A circuit judge today reaffirmed a prior ruling that ordered Scott Walker to call for special elections in two legislative districts that have remained unrepresented for over a year. The seats became vacant when Walker tapped Republican Sen. Frank Lasee and Rep. Keith Ripp to serve in his administration.
The initial ruling came from Dane County Circuit Judge Josann Reynolds, who was appointed by Walker. Reynolds ruled last week on a case brought by voters in the two districts, who argued that Walker’s failure to act had left them disenfranchised.
Their judges asked Reynolds to force Walker to call the elections, and she did, ordering him to do so by Thursday.
In today’s ruling, Dane County Circuit Judge Richard Niess confirmed Reynolds’ decision
Critics say Walker is depriving 200,000 people of representation out of fear he might lose the seats, even though the losses would not alter Republicans’ control of either the Senate or the Assembly.
Walker acknowledged he was frightened after a solid red district in January chose Democrat Patty Schachtner over well-known Republican Adam Jarchow. He called the upset “a wake-up call.”
In today’s hearing, Walker’s lawyers from the Department of Justice argued that it would be folly to call the elections on Thursday, because Republicans have called for an extraordinary session to pass a new law on April 4 that would change how elections in the state are held. Republicans hold all the power in the Legislature.
The new law, they said, would let Walker avoid Reynolds’ order by removing the requirement for the governor to promptly call special elections when vacancies occur in the Legislature. Instead, it would bar special elections after the spring primary in years when the legislative seat would be normally filled. Vacancies would be filled in the regular November election.
And the new law would prohibit Walker specifically from calling special elections in the two districts now vacant — the 1st Senate District and the 42nd Assembly District.
But Judge Niess said, “There is no basis for this court to even consider the legislative proposal.”
“I can't presume that the Legislature is going to just lock-step pass this bill,” he said apparently without sarcasm. "I am not ruling on what the law might be in the future. I am enforcing the law as it is now. Other arguments are for another day. ... When and if a legislative bill becomes a law, it can be brought to a court and at that time arguments can be made about what the effect of the law is."
Condemnation of the Republicans’ avoidance tactics came fast and hard. State senator and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Dana Wachs saw Walker’s latest action as part of his history of attacking the electoral process.
“Gov. Walker implemented restrictive voter ID requirements,” Wachs wrote in a prepared statement. “Next, he gerrymandered Wisconsin districts. Then he cut back early voting opportunities. And with his refusal to hold special elections, he is simply denying voters even the opportunity for an election. There is nothing less democratic or less American.
“There is nothing more sacred than your constitutional right to vote. Gov. Walker is denying Wisconsinites the right to vote. His efforts have become more and more extreme over the years. The people of Wisconsin will not have it anymore. We will not allow him to behave like a monarch. We will demand representation under the law for the voters of Lodi and DePere.
And we will vote Walker out of office in November.”