Tag Archives: wisconsin legislature

Wisconsin ‘swept away’ in a Trump wave


Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald both predicted a Trump wave head of Tuesday’s elections. Donald Trump would help, not hurt, the Republican legislative leaders build their majorities. Democrats scoffed, but it looks like that’s just what happened.

Thanks to the Trump wave that emerged, Republicans dominated Wisconsin’s legislative races, not only maintaining their majorities in the Senate and Assembly but growing them to levels not seen in decades. Republicans have had complete control of state government since 2011; Tuesday’s victories coupled with Scott Walker’s continued presence in the governor’s office ensure the GOP will run everything for at least another two years.

“We certainly benefited from the Trump phenomenon,” an upbeat Fitzgerald said during a telephone interview Wednesday. “I could see it early this summer. (Republican) candidates kind of embraced that instead of shying away from it.”

Democrats didn’t have much hope of gaining control of either chamber. A law Republicans passed in 2011 redrew legislative district boundaries to consolidate GOP power, leaving only a handful of true swing districts and the GOP held an insurmountable 63–36 advantage in the Assembly heading into Election Day.

Still, Democrats saw a chance to at least make some gains in the Senate, where Republicans held an 18–14 edge with one open seat. They set their sights on the vacant seat and Republican Sen. Luther Olsen of Ripon, one of the last GOP moderates in the chamber.

But their plans fell apart as soon as returns began flowing in Tuesday evening. Not only did no Republican incumbents lose in the Trump wave that followed, but GOP challenger Dan Feyen bested Winnebago County Executive Mark Harris for the open seat and Patrick Testin knocked off incumbent Democrat Julie Lassa of Stevens Point to give Republicans a 20–12 advantage, their biggest majority since 1971.

A spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling, who spearheaded the Democrats’ Senate campaigns, had no immediate comment when asked for thoughts on how Republicans were able to win so many seats. Shilling has her own problems; as of Wednesday morning her race against Republican challenger Dan Kapanke was still too close to call. Returns showed her leading by just 58 votes.

Taking out Shilling would be a huge coup for Republicans. It would offer a modicum of revenge for Kapanke, who lost the seat to Shilling in a 2011 recall spurred by anger over Walker’s signature collective bargaining restrictions. A Shilling loss would leave Senate Democrats rudderless and derail any hopes she was harboring for a gubernatorial bid in 2018. A Kapanke win also would give Republicans a 21-seat majority, their biggest advantage since 1967, before man walked on the moon.

Shilling issued a statement saying she looked forward to continuing to serve in Madison but didn’t declare victory. Kapanke’s campaign manager didn’t immediately return messages. Fitzgerald said Kapanke was waiting for the official canvass before making any moves, but a recount request could be coming.

Meanwhile in the Assembly, Vos said back in September that he initially thought Trump, with his brash style and jaw-dropping remarks about women and immigrants, would hurt down-ticket Republicans. But the billionaire businessman was actually bringing out conservative voters, Vos said. He predicted Trump would create a “small positive” for them.

Indeed, Republicans didn’t lose any Assembly seats and Mondovi Mayor Treig Pronschinske defeated Democrat Chris Danou of Trempealeau to bring the GOP majority to 64-35. That’s the largest advantage Assembly Republicans have held since 1957.

Vos spokeswoman Kit Beyer didn’t immediately respond to an email seeking comment. Vos had planned a news conference for Wednesday afternoon to discuss the victories.

Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca of Kenosha issued a statement Wednesday calling the election “gut-wrenching and surprising.”

“Our state was swept in a Trump wave,” Barca said. “Democrats will never cease to be a voice for all the people — especially those who woke up this morning feeling alienated and powerless in their own country.”

Republicans first task when the legislative session begins in January will be crafting the 2017–19 state budget. Perhaps the biggest challenge they’ll face is figuring out how to plug a $1 billion shortfall in the state’s road building and maintenance fund. Walker wants to deal with the shortfall by delaying work on major projects and borrowing; Fitzgerald backs that approach but Vos has called it a short-term political solution that will exacerbate delays on southeastern Wisconsin freeway work, setting up an intra-party squabble before legislators take their oaths of office.


Wisconsin Gazette endorses Rep. Mandela Barnes in 4th Senate District

State Rep. Mandela Barnes is a rising star in Wisconsin progressive politics. One of the “young guns” first elected in 2012 — a group that includes Reps. Jonathan Brostoff, Danny Reimer and Evan Goyke — he’s exactly the kind of committed, articulate and polished leader that Milwaukeeans so badly need representing them in Madison. He’s a persuasive advocate for Milwaukee public schools, and a proven fighter against poverty, homelessness and crime.

On Aug. 9, Barnes wants residents of the 4th Senate District to choose him and oust longtime Sen. Lena Taylor.

We enthusiastically support his campaign.

Taylor has a troubled, sometimes reckless persona that has hindered her effectiveness as a legislator. She’s cast some votes that are clearly in opposition to the best interests of her constituents.

For instance, Taylor voted against a cap on the usurious interest rates charged by so-called “pay day” lenders, who prey mostly on poor people. She supported a Republican-backed measure to increase per-pupil funding for charter schools, taking money away from MPS and giving it to private schools.

Taylor also voted for concealed carry and the “castle doctrine,” which offers wide latitude for residents to shoot and kill people they believe to be home intruders.

Barnes, on the other hand, is a fierce supporter of gun control.

Barnes is a creative, solutions-driven lawmaker. Last year, he and state Sen. Chris Larson introduced a plan to “transform what we commonly think of a school to be more of a central part of the community,” he told WiG. The plan would use schools as centers that can play a variety of roles and offer a variety of services to their surrounding communities. It utilizes schools in “a more holistic way,” he said.

MPS students in impoverished areas face crushing odds, Barnes said.

“One out of 19 MPS students is homeless,” he told us. “That’s slightly over 5 percent of the school population that’s at an immediate and considerable disadvantage.”

While schools in advantaged neighborhoods (those with a high property-tax base) have school nurses and psychologists, as well as athletic and arts programs, MPS schools in poor areas lack such resources. Barnes wants schools to become centers that offer not only those services but also enrichment programs that would put poor MPS students on a level playing field.

Immersed in violence, food and lodging insecurity, and unemployment, many MPS students don’t have much of a chance, Barnes said. “When students have to go home every night and hear gunshots, how are they supposed to concentrate on their homework?”

For a candidate challenging an entrenched Democratic incumbent — Taylor has served in the Assembly since 2003 — Barnes has racked up an impressive list of endorsements from progressive groups, including American Federation of Teachers Local 212, Citizen Action of Wisconsin, Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association, Service Employees International Union Local 1 Wisconsin, United Automobile Workers Southeastern Wisconsin Area CAP Council, Wisconsin Education Association Council, Wisconsin Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals, Wisconsin Jobs Now and Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters.

WiG urges the residents of the 4th District — from the suburbs of Shorewood, Glendale and Wauwatosa to the blighted neighborhoods of the Northwest Side — to support Barnes. He not only fully understands the problems that metro Milwaukee faces, but also has demonstrated the leadership skills needed to develop and champion solutions.

Milwaukee and the State of Wisconsin need him — and more men and women like him — in Madison.

For more, go to www.mandelabarnes.com.

See also:

Milwaukee needs DA John Chisholm

State Rep. LaTonya Johnson for 6th Senate District

Edgar Lin for 16th Assembly District

Endorsement: Marisabel Cabrera is best choice for 9th Assembly District

Endorsement: Marisabel Cabrera is best choice for 9th Assembly District

State Rep. Josh Zepnick has won support progressive groups such as Planned Parenthood and Fair Wisconsin. But in this election cycle, we prefer his primay challenger, immigration lawyer Marisabel Cabrera, in the 9th Assembly District.

The reasons are multifold. Zepnick recently sponsored legislation that would have made it easier to privatize public water systems by making it harder for citizens to collect signatures for referendums on such proposals. That action cost Zepnick, a 14-year incumbent, the endorsement of the Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters, which has supported him in the past. Both WLCV and Clean Wisconsin Action Fund have endorsed Cabrera in this race.

Zepnick also introduced legislation that would have relied on debt collection from county residents to pay $4 million a year to subsidize the Bucks arena. Both bills were defeated.

Like many Republicans — and an unfortunate number of Democrats, as well — Zepnick has taken contributions from the predatory pay day-loan industry. He’s received a lot of support from electric utilities that have made it difficult to get wind and solar energy on the grid in Wisconsin.

Last year, Zepnick was arrested for drunken driving.

Perhaps most importantly,  Zepnick’s enthusiasm for the job of representing the district appears to be waning. Earlier this year, he ran in the 8th Aldermanic District’s primary race as one of two candidates seeking to oust right-wing Ald. Bob Donovan. It’s time for enthusiastic new leadership.

Cabrera, an immigration lawyer who’s been in private practice for a decade, said she’s long felt the public interests of the South Side district where she was born have been “under-represented” in the Legislature. She told WiG that, in the process of knocking on 100 doors a day in the district, she’s found that “people are super excited to have someone else running in this race.”

Cabrera, who earned an undergraduate degree from the University of Wisconsin and a law degree at Michigan State University, said she believes adequate funding for public schools is a “civil rights issue,” since public education is “the great equalizer” in affording opportunities for all.

Cabrera serves on the Milwaukee Fire and Police Commission, where she’s gained grassroots experience in police-community relations that is badly needed in Madison. She promised to be a champion in pushing for adequate state funding for public safety, including funds for training police officers. “We need to have collaboration” among police and citizens and to promote a high “level of mutual trust and respect,” she said.

Cabrera says “it’s no secret” that she is bisexual but has not wanted to use that in an “opportunistic” way to try to win votes. In a state where women, ethnic minorities and LGBT people are poorly represented in government, however, she would lend valuable perspective to the Assembly.

AFSCME Council 32 and Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters have endorsed Cabrera. Other supporters include State Rep. Mandela Barnes, former Greendale Village President John Hermes (current chair of the Metropolitan Milwaukee Sewerage District), MPS board member Dr. Tatiana Joseph, Ald. Nik Kovac, State Sen. Chris Larson, Ald. Chantia Lewis and MPS Board vice president Larry Miller.

For more, go to www.cabreraforassembly.com.

See also:

Milwaukee needs DA John Chisholm

Rep. Mandella Barnes for 4th Senate District

State Rep. LaTonya Johnson for 6th Senate District

Edgar Lin for 16th Assembly District

Vote Edgar Lin for 16th Assembly District

Edgar Lin is challenging Rep. Leon Young in Assembly District 16, which stretches from the Northwest Side through Riverwest to Avenues West — and comprises a wide range of socioeconomic conditions. Lin, 32, told WiG he wants to bring “zealous advocacy and new solutions” to current problems.

Born in Taiwan, Lin and his family moved to California when he was a child. He earned an economics degree at Rutgers University and worked as a financial analyst. He discovered he did not “feel a passion for crunching numbers” and got itchy to have more impact on civic issues. So he decided to study law — which brought him to the University of Wisconsin. He completed a law-school internship in Sherman Park and moved to Milwaukee three years ago as an assistant state public defender, after working in that role in Appleton. He’s on an unpaid leave as he campaigns.

Lin says he is “pragmatic” and believes that by focusing on “common goals” it’s possible to be effective within a minority party.

Lin’s platform features detailed plans for economic development, including innovative approaches to encouraging startups and small businesses — a major source of stable local jobs. He told WiG “economic development — creating jobs — is the overarching theme in many, many sound policy issues.” He also wants to encourage the updating of job centers, hiring of local residents, and raising the minimum wage. He sees it as a moral issue that corporations pay workers enough that they don’t need government assistance.

Criminal justice reform is another priority. Lin advocates for those who have served time to be able to reconnect with their community through jobs and education, which reduces recidivism. He also said, “We need to treat addiction as a public-health issue, not a criminal-justice issue.”

Besides Young, Lin’s other opponents are Brandy Bond and Stephen Jansen. Lin is the best funded. He earned endorsements from the AFSCME, Citizen Action of Wisconsin, Federation of Nurses and Healthcare Professionals, League of Conservation Voters, Wisconsin Jobs Now and Wisconsin Progress, as well as by Ald. Nik Kovac and County Supervisor Marciela Nicholson.

See these other WiG other endorsements for Aug. 8:

Milwaukee needs DA John Chisholm

Rep. Mandella Barnes for 4th Senate District

State Rep. LaTonya Johnson for 6th Senate District

Endorsement: Marisabel Cabrera is best choice for 9th Assembly District

Dems: Bring back 48-hour wait period for gun purchases

In the wake of yet another rash of high-profile mass shootings, Democratic lawmakers in Wisconsin held a news conference on Oct. 14 calling for the reinstatement of a law mandating a 48-hour waiting period before purchasing handguns.

In June, GOP lawmakers repealed the waiting-period law, which had been on the books for 40 years. 

“This (reinstatement) bill is one small step in a larger effort to try to curb gun violence in our communities,” said state Sen. Nikiya Harris Dodd, D-Milwaukee, in a press statement. “The 48-hour waiting period is a proven method to reduce impulsive actions by those who are looking to harm themselves or others.”

The Democratic effort, however, has virtually no chance of succeeding in Wisconsin’s Republican-controlled Legislature.

Only nine states and the District of Columbia require waiting periods for handgun purchases, ranging from three days to two weeks, according to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, a gun-control advocacy group.

Gov. Pat Lucey signed the waiting-period bill into law in 1976 to provide a cushion of time for people to cool off before acting out violently during times of intense personal crises, such as jealous rages. The cooling-off period also was designed to discourage suicides, particularly impulsive suicides.

More than half of all deaths by suicide in the United States are carried out using firearms, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In fact, more people die of self-inflicted gunshots than shots fired by others. Although more people attempt suicide by overdose, they are successful only 3 percent of the time. Suicide attempts using firearms succeed 85 percent of the time.

“For those considering an impulsive violent act, handguns have the deadly appeal of being both highly lethal and accessible,” said state Rep. Gordon Hintz, D-Oshkosh. “Contrary to popular belief, suicides most often take place in a relatively brief time frame of intensified vulnerability. For someone considering hurting themselves or others, the 48-hour waiting period provides a time to cool off and reconsider.”

Republicans counter that the waiting period inconveniences law-abiding citizens. They argue that the waiting period was enacted because background checks in 1976 required digging through file cards by hand. Today the state Department of Justice can perform online background checks almost instantaneously.

NRA Agenda

Wisconsin Republicans took up the repeal bill shortly after the National Rifle Association’s call in April for an end to such laws. The NRA’s legal action institute said the law had become an unnecessary inconvenience for handgun dealers and buyers.

Gov. Scott Walker signed the repeal of the waiting-period law just one week after a racist gunman killed nine African-American people attending a Bible study meeting in a church in Charleston, South Carolina. Walker defended his timing, which progressives criticized.

“If we pulled back on this, it would have given people the erroneous opinion that signing the law today had anything to do with what happened in Charleston,” Walker said. “This allows Wisconsin’s law to catch up with the 21st century.”

Between 2008 and 2014, the NRA spent $3.5 million to support Walker, according to the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign. 

Wisconsin’s Republican leadership has made the expansion of gun ownership and gun owners’ rights a priority since taking over all aspects of state government in 2010.

In June, in addition to overturning the waiting-period law, Wisconsin’s Republican majority also passed two bills expanding the state’s concealed carry law. One measure allows active-duty soldiers stationed for at least a year in Wisconsin to obtain a state concealed carry license. The other enables former police officers who worked out-of-state but now reside here to apply for a federal concealed carry license if they obtain annual training through the Wisconsin Department of Justice, sparing them a trip back to their former state to obtain the training.

Also in June, Republicans pushed through a law allowing off-duty, retired officers to carry guns at schools. The law’s chief Senate sponsor, Sen. Van Wanggaard, R-Racine, said it would create another line of defense for students and teachers if a shooter attacks them.

Opponents said allowing non-uniformed officers to carry guns at schools could scare students and allow non-officers to carry concealed weapons without school administrators being able to interfere. They also said officers who are mentally unstable could create deadly situations in schools.

Milwaukee Bucks spent more money lobbying Legislature than any other group this year

The Milwaukee Bucks spent more money lobbying the Wisconsin Legislature than any other organization during the first half of the year, as the NBA team was pushing for approval of a new basketball arena, a report released Friday showed.

The state elections board, which oversees lobbying, reported that the Bucks spent just over $482,000 on lobbying through June. The next highest was the Wisconsin Hospital Association at nearly $379,000 followed by the state chamber of commerce at nearly $349,000.

The Bucks’ lobbying paid off. The Legislature, on bipartisan votes, ultimately approved spending $250 million in taxpayer money on a new stadium for the team. Gov. Scott Walker signed the measure into law earlier this month.

The amount spent by the Bucks doesn’t include lobbying done on the arena bill in July, which is when it passed both the Senate and Assembly. Those figures will be reported in January.

The budget, which dominated legislative debate in the first half of the year and into mid-July before it was passed, elicited more than 48,500 hours of lobbying. That comes to 367 hours for each of the 132 lawmakers, or two hours each and every day from January through June for every member of the Legislature.

Hours of lobbying accounts for far more than just in-person arm-twisting and includes such things as research and outreach to the public.

The two most heavily lobbied topics within the budget were Gov. Scott Walker’s proposals to change how medical assistance and long-term care services are delivered.

The first and third most-lobbied bills, outside of the budget, were Republican-backed Assembly and Senate measures to eliminate the prevailing wage law, which sets a minimum salary for construction workers on government projects.

Changes to that law were ultimately approved as part of the budget.

The second-most heavily lobbied bill outside the budget was one making Wisconsin a right-to-work state, where private-sector employees can’t be forced to join a union or pay dues as a condition of employment. The Legislature passed that in March, and Walker signed it into law.

Those three bills received 5,575 hours of lobbying time — or about 42 hours for each of the 132 lawmakers.

Overall, lobbying organizations spent $18.5 million through June. That is an increase of 9 percent over what was spent in the same time period in 2013, the last time a state budget was debated. Spending was still lower than the $23.9 million spent in 2011.

The total number of hours spent lobbying on all issues was 123,522, or 935 hours for each member of the Legislature. There were 598 lobbyists working for 718 registered lobbying firms.

Annette ‘Polly’ Williams, longtime Wisconsin lawmaker, dies

Annette “Polly” Williams, the longest-serving woman in the Wisconsin Legislature, died on Nov. 9.

U.S. Rep. Gwen Moore, D-Milwaukee, said in a statement released this afternoon, “Annette ‘Polly’ Williams was a political powerhouse in Wisconsin and throughout the nation, leaving behind a proud, historic legacy of public service. She was fiercely independent, a free thinker whose determination was only matched by her compassion and concern for her constituents.

“I knew Polly not only as a colleague and mentor, but as a cherished friend. Polly, however powerful, perfected the ‘servant leader’ model. She inspired me and other legislators across Wisconsin, demonstrating honest leadership through service. As an example, she prepared meals for bereaved families stricken by tragedy and provided her entire community for the annual free holiday feast. She was an example not only to those who wished to serve, but also to all who shared her eagerness to make a difference in their community.

“Thank you, our beloved Polly, for leaving us with your eternal flame of service that will continue to ignite us as we work with renewed fervor to serve the people.”

Williams, 77, was a Milwaukee Democrat who served in the Assembly for three decades before her retirement in 2010. She also is credited with establishing the African American Education Council, which promoted reform in Milwaukee Public Schools. She helped draft legislation that created the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program, the nation’s first school choice program. 

Gov. Scott Walker, in a statement, said, “Representative Williams was a dedicated public servant and I am saddened to hear of her passing. I had the honor of serving with her in the State Assembly. She was dedicated to her district, to her community, and most importantly, to the students who benefited from her work on school choice.  Tonette and I send our thoughts and prayers to her family and friends during this difficult time.”

On the Web…

The Wikipedia entry for Annette “Polly” Williams. 

Our chance to get immigration right

People like to say that the United States is a nation of immigrants. However, some immigrants have been more welcome than others.

In the 1920s, immigration quotas favored northern and western Europeans nine-to-one over other immigrants. In 1965, an immigration overhaul gave priority to immigrants with in-demand skills or close relatives in the U.S., regardless of their skin color or country of origin.

One compelling reason to control population flow is the potential for a cheap labor supply. With an abundance of fertile land to till, the founding fathers relied on an involuntary form of immigration — slavery — to reduce labor costs.

After the Civil war, waves of Irish, Italian, Chinese, Mexican and other immigrants fed the low-wage worker pool. During Reagan’s 1983 amnesty program, employers arranged for their poorly paid, mostly Mexican farm and factory workers to become citizens.

The 1993 North American Fair Trade agreement, also known as NAFTA, gutted Mexico’s economy, driving marginalized workers north to seek economic opportunity. Those who endured the exploitative wages and harsh conditions stayed, along with their young foreign-born children. Like LGBT school teachers of yesteryear, they have been hiding in the shadows, waiting for their lives to come crashing down at any moment.

So why did civil rights and immigration reform bills both pass in that glorious year of 1965? Because presidents Kennedy and Johnson understood that racial/ethnic profiling of immigrants was as much a civil-rights violation as segregation in the South.

Fifty years later, the American public has come to recognize that LGBT rights are human rights. With Eric Holder’s recent announcement, same-sex- marriage prohibitions in the states have been all but defeated. Americans also increasingly understand that undocumented people living in the nation — some estimated 11 million — have unalienable human rights.

Just like in the 1960s, young people have been the catalysts for this change of heart. Many were brought here as small children, not knowing that they were “illegal aliens” until they wanted to get a driver’s license or apply for college as in-state students. They are known as DREAMERS, because they want to fulfill their American dream of making a better life for themselves than their parents.

These youth have taken a page from the LGBT activism playbook by coming out as “undocumented and unafraid.” In fact, “undocuqueers” dominate the leadership of the DREAMER movement. Obama’s 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals executive order allows law-abiding undocumented young people to get work permits and driver’s licenses for two years. At a DACA public-education workshop, one young man looked in awe at the sea of undocumented youth in attendance. “I never knew there were so many people like me,” he exclaimed.

On Feb. 3, state Rep. JoCasta Zamarripa introduced two bills in the Wisconsin Legislature: one to allow undocumented Wisconsin high school graduates to pay in-state rather than pricey international student tuition in the University of Wisconsin system. The other creates driver’s license cards for undocumented drivers, who currently risk detention or deportation for something as simple as a traffic stop.

I invite you to join this newest civil-rights struggle. Urge your state representative to support Zamarripa’s bills.

Lesley Salas is associate director of Milwaukee-based Voces de la Frontera.

Wis. Republicans already veering into social issues

Leaders of the new Republican majority in the Wisconsin Legislature are quietly twisting arms to try to get their members to focus solely on measures to create jobs and boost the economy when they assume power in two months.

But some Republicans, whose attempts to act on social issues failed under Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle the past eight years, say they intend to press ahead to legalize concealed weapons, pass tough new immigration restrictions, and eliminate domestic partner benefits and the state’s domestic partner registry.

The different perspectives and priorities are starting to emerge as the party transitions from its triumphant midterm election campaign, in which it won the governor’s office and both chambers of the Legislature, to the much different challenge of turning ideas into laws.

Already, the Republicans are facing competing pressures over whether to try to have a wide-ranging impact or to pursue a more cautious and limited agenda.

Soon-to-be Majority Leader Scott Suder, R-Abbotsford, has been pressing members in private calls to focus on the economic legislation and put off everything else.

“I’m a little nervous” about the talk about abortion legislation and other issues, said Rep. Dean Kaufert, R-Neenah, a 20-year veteran of the Assembly. “I’m going to do what I can to try to keep us focused.”

Newly elected state Rep. Kathy Bernier, a Republican from Lake Hallie who received a call from Suder, said she was also a “little bit” worried about the other issues that were prominent in the campaign.

Republican leaders believe they have strong base of support for action on the economy. A survey by St. Norbert College showed that 73 percent of respondents said jobs, economy, budget and debt were the most important issues facing the state. Only 2 percent named immigration and just 1 percent said abortion.

Incoming Republican Gov. Scott Walker has called for quick passage of proposals to spur job creation, including cutting taxes on small businesses, cutting taxes on Health Savings Accounts and reforming the state Department of Commerce.

But the GOP includes fervent and loyal social conservatives who helped deliver the party’s dramatic victory in November and now expect action on issues that have already passed in other Republican-controlled states.

Republican state Rep. Don Pridemore said he plans on introducing a bill similar to the controversial new law in Arizona that would crack down on illegal immigration. Pridemore’s bill would require that people suspected of crimes would have to prove they’re in the country legally or be turned over to federal immigration authorities.

The idea has been denounced by immigrant-rights groups and would prompt a legislative battle. But Pridemore said the bill could be debated without becoming a distraction.

Sen. Scott Fitzgerald, who will be majority leader in January, declared on election night that the first bill he intends to see passed would require voters to show photo identification at the polls as a way to stop voter fraud. Democrats have long blocked it, arguing it suppresses turnout. Other Republican lawmakers have said they intend to impose more restrictions on abortions, legalize concealed weapons and repeal a recently enacted law that extends benefits to domestic partners of gay state workers..

It will only be a few months before the Legislature turns to non-economic issues, said Sen. Glenn Grothman, R-West Bend.

“We’re not going to spend the next 18 months doing nothing but economic issues,” Grothman said. “That would be a slap in the face to a large share of the electorate.”

Former Gov. Tommy Thompson, a Republican who served 14 years, said navigating the agenda will be precarious unless the Legislature successfully enacts a substantial new economic program.

“If they can’t deliver there will be hell to pay in 2012,” he said before the election.

Kaufert said he also feared voters would have little patience if his colleagues get bogged down.

“The danger is the citizens of the state will just say we’ll clean house again and we’re going to keep doing it until we get it right,” he said.

Republican Party Chairman Reince Priebus said the economy won’t prevent the Legislature from acting on other priorities. “It doesn’t mean we have to exclude tackling every other issue facing the voters of Wisconsin,” he said. “You can walk and chew gum at the same time.”

Democrats are encouraged by the prospect of Republicans getting entangled in social issues that are highly contentious and have less public support.

The Republican focus on jobs and the economy will last “about 20 seconds,” said Mordecai Lee, a former Democratic state lawmaker and currently a University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee political science professor.

“They ran on jobs and the economy,” said Democratic state Rep. Mark Pocan of Madison. “Now if we get a bait and switch to a social issues agenda, that would not be a very popular move.”

Walker, who ran with Tea Party support, promised on the campaign trail to sign an Arizona-style immigration law and to ban embryonic stem cell research, groundbreaking work that was pioneered at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Since the election, Walker’s rhetoric has focused on his pledge that with Republicans back in control, “Wisconsin is open for business.” His spokesman, Cullen Werwie, said Walker will review bills not related to the economy on a case by case basis, but his focus remains on his jobs agenda.