Group sues to force Walker to call special elections for two vacant seats

Photo by Michelle Stocker, The Capital Times

A group affiliated with former Obama administration AG Eric Holder Monday filed a lawsuit in Dane County Court seeking to force GOP Gov. Scott Walker to call special elections for two vacant legislative seats.

The voters in the 1st Senate District and 42nd Assembly District will be left without representation for more than a year because of Walker’s refusal to call special elections for the seats, the suit alleges.

“A right to representation in the lawmaking body is a bedrock of democracy, and Governor Walker’s refusal to comply with his plain legal duty … denies Plaintiffs that right, causing them substantial harm,” the suit says.

The plaintiffs in the suit are three voters in the 1st SD and five in the 42nd AD. Those two seats have been vacant since Republicans Frank Lasee and Keith Ripp resigned Dec. 29 to join the Walker administration.

Both seats are up in November with the new lawmakers taking their seats Jan. 7.

A Walker spokeswoman said the suit wants to “force Wisconsin taxpayers to waste money” by having elections that would not seat new members before lawmakers are done meeting for the year.

“The Legislature will be adjourned for 2018 before these seats could be filled in special elections, and staff in these offices are working for constituents until new leaders are elected,” said Amy Hasenberg. “Our decision is consistent with the law.”

The suit alleges Walker has failed to call special elections to fill the vacancies “as promptly as possible” as required under state law. The only exception is when a vacancy occurs after the final regular floor period of the Legislature that session. The suit notes the Legislature’s last regular floor period ends March 22, there’s a limited floorperiod scheduled April 17-19 and a veto review period May 8-9.

Because the vacancies occurred nearly five months before May 9, the exception does not apply, the suit argues.

The Assembly adjourned its regular session last week. But it has not ended the special session on welfare legislation because the Senate has not acted on one of the bills, according to the Assembly Chief Clerk’s office. The Senate’s last planned day on the floor is March 20.

Dems have been pushing Walker to call special elections in the seat, arguing he is afraid to do so after Sen. Patty Schachtner, D-Somerset, won the 10th SD in January after Republican Sheila Harsdorf resigned the seat to become DATCP secretary.

The suit was filed by the National Redistricting Foundation, a 501c(3) affiliate of the National Democratic Redistricting Committee. Holder chairs the NDRC.

Read the suit: