Wisconsin has been holding off on holding special elections to fill a pair of vacant seats in the state legislature amid the building momentum behind Democratic candidates. Thursday, a court ordered that those special elections must proceed, so Friday the state GOP decided to change the rules.
Republican Governor Scott Walker argued that he had no obligation to call a special election to fill seats vacant since December when two lawmakers stepped down to take positions in his administration. In light of Democratic momentum most recently seen in the election of Conor Lamb in Pennsylvania, the most politically safe strategy for Walker and Republicans was no election at all.
This tactic isn’t just at play in Wisconsin. Michigan Governor Rick Snyder and Florida Governor Rick Scott are using pages from the same playbook.
But Thursday, Judge Josann Reynolds of Dane County, appointed by Walker, ruled against him and ordered the elections to be held as soon as possible.
While Walker argued that a passage ordering special elections to fill vacancies “before the second Tuesday in May in the year in which a regular election is held” meant the law only applied to vacancies in election years therefore a vacancy in 2017 could be held open indefinitely, this was seen as absurd by the judge.
But Walker has decided to defy Reynolds’ ruling by ordering the legislature to rewrite the law so he doesn’t have to follow it.
“It would be senseless to waste taxpayer money on special elections just weeks before voters go to the polls when the legislature has concluded its business,” said Walker.
— Emilee Fannon (@Emilee_WKOW) March 23, 2018
Lawmakers have been called back from their Easter recess in order to amend the law to allow Walker to continue to hold closed seats he fears might slip from Republican control.
Reynolds called this desperate clutching to power a stark hypocrisy from the party of strict constitutionalism.
“I cannot reconcile the incongruity between Governor Walker’s administration’s very vocal and consistent policy advocating for strict constructionism and the position taken by the attorney general in this case involving the most basic constitutional guarantee,” she said.
State Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling went a step farther, tweeting: “Rather than depriving thousands of Wisconsin families their constitutional right to representation, Senator Fitzgerald and Speaker Vos need to get it together and focus on the problems they were sent here to fix.”
Wisconsin’s legislature will meet next week in an extraordinary session to try and insulate these two seats from the momentum on the left that even conservatives admit has built over the last year.
Katelyn Kivel is a contributing editor for Grit Post in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Follow her on Twitter @KatelynKivel.