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GOP Leaders Call Extraordinary Session To Change Election Laws

Proposal Comes After Judge's Order To Fill Vacant Legislative Seats

state capitol, Laura Zimmerman WPR
Laura Zimmerman/WPR

The GOP leaders of the state Legislature said Friday they’re calling lawmakers back to Madison for an “extraordinary session” to change election laws in the wake of a court ruling on special elections.

The announcement from Sen. Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, comes a day after a Dane County judge ordered Gov. Scott Walker to call special elections for two seats in the state Legislature that have been vacant since late last year.

A national group led by former Attorney General Eric Holder sued Gov. Scott Walker to force him to call the elections, arguing the vacant seats deny constituents adequate representation.

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“It’s clear that little thought was given to the impact of the special elections ruling,” Vos and Fitzgerald said in a joint statement. “In essence, there will be two elections occurring simultaneously for the two offices. It will undoubtedly lead to voter confusion and electoral chaos.”

Walker said Friday he supports the move.

“It would be senseless to waste taxpayer money on special elections just weeks before voters go to the polls when the Legislature has concluded its business,” the governor said in a prepared statement. “This is why I support, and will sign, the Senate and Assembly plan to clarify special election law.”

Fitzgerald told reporters earlier Friday that forcing special elections just months before regularly scheduled elections would create unnecessary confusion.

“What we continue to come back to is this is going to be chaos and chaotic in the 1st Senate seat and the 42nd Assembly seat,” Fitzgerald said, referencing the vacant districts.

The vacant seats were held by Sen. Frank Lasee and Rep. Keith Ripp. Both former lawmakers left their posts to take jobs in the Walker administration.

“What Republicans are doing is saying listen, ‘We need to take a look at what are the logistics now of the elections and how would they be carried out by the elections board and does it make sense?’ And right now it doesn’t make sense,” Fitzgerald said.

Fitzgerald said GOP lawmakers are working on a bill that would change special election laws and effectively stop any from happening this year.

Fitzgerald didn’t share any specifics of the proposal, however, he said he doesn’t have “tangible” details yet.

Democrats quickly moved to criticize Republicans for the proposed changes, saying GOP lawmakers are crafting the proposal to avoid facing Democrats in special elections.

“It’s not surprising to see another temper tantrum from Republican leaders when something doesn’t go their way,” said Sen. Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling, D-La Crosse, in a prepared statement. “Republicans are clearly intimidated by the thought of losing power and would rather create chaos and confusion going into a tough re-election year.”

Fitzgerald on Friday also criticized Thursday’s ruling by Dane County Judge Josann Reynolds, saying it was overtly political and “outrageous.”

He said the chief justice of the state Supreme Court, Patience Roggensack, should review the comments and consider reprimanding Reynolds.

Editor’s Note: This story was updated with original reporting from WPR at 3:50 p.m. on March 23, 2018.