Politics & Government
1:00 am
Tue December 10, 2013

State Senate Elections Guaranteed to Produce New Faces

There could be quite a few new faces in the Wisconsin Senate following the 2014 elections.

Half of the 33 districts will be on the ballot and a few are guaranteed to turn over.

Two long-time state senators are retiring: Democrats Bob Jauch and Tim Cullen.

One person not surprised is JR Ross. He’s editor of wispolitics.com.

“Cullen won the seat he has now in 2010, but he served in the senate back in the 80s, so he’s been around for a long time, and it’s a matter of having had enough. Same with Sen. Jauch, he’s been around for years and years and years, so for those guys it’s a matter of, they’ve kind of filled the tank of Senate service and they’re looking to go on to other things,” Ross says.

Meanwhile, fellow Democratic Senators John Lehman and Kathleen Vinehout are eyeing races for higher office – he for lt. governor, she for governor.

Over on the GOP side, veteran Sens. Mike Ellis and Dale Schultz face challenges. Ross says he’s heard rumblings that at least three additional Senate seats could be challenged in 2014.

Mordecai Lee is professor of Governmental Affairs at UW-Milwaukee. He says departures signal the end of an era.

“I’m guessing there’s less personal satisfaction to serving in the state Legislature than there was when I was there back in the 1980s, when there was a lot more room for personal initiative and compromise and working across the aisle, now there’s so much of an emphasis on partisanship and partisan solidarity,” Lee says.

Lee cites the bitter battle over Gov. Walker’s bill dismantling collective bargaining rights as a turning point.

“Act 10 was an overturning of the status quo in a substantive policy sense, but I think we also have to view the Republican majority in the state Senate and state Assembly as an overturning of an institutional wisdom or institutional tradition, almost like a radical rejection of the past,” Lee says.

Wisconsin voters ushered in that GOP majority in 2010. Republicans will likely retain control of the Senate, no matter how many seats are contested next fall, according to UW-Stevens Point Political Scientist Dennis Riley. He points to redistricting.

At the start of each decade, the majority party gets to redraw the state’s political boundaries, so Republicans had the job here in 2010. As in other states, the new maps solidify party control in many districts – they’re either solidly Republican or Democratic.

“I don’t see a lot of nail-biters on Election Night. I think it’s very hard to unseat anybody of the opposition party because the district lines are so carefully drawn,” Riley says.

Riley says, what could change, is that more districts elect dyed-in-the-wool partisans.