Wisconsin Democrats Win Election That Scott Walker Tried to Keep From Happening

Trump won the seat by 18 points and the GOP has held it for 40 years.

A group of protesters chant at the entrance for the Gov. Scott Walker event Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2017, at Mid-State Equipment in Janesville, Wis. (Angela Major/The Janesville Gazette via AP)Janesville Gazette via AP

Wisconsin Democrats won a special election Tuesday in a state Senate district that President Donald Trump carried by 18 points. Democrat Caleb Frostman, a former head of the Door County Economic Development Corp, defeated Republican Rep. Andre Jacque by 800 votes in a district outside Green Bay. It’s the first time a Democrat has won the seat in 41 years.

While Republicans held on to an open assembly near Madison that was also on Tuesday’s ballot, the defeat was a major rebuke to Republican Gov. Scott Walker. As energized Trump-era Democrats won special elections in unexpected districts across the country earlier this year, Walker had refused to schedule the elections until three different judges ordered him to do so. 

The seats became open in December 2017 after two Republican members of the Legislature joined Walker’s administration. Walker said he wouldn’t schedule elections to replace them, claiming it would be a waste of money because the Legislature was set to adjourn in the spring. A Democratic group led by former Attorney General Eric Holder sued Walker, and on March 22 Dane County Circuit Court Judge Josann Reynolds ruled that the governor had a “plain and positive duty” to hold the elections. Republican legislative leaders then attacked Reynolds as an “activist Dane County judge,” even though she was appointed by Walker in 2014, and announced they would reconvene to pass legislation allowing the governor not to schedule the elections.

Meanwhile, Walker went back to court to ask for more time to postpone the elections, only to face two further rulings that he was constitutionally required to schedule them. “Representative government and the election of our representatives are never ‘unnecessary,’ never a ‘waste of taxpayer resources,’ and the calling of the special elections are, as the governor acknowledges, his ‘obligation,’” Court of Appeals Judge Paul Reilly, a Republican, ruled March 28. Walker then dropped his appeal and scheduled the elections.

This is the second special election Wisconsin Democrats have won this year. In January, Democrat Patty Schachtner pulled off a shocking upset by 11 points in a northwest Wisconsin state Senate district that had been in GOP hands since 2000, and that Trump carried by 17 points. Walker called it a “wake-up call,” and subsequently refused to schedule further special elections. Democrats need to win two more seats to retake the Senate chamber in November.

OUR NEW CORRUPTION PROJECT

The more we thought about how MoJo's journalism can have the most impact heading into the 2020 election, the more we realized that so many of today's stories come down to corruption: democracy and the rule of law being undermined by the wealthy and powerful for their own gain.

So we're launching a new Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption. We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We'll publish what we find as a major series in the summer of 2020, including a special issue of our magazine, a dedicated online portal, and video and podcast series so it doesn't get lost in the daily deluge of breaking news.

It's unlike anything we've done before and we've got seed funding to get started, but we're asking readers to help crowdfund this new beat with an additional $500,000 so we can go even bigger. You can read why we're taking this approach and what we want to accomplish in "Corruption Isn't Just Another Scandal. It's the Rot Beneath All of Them," and if you like how it sounds, please help fund it with a tax-deductible donation today.

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate