Republican leaders in the legislature announced their intentions Friday afternoon, to return to Madison for an extraordinary session, for changes to the state’s special elections statute. The move, supported by Governor Scott Walker, would prevent a pair of special elections ordered the previous day by a Dane County judge.
Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) said earlier on Friday that he doesn’t think Dane County Circuit Judge Josann Reynolds considered the challenges of holding special elections.
“The logistics of this is very messy,” Fitzgerald said. Reynolds ruled on Thursday that Governor Scott Walker must order elections in the 1st state Senate District and 42nd Assembly District by March 29. The decision — on a suit filed by a group led by former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder — is likely to be appealed.
Fitzgerald hopes an appeals court will issue a stay on Reynolds’ ruling, and that the vacant Senate and Assembly seats should be filled, in the regular election schedule. “I don’t see what you would vacate that premise at any point, other than that Eric Holder rolls into town with a lot of out-of-state money and says ‘listen, we want this to happen right now.”
The Senate leader called an impromptu noon hour press conference at the Capitol Friday.
Fitzgerald also said the Senate could come back to “clean up the statute.” He offered few specifics, but by Friday afternoon, Fitzgerald and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos had issued a joint statement.
“After consulting with DOJ and others, we have decided it’s best to move forward on an extraordinary session in order to clean up the statute on special elections and ensure that it aligns with the Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act.
“It’s clear that little thought was given to the impact of the special elections ruling. In essence, there will be two elections occurring simultaneously for the two offices. It will undoubtedly lead to voter confusion and electoral chaos. Also, holding the special elections after the conclusion of the regular session is a waste of taxpayer dollars and local government resources.”
Governor Scott Walker quickly followed up with a statement of his own, in support of Vos and Fitzgerald.
“A D.C.-based political group wants to force Wisconsin taxpayers to waste money on special elections at a time when our Legislature is ready to adjourn for the year. Nomination papers for any special elections called now would circulate around the same time nomination papers circulate for the November elections. It would be senseless to waste taxpayer money on special elections just weeks before voters go to the polls when the Legislature has concluded its business. This is why I support, and will sign, the Senate and Assembly plan to clarify special election law.”
Fitzgerald’s comments came a day after Speaker Vos leveled harsh criticism at Reynolds. Fitzgerald backed up that critique, and said the fact that Reynolds was first appointed by Governor Scott Walker is beside the point.
“What does that have to do with a ruling on a straight up and down case? It’s political. All of those comments (in Reynolds’ decision) about the governor, its way out-of-bounds,” Fitzgerald said. He added that he hoped that state Supreme Court Chief Justice Patience Roggensack “would police that in some way.”