MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Republicans who control Wisconsin’s Legislature are just a handful of seats away from winning a veto-proof majority Tuesday, a threshold that would allow the GOP to rewrite state law at will even if Democratic Gov. Tony Evers wins reelection.
Republicans need to flip five seats in the Assembly and just one in the Senate to gain a two-thirds majority in each chamber. With enough votes to override any gubernatorial veto, the GOP could again seek to reshape election administration to their advantage in a key battleground state after Evers turned back their earlier attempts to do so.
They also could revise the law to clarify that Wisconsin’s 173-year-old ban is indeed in effect after the U.S. Supreme Court this past summer invalidated Roe vs. Wade, the landmark decision that essentially legalized abortion across the country. Democrats say the ban is so old it’s unenforceable.
They would be able to write the next state budget to their liking, shifting dollars to conservative priorities like voucher schools and advancing tax cuts. They could expand the right to carry concealed weapons and impose more restrictions on unemployment benefits as well as the government’s ability to respond to COVID-19.
State Sen. Jon Erpenbach, a Democrat who chose not to seek reelection, said a Republican supermajority would mean sweeping change.
“It would be more difficult for people to vote in this state,” Erpenbach said. “If you are a woman you will have absolutely no say whatsoever over your health care decisions. If you are a doctor or an OB-GYN in this state, you’ll probably be looking to work in another state. If you’re in favor of guns, this will be a dream come true. If you don’t support public schools but you’re a believer in voucher schools, it will be a dream come true for you, too.”
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said Republicans hope to see Tim Michels win the governor’s race over Evers. If not, he said, supermajorities would allow the GOP to work around a governor he called “Dr. No” for vetoing nearly 150 bills in the last two-year legislative session — most in nearly a century.
“He’s proud of the fact that he has the most vetoes on record,” Vos said. “The flip side is how he cannot work with people to find the answers.”
Democrats have struggled to win seats in rural Wisconsin in recent years, but Republicans have also benefited since 2010 from legislative maps that were gerrymandered to their advantage — that is, drawn to either pack opponents’ voters into a few districts or spread them among multiple districts. After the conservative-controlled Wisconsin Supreme Court this year approved new maps drawn by Republicans, an analysis by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel found a widening GOP advantage, with 63 of 99 Assembly districts and 23 of 33 Senate districts leaning Republican.
The Republicans’ hopes for supermajorities this cycle center on several open seats or vulnerable Democrats.
In the Assembly, they have their sights on seats held by retiring Democratic Reps. Nick Milory and Beth Meyers in far northwestern Wisconsin as well as outgoing Democratic Minority Leader Gordon Hintz in Oshkosh. On the Senate side they hope to take retiring Minority Leader Janet Bewley’s seat representing the Lake Superior shoreline.
The GOP also has targeted Democratic incumbents in rural districts, including Rep. Katrina Shankland in central Wisconsin as well as Sen. Jeff Smith and Rep. Steve Doyle in west-central Wisconsin.
Shankland faces Republican gun shop owner Scott Soik, whom she defeated by 3,500 votes in 2020. Smith faces former police officer and bull rider David Estenson. Doyle is trying to fend off Ryan Huebsch, son of former Assembly Speaker Mike Huebsch.
Republicans have recently targeted Democratic Rep. Tim McGuire, who represents Kenosha, a traditional left-leaning area. Challenger Ed Hibsch has been trying to make inroads by accusing McGuire of not doing enough to stop protests over a police shooting in the city in 2020. The demonstrations culminated in Kyle Rittenhouse killing two men and wounding a third man.