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Republican governors try to avoid holding special elections

March 28,2018 20:35

The chair of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin is up in arms about plans by Scott Walker, Wisconsin's Republican governor, to change a law so that Republicans can avoid losing another special election. “He has already rigged the system so much that he ...and more »


“WE SHOULD call him Walker the Rigger,” fumes Martha Laning. The chair of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin is up in arms about plans by Scott Walker, Wisconsin’s Republican governor, to change a law so that Republicans can avoid losing another special election. “He has already rigged the system so much that he thought he would not have to worry any more,” says Ms Laning, referring to districts gerrymandered to favour Republicans, which voters are challenging at the Supreme Court (see article), and voter-identification laws that make it harder for minorities and poor people to vote.
Until a few months ago Mr Walker expected to cruise to re-election in November for a rare third term. Yet the year started with a shock for him. In January a historically Republican district in a rural western region in Wisconsin voted for Patty Schachtner, a Democrat, in a special election for a state Senate seat, even though her Republican opponent, Adam Jarchow, was far more experienced and better funded.

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To avoid another nasty surprise in a special election, Mr Walker decided not to hold any. Yet on March 22nd Josann Reynolds, a county-circuit judge appointed by the governor, ruled that by March 29th he must call special elections for a vacant seat in the state Assembly and one in the state Senate. Not holding them, she argued, would disenfranchise tens of thousands of voters who have not been represented since December, when two Republicans resigned to work for the governor. Mr Walker reacted by asking Republican legislative leaders to recall lawmakers for an extraordinary session on April 4th, so they could pass a bill that would no longer allow special elections after the state’s spring election in even-numbered years. (This year’s spring election is on April 3rd).
The Republican Party has majorities of 18 to 14 in the state Senate and 63 to 35 in the Assembly, so neither race risks changing the balance of power. Yet Mr Walker does not want to give Democrats more of the momentum that helped them flip seats in three dozen elections for state legislatures since Donald Trump was elected president. A poll earlier this month by the law school of Marquette University in Milwaukee found the state evenly divided: 47% of those surveyed approved of the job the governor is doing, while 47% disapproved.
Two other Republican governors, Rick Snyder of Michigan and Rick Scott of Florida, are stalling on special elections. Mr Snyder has decided to wait until November to replace John Conyers, a Democratic congressman who resigned in December because of allegations of sexual harassment, as well as Bert Johnson, a Democratic state senator who resigned after pleading guilty to charges of corruption. Mr Scott, who like Mr Snyder is term-limited, is refusing to hold special elections for two seats in Florida’s legislature.
A couple of Wisconsin’s Republican state senators have expressed concerns about Mr Walker’s proposed opt-out from special elections. The bill will not pass if they vote against it. The governor may still be obliged, after all, to abide by Judge Reynolds’s ruling.
This article appeared in the United States section of the print edition under the headline "You cannot lose if you do not play"

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