appointing two Republican state legislators to posts in his administration in December of 2017 and then refusing to call special elections to fill the vacancies.
When media outlets, public-interest groups, and Democrats in the Legislature objected to Walker’s plan to leave almost 250,000 Wisconsinites unrepresented for the better part of a year — and suggested, quite appropriately, that he was blocking elections in which his Republican allies might face defeat — the governor dismissed the complaints.
When residents of the unrepresented state Assembly and Senate districts raised legal and constitutional concerns about the governor’s failure to respect state statutes that require legislative vacancies to be filled with prompt special elections, and when a legal team organized by former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder took their case into the courts, Walker refused to bend.
When a Dane County Circuit Court judge who was appointed by Walker ordered the governor to call the elections, Walker rejected the verdict and had his lawyers seek a delay in the judgment so that the governor’s legislative henchmen could radically rewrite state election law so that vacancies could go unfilled.
When another circuit court refused to delay the order, Walker’s lawyers made an emergency appeal for relief to the state’s 2nd District Court of Appeals. Finally, Appeals Court Judge Paul Reilly absolutely and unequivocally rejected the claim by the governor’s legal team that the special elections were an unnecessary waste of taxpayer resources.
“Representative government and the election of our representatives are never ‘unnecessary,’ never a ‘waste of taxpayer resources,’ and the calling of the special elections are, as the governor acknowledges, his ‘obligation’ to follow by virtue of (state statute),” read the order from Judge Reilly, which declared that Walker “has an obligation to follow the law just as do we.”
Finally, Walker gave in and called the special elections, one of which a Democrat did, indeed, win. But significant damage had already been done. A quarter of a million Wisconsinites went unrepresented for months when they could have had a voice in Madison.
If the Duffy vacancy is allowed to languish until next year — perhaps as late as next April when spring elections are held — close to 700,000 residents of the physically largest congressional district in the state will be unrepresented for months when they could have had a voice in Washington.
There are plenty of potential candidates who are ready to run in the north. Some are already running. So let’s get this special election scheduled, and decided.
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