Despite efforts by Wisconsin Republicans to secure veto-proof majorities in both state chambers, the GOP picked up only two of three necessary Senate seats and lost two suburban Milwaukee seats in the Assembly, according to unofficial results.
While Republicans maintain majorities in both chambers, thanks to GOP-friendly districts drawn in 2011, supermajorities would have allowed Republicans to override any veto by Democratic Gov. Tony Evers and all but guarantee the GOP full control over how districts are redrawn next year to account for population changes. With a divided government, any maps drawn next year will most likely again end up in state or federal court.
“Our ability to veto either bad district lines through redistricting or vetoing bad legislation still is within my purview,” Evers said on a media call with reporters Wednesday. “Our state is and always has been a very contested, bipartisan state so we work together to get what we can get accomplished.”
Results are considered preliminary until officially canvassed. Republicans needed three wins in both chambers to reach veto-proof majorities. Top state Republicans, including Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, had said over the summer a supermajority in at least one chamber was within reach. At the same time, Democrats largely outspent Republicans in the state, but only wound up with two additional seats in the Assembly.
“There’s still ink in Gov. Evers’ pen. He still has the power to stop the rigging of the maps or other reactionary pieces of legislation,” said Matthew Rothschild, executive director of Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, a nonpartisan organization that tracks campaign spending. “Robin Vos’ fantasy of a veto-proof majority has not come true.”
- In the 10th Senate District, incumbent Patty Schachtner, D-Somerset, conceded to Rep. Rob Stafsholt, R-New Richmond, as she faced a more than 20-point deficit. Schachtner flipped the district blue in 2018 by a narrow margin, but lost to Stafsholt by more than 20,000 votes Tuesday.
- In the 30th Senate District, Green Bay lawyer Eric Wimberger defeated Democratic De Pere City Council member Jonathon Hansen by almost 10 percentage points. The district is currently held by Hansen’s uncle, Sen. Dave Hansen, D-Green Bay, who is not seeking another term.
- In the 23rd Assembly District, Democrat Deb Andraca declared victory over incumbent Rep. Jim Ott, R-Mequon. Andraca led by about 1,300 votes.
- In the 13th Assembly District, Democrat Sara Rodriguez was up by 725 votes over incumbent Rep. Rob Hutton, R-Brookfield, with all precincts reporting.
Suburban districts like Ott’s and Hutton’s had been eyed by Democrats as potential gains this year, due in part to an apparent shift among suburban voters — primarily women in the WOW counties of Waukesha, Ozaukee and Washington — away from the Republican Party under Donald Trump. The president made a considerable push in the final weeks of his campaign to shore up support among suburban women.
Hutton was elected to the Assembly in 2012, and Ott has served in the chamber for 14 years.
“We’ve seen the constituents in those districts really changing their opinion on issues and their priorities, and we saw Republican representatives in those districts who weren’t changing along with the districts,” said Assembly Minority Leader Gordon Hintz, D-Oshkosh.
In the 24th Assembly District, incumbent Rep. Dan Knodl, R-Germantown, beat Democratic challenger Emily Siegrist by 3 percentage points. In the 51st Assembly District, incumbent Rep. Todd Novak, R-Dodgeville, defeated Democratic challenger Kriss Marion by about 4 percentage points.
Despite being declared by Republicans as one of the most vulnerable districts in the state, incumbent Robyn Vining, D-Wauwatosa, fended off a challenge by Republican Bonnie Lee in Wisconsin’s 14th Assembly District. With all precincts reporting, Vining — who flipped the seat by a less than a 1-point margin in 2018 — led Lee by about 8 percentage points.
In another close race, Rep. Beth Meters, D-Bayfield, declared victory over challenger James Bolen in the 74th Assembly District. Meyers was up by about 3 points with all precincts reporting.
In the Senate, Democrat Brad Pfaff declared victory over former state Sen. Dan Kapanke in the state’s 32nd district — ensuring that Democrats had successfully prevented a GOP supermajority in the chamber. With all precincts reporting, Pfaff led Kapanke by 589 votes, or less than 1 percentage point.
Pfaff is poised to join the same state Senate that rejected his appointment as agriculture secretary by Evers last year.
Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills, who sits on the powerful state budget committee, also was up by about 9 percentage points over Democrat Neal Plotkin, with all precincts reporting — despite big Democratic spending in that district leading up to the election.
The offices for Vos and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, who won his bid for the 5th Congressional District Tuesday, did not respond to requests for comment Wednesday.
Democratic candidates this year held a major advantage in the form of campaign fundraising and outsider spending, which has oftentimes been a strength for the GOP. The state Democratic Party also launched a Save the Veto campaign this year aimed at preventing Republicans from making major gains in either chamber.
“Despite their onslaught in outside money, all the Democrats have to show for their efforts is a 60-plus GOP majority in the Assembly and two new Senate seats,” Republican Party of Wisconsin chairman Andrew Hitt said.
The Wisconsin Democracy Campaign reported Tuesday that the state Democratic Party, Assembly Democratic Campaign Committee and the State Senate Democratic Committee raised more than $2.2 million from large contributors between Oct. 21 and Nov. 2. In the same span, the state Republican Party, Republican Assembly Campaign Committee and the Committee to Elect a Republican Senate raised nearly $1.1 million from such contributors.
Outsider spending on legislative races reached $8.2 million as of Monday, with Democratic groups spending more than $5.3 million, almost double the $2.9 million spent by GOP groups, according to the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign.
But Rothschild, who has been a vocal proponent for nonpartisan redistricting, said Republican-gerrymandered legislative districts have made it incredibly difficult for Democrats to make major gains in the Legislature.
In 2018, Wisconsin Democrats saw one of their most successful elections in years, with the party sweeping all statewide contests and unseating three GOP incumbents — including the ouster of two-term Republican Gov. Scott Walker. At the same time, Republicans in 2018 held their now decade-long majority in the Senate and Assembly.
“All the money in the world couldn’t shift the balance of power in those districts,” Rothschild said.
Also on the ballot Tuesday in more than a dozen counties and municipalities was a non-binding referendum in favor of nonpartisan redistricting. The referendum passed in all 11 counties and three municipalities. A total of 28 counties and 16 municipalities have passed such a referendum over the last few years.
Also on Tuesday, Julian Bradley, of Franklin, became the first-ever Black Republican elected to the state Senate.
Bradley had been the chairman of the La Crosse County Republican Party, vice chairman of the Third Congressional District GOP and chairman of the 2015 GOP State Convention and won a five-way primary for the seat in August.
On Tuesday, Bradley defeated Democrat Adam Murphy by more than 20,000 votes.
“The historical aspect of this is not lost on me. … It’s something that isn’t to be taken lightly,” he told the Racine Journal Times on Wednesday.
He is the second-ever Black Republican elected to Wisconsin’s Legislature, following Lucian Palmer, who was elected to the Assembly more than a century ago in 1906.
When asked about the claim (championed by many of those on the left) that the GOP is “racist,” Bradley said he believes his win “helps shatter those stereotypes.”
The Racine Journal Times contributed to this report.
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