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Democratic Group Sues Gov. Walker Over Not Calling Special Elections

Lawsuit Asks Judge To Order Walker To Call Elections For Vacant Senate, Assembly Districts

voters cast ballots
Timothy D. Easley/AP Photo

A group run by former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder is suing Gov. Scott Walker over Walker’s decision to leave two Wisconsin state legislative seats vacant this year.

The National Democratic Redistricting Committee announced the lawsuit Monday on behalf of several voters from the 1st state Senate District in northeast Wisconsin and the 42nd state Assembly District in south central Wisconsin.

The group’s complaint states Walker has a “plain non-discretionary legal duty to call for such an election to fill the vacancies ‘as promptly as possible.’”

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Both districts were vacated Dec. 29, when former state Sen. Frank Lasee and former state Rep. Keith Ripp resigned from the Legislature to take jobs in Walker’s administration.

“Gov. Scott Walker’s refusal to hold special elections is an affront to representative democracy,” Holder said in a press release announcing the lawsuit. “Forcing citizens to go more than a year without representation in the general Assembly is a plain violation of their rights and we’re hopeful the court will act quickly to order the governor to hold elections.”

The state Constitution requires governors to call special elections to fill vacancies, and state law requires the elections to be called as promptly as possible.

Walker argues that because the seats were vacated in late 2017, he’s not obligated to call the elections in 2018.

He also argues that even if he had called special elections immediately, the seats would not have been filled before the end of this year’s legislative session.

“Voters are already going to the polls this year to elect new representatives in these districts,” said Walker Press Secretary Amy Hasenberg. “This D.C.-based special interest group wants to force Wisconsin taxpayers to waste money.”

Plaintiffs contend that unless the governor acts, they will be without representation for more than a year, which is a violation of their legal rights.

A recent WisContext review of special elections in Wisconsin from 1971 through January 2018 did not turn up a single instance when a governor left a seat unoccupied for more than a year.

Democrats won a surprising victory in the recent special election for the 10th state Senate District when now-Sen. Patty Schachtner, D-Somerset, defeated state Rep. Adam Jarchow, R-Balsam Lake.

Schachtner replaced former Sen. Sheila Harsdorf, R-River Falls, who left the Legislature to become Walker’s secretary of the state Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection.

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