Gov. Tony Evers on Monday called for a special election in January to fill the vacancy in northern Wisconsin’s 7th Congressional District. The announcement came the same day U.S. Rep. Sean Duffy, R-Weston, resigned the position.
“Our rural communities have been directly affected by unproductive trade wars, political attacks on health care and public education, and economic uncertainty because of the volatility we’re seeing in Washington, D.C.,” Evers said in a statement announcing the Jan. 27 special election. “The people of Wisconsin’s 7th Congressional District deserve to have a voice in Congress, which is why I am calling for a special election to occur quickly to ensure the people of the 7th Congressional District have representation as soon as possible.
“I thank Rep. Duffy for his service and wish him and his family all the best.”
Duffy, 47, a former lumberjack and MTV reality show star, was first elected to the seat in 2010. He made a surprise announcement last month that he would not finish out his fifth term because his ninth baby, due in early October, was diagnosed with a heart condition that would require more of his time and attention.
“I don’t think our founders ever envisioned that to come to this chamber should be a lifetime sentence,” Duffy said in his farewell speech on the House floor last week.
As governor, Evers can order a special election once a congressional seat becomes vacant. If a primary is required, it will be held Dec. 30.
While Evers said the special election date was chosen in order to fill the open seat as soon as possible, Mark Jefferson, executive director of the Republican Party of Wisconsin, was critical of the governor’s selection.
“(Evers) called for a special election on a Monday over the holidays in order to shield his party from rural voters during the spring election,” Jefferson said in a statement. “Governor Evers knows the problems that come with holding an election in 26 counties during the holidays, but he doesn’t care. Clerks are already burdened by existing end-of-year priorities such as budgets and property taxes, along with reviewing nomination papers for local offices.”
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Meanwhile, Analiese Eicher, executive director with the progressive group One Wisconsin Now, praised Evers’ order, while recalling former Gov. Scott Walker’s reluctance to host special elections last year to fill two vacant seats — one in the Senate and one in the Assembly. A judge ultimately ordered Walker to hold the special elections, rather than wait for a November general election.
“It seems that unlike Scott Walker, who had to be compelled by state courts to call elections for legislative vacancies he created, Governor Evers believes people deserve representation,” Eicher said in an email.
The winner of the special election will serve through the end of 2020 and have to run again in the November 2020 election if he or she wishes to serve a full two-year term.
Wisconsin’s 7th District covers all or parts of 20 central, northern and northwestern Wisconsin counties and is the state’s largest congressional district geographically. In 2012, Republican Mitt Romney carried the district with 51% of the vote, compared with 48% that went to then-President Barack Obama. In 2016, Trump won it by 57% to 37% over Democrat Hillary Clinton.
Republican state Sen. Tom Tiffany is the only announced candidate and has closely aligned himself with Trump. Jason Church, an Army veteran who lost both his legs in Afghanistan and now works for Sen. Ron Johnson, also is considering a GOP run, as is Cuban-born Wausau thoracic surgeon Fernando “Fritz” Riveron.
On the Democratic side, those considering a bid include state Rep. Nick Milroy, of South Range; state Sen. Janet Bewley, of Mason; former state Sen. Pat Kreitlow, of Chippewa Falls; Wausau attorney Christine Bremer Muggli; and Margaret Engebretson, a political newcomer in 2018 who ran against Duffy and got 38% of the vote.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.