By Senator, Lena C. Taylor
Walker and GOP: Don’t Like a Judge’s Order, Just Change the Law
You can’t make this stuff up! A Wisconsin judge issues an order that Governor Scott Walker and Republicans in the legislature didn’t like. Their response; change the law, make it retroactive, and get around the court decision.
In December 2017, the Governor had three members of the legislature join his cabinet. State law required him to call special elections to fill those seats. Walker chose to hold a special election for only one of those open seats, the 10th Senate district. Held for 17 years by Republican Sheila Harsdorf, most expected that another Republican would easily win. After all, the district has voted Republican for a long time, going 52% to 46% for Mitt Romney in 2012 and a whopping 55%-38% for Trump in 2016. So imagine the shock when Patty Schachtner, a Democrat, won the January special election. After that, the Governor was done holding special elections.
Yet, there are roughly 200,000 state residents, from the two remaining vacant districts, that don’t currently have representation or a vote in legislative decisions. Walker and Republicans were fine ignoring state law and allowing that to go on until January, 2019, following the regularly scheduled elections for the seats in November. They used 100 out of state military voters and the cost of holding a special election has an excuse not to hold the election. This didn’t sit well with a number of people and a group of plaintiffs and The National Redistricting Foundation, with the help of former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, sued Walker last week to force him to hold the special elections.
A Dane County Circuit court judge ruled against Walker. The Governor and his Department of Justice appealed the decision. As additional insurance, Republicans and Walker decided to call for an “extraordinary” session, on April 4th, to change the law that dictates when a special election must be held. With the majority that Republicans hold in the state legislature, they have the ability to pass any legislation they want. However, this is a clear abuse of power. For a governor of any party to work with the legislature to undermine a judicial ruling, that has now been upheld three separate times, is outrageous. Their plan to change state law, to not only accommodate their political agenda but thwart a court decision, would set a precedent that could have grave long-term consequences.
My office has received calls from people as far away as New Jersey that were concerned about the Governor’s actions. Ultimately, Walker has now consented to hold the special elections, but this window into how far Republican legislators are willing to go to retain power is both scary and simply unbelievable.