Fearing losses to Democrats, Wisconsin GOP looks to change special election laws

Gov. Scott Walker and Wisconsin Republicans have defied a court order, and will instead try to change the law

Published March 25, 2018 6:06PM (EDT)

Scott Walker   (AP/Paul Sancya)
Scott Walker (AP/Paul Sancya)

Wisconsin's Republican Gov. Scott Walker is desperately attempting to clean up a mess he brought upon himself, and it certainly seems as if he's afraid of the so-called Democratic "blue wave" reaching his state.

In defiance of a court order, the Wisconsin GOP has refused to hold two special elections in seats that were only left vacant because the two occupants took jobs within Walker's administration. Instead, Republicans are now headed back to the legislature — after having returned to their districts to campaign — to change laws regarding the state's special elections, according to the Associated Press.

"Republicans are clearly intimidated by the thought of losing power and would rather create chaos and confusion going into a tough re-election year," Senate Democratic Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling said.

Of course, it's all being done in the name of saving taxpayers more money. It's not at all clear what changes will be made, as conservative lawmakers have only said they are looking to "clean up" the current laws.

"The logistics of this (ruling) are very messy," Wisconsin Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said on Friday, according to the AP. "We still have an opportunity to straighten this out at the last minute here."

Walker has argued that changes would save taxpayers money, and that two simultaneous special elections would have confused voters. He has vowed to sign a bill that provided changes to special election rules, but it's still unclear what the legislation would even contain.

It comes after Dane County Circuit Judge Josann Reynolds ruled on Thursday in favor of The National Democratic Redistricting Committee, led by former Attorney General Eric Holder, that Walker must declare a date for the two special elections by March 29, as Salon has previously reported. It's likely that Walker and Wisconsin Republicans are fearful of another win by the Democrats after Democrat Patty Schachtner won a January special election in district President Donald Trump carried by 17 points in 2016.

Walker himself even called the election a "wake-up call," as Salon has previously reported.

The two seats have been left vacant since December 29, and, in accordance with state law, the special elections should have been called by Walker to fill "any vacancy in the office of state senator or representative to the Assembly occurring before the 2nd Tuesday in May in the year in which a regular election is held to fill that seat shall be filled as promptly as possible by special election."

If Wisconsin lawmakers change special election laws and push the two elections until November, as opposed to this spring, the winners would not be seated until January 2019. This means voters will have gone over an entire year without representation.

Reynolds ruled Walker's tactics to be "textbook voter disenfranchisement," the AP noted. Ironically enough, Reynolds was appointed as a judge by none other than Walker.

In the Trump era, it's easy to see why Wisconsin's lawmakers are nervous, as the Democrats have seized numerous special election victories since he entered the White House.

By Charlie May

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Democrats Gop Gov. Scott Walker Republicans Special Elections Voter Disenfranchisement Wisconsin