MADISON, Wis. (AP) - Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker issued an executive order on Thursday scheduling special elections to fill two vacant legislative seats, as Senate Republicans abandoned their attempt to pass a bill blocking the contests amid intense criticism that the GOP was trying to avoid adding to its string of losses. Without the special elections, the seats would effectively remain empty until January, when winners in the regular November election would be sworn in.
The issue involves vacancies in Assembly District 42, which includes the town of Dane, and Senate District 1, which covers the Door County peninsula.
The State Legislature will come back to Madison once again to change a law that calls for Governor Walker to call special elections to fill vacancies.
When another circuit court refused to delay the order, Walker's lawyers made an emergency appeal for relief to the state's 2nd District Court of Appeals.
But Walker dropped his legal fight after a state appeals court judge rejected his request, upholding a decision by a Dane County circuit court judge. He had asked an appeals court to delay the deadline by eight days, to give the legislature time to return to Madison to rewrite state election law and make the initial court order moot. In January, a Democrat won a Wisconsin assembly seat in a heavily Republican district, an upset that Walker called a "wakeup call" for the GOP.
Fitzgerald says if the Legislature passed the bill it ran the risk of another judge "slapping us down". But, this week, despite every effort by Scott Walker to avert the expression of the will of the people, democracy prevailed.
Update: Legislative leaders said Thursday that the extraordinary session scheduled for next Wednesday, to take up the bill that would have nullified the judge's order, has been canceled.
Walker told an audience at an event Wednesday night hosted by the conservative radio station WTMJ 620 AM that he will call the special elections for June 12.
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Teacher compensation is the lowest in the region and among the lowest in the country, according to education groups. Mary Fallin rushed to sign the bill into law. "This is a very historic moment", she said.
A judge last week ordered Walker to call the elections by noon on Thursday.
Fitzgerald argued that there would be potential confusion because the special election would overlap with the start of the fall election cycle with nomination papers circulating at the same time. Frank Lasee's seats. Both quit in December to join Walker's administration, saying the elections would confuse voters and amount to an unnecessary waste of tax dollars when regular elections are set for fall. Frank Lasee, of De Pere, and Rep. Keith Ripp, of Lodi.
The bill being pushed by GOP leaders stated that it would apply retroactively, "notwithstanding any other law, court order, or order of the governor".
Democrats had accused Walker of refusing to call the special elections out of fear Republicans would lose the seats.
Fitzgerald testified Wednesday that anywhere from 85 to 150 overseas voters, including some in the military, could be disenfranchised if the special elections proceed under the timeline set up in current state law.
The bill received a hearing Wednesday, but Fitzgerald said Thursday morning it would not pass. And for a hammer-headed pol like Walker in a hyper-polarized state like Wisconsin, leaving a couple of hundred thousand people without representation for a year was small potatoes compared to the bad possibility of his enemies being emboldened in the run-up to the governor's own reelection bid in November. Spokesman Reid Magney said the commission stopped tracking costs previous year after commissioners discontinued the practice because state law doesn't require it to do so.
Critics say voters in areas with no lawmaker for months don't have anyone representing them in the legislature.