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Wisconsin Democrats beat back GOP supermajority push

Wisconsin Capitol Building
Wisconsin Capitol Building(Justus Cleveland)
Published: Nov. 5, 2020 at 5:20 AM CST
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MADISON, Wis. (AP) - Wisconsin Democrats narrowly thwarted a Republican attempt to build legislative supermajorities that would have allowed the GOP to bypass Gov. Tony Evers' vetoes and advance their agenda at will.

Heading into Tuesday’s elections, Republicans controlled the Assembly 63-34 and the Senate 18-13 with two vacancies in each chamber. With their majorities secure, the GOP was looking to add three seats in the Assembly and three in the Senate. That would give them the two-thirds majority in each chamber that they’d need to override the Democratic governor’s vetoes.

With Evers out of the equation, Republicans would be able to write the state budget to their liking. They also would be able to redraw the state’s electoral boundaries next year so that the GOP would maintain its legislative majorities for the next decade. Democrats' only recourse would be a lawsuit.

Republicans set their sights on flipping six swing districts along Wisconsin’s borders. Democrats countered by spending nearly $2 million to try to hold six seats, which was an unprecedented sum. The strategy worked.

Results tallied Wednesday showed that Republicans flipped two seats in the Senate by defeating Democrats Patty Schachtner in northwestern Wisconsin and Jonathon Hansen for an open seat in the Green Bay area. Democrats had controlled that seat for 19 years.

The third Senate race, between Democrat Brad Pfaff and Republican Dan Kapanke for an open seat in western Wisconsin’s 32nd District, was still too close to call Wednesday afternoon. Democrats have controlled that seat since 2011.

Overall, Republicans grew their advantage in the Senate to 20-11 with one open seat after Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald won election to Congress. A Kapanke win would boost that to 21-11. If a Republican wins Fitzgerald’s seat in a special election, the GOP would get to the two-thirds mark with 22 seats.

But a veto override takes a two-thirds vote in both chambers, and Republicans didn’t fare as well in the Assembly.

All three Democratic incumbents whom Republicans targeted — Robyn Vining, Beth Meyers and Steve Doyle — defeated their challengers. As of late afternoon, Republicans had won 59 seats compared to the Democrats' 36, with four races still too close to call. Even if Republicans win all four contests, the best they could do would be 63 seats, which would be three shy of the 66 they’d need for a supermajority.

Evers, who has had a contentious relationship with legislative Republicans since taking office, told reporters during a news conference that he was pleased with the outcomes.

“Preventing supermajorities is beneficial for all Wisconsinites to prevent one-party rule,” he said. “I don’t think it will change the dynamics much. Next budget, we’ll have great conversations (with Republicans) and come to some conclusion. We’ll work together as best we can.”

Despite failing to get a supermajority in the Assembly, state GOP Chairman Andrew Hitt called the elections a success. In a statement, he pointed out that despite all the money Democrats pumped into the races, Republicans still control the Assembly and Democrats lost two state Senate seats.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos issued a statement thanking voters for returning “a good conservative majority” to the Legislature. He made no mention of failing to achieve a supermajority, instead promising that lawmakers would work on battling the coronavirus, helping businesses, funding police and supporting law and order.

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.