LGBT activists revamp strategy after GOP retakes state Senate

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Mingled with the joy over all the high-profile political victories on Nov. 6 was the realization that the state’s tea party-led Republicans regained total control of state government by retaking the Senate.

Republicans were in command of state government when political maps were redrawn following the 2010 Census. That once-a-decade process, known as “reapportionment,” allowed the GOP to create district boundaries for Assembly and Senate seats that are favorable to their side. Despite a strong field of Democratic Assembly and Senate candidates who worked hard, the state’s new political map made it all but impossible for them. 

What Republicans intend to do with their reclaimed majority remains to be seen. They passed all of their hot-button issues last session, including Gov. Scott Walker’s union-busting budget bill, mandating photo ID at the polls and legalizing concealed weapons.

Their general goals, from relaxing mining standards to revising photo identification requirements for voters in order to satisfy court challenges that left the law in limbo, could stir things up again.

But one thing is certain: The GOP can push through just about any proposal it chooses when the next legislative session begins in January.

“We have a very conservative Assembly and now a conservative Senate to go with,” said Jason Burns, executive director of Equality Wisconsin. “I’m very worried that people will disengage and say, ‘We’ve won,” and now we can sit back and relax. And that’s exactly what we can’t do. We need to remember that our level of engagement cannot diminish for one minute or the hard-fought victories that we’ve won could all be in jeopardy.”

Wisconsin advocates for women’s health, LGBT equality, the environment, public education and consumer rights know they’ll probably spend at least the next two years at the state level playing defense rather than moving forward.

Katie Belanger of Fair Wisconsin said her organization will continue to focus on issues at the local level, where FW has had great success over past months in helping to enact domestic partnership benefits in Appleton, Racine, Eau Claire and Janesville. 

“Fair Wisconsin’s perspective is this is a time for us to be political realists,” Belanger said. “We know the state is going to be in Republican control for the foreseeable future. It’s an opportunity to build relations and do our educational advocacy work with an eye toward the long term.”

Belanger said the historic victories for equality across the country on Nov. 6 should have a dampening effect on any GOP desires to enact anti-gay legislation in Madison. Those victories include the decisive win of U.S. Senate candidate Tammy Baldwin in Wisconsin, the re-election of the nation’s first pro-marriage equality president and the unprecedented triumphs for equality at the polls in four states. Minnesotans rejected a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage and voters approved same-sex marriage laws in Maine, Maryland and Washington. Iowans voted to retain a judge who was targeted for defeat by the Christian right for ruling in favor of marriage equality in their state.

And a record number of LGBT candidates were elected to both local and national offices across the country.

“Even David Koch and Paul Singer, two of the biggest conservative donors in the country, are for marriage equality,” Belanger said. “I think Republicans and conservatives are seeing the writing on the wall – that the population is moving very, very quickly in this direction. They’re grappling with how to shift their views on this issue.

“They’re either going to get on the train or they’re going to get in the way of the train, but it’s still moving forward, with or without them.”