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Stories about Wisconsin

Taylor leaves Wisconsin Legislature, replaces Karofsky on Dane County Circuit Court

Rep. Chris Taylor (D) resigned from the Wisconsin State Assembly on August 1 to be sworn in as the new Branch 12 judge on the Dane County Circuit Court that same day. Taylor fills the vacancy created by Jill Karofsky’s election to the Wisconsin Supreme Court. Karofsky left the circuit court to be sworn in as a state supreme court justice on August 1.

Taylor fills the third recent vacancy on the 17-branch Dane County Circuit Court, which has jurisdiction over the state capital of Madison. Gov. Tony Evers (D) appointed her to the court in June. He also appointed Mario White and Jacob Frost to the court that month. White filled the Branch 7 vacancy on the circuit court left by the resignation of William Hanrahan, who resigned to become an administrative law judge in March of this year. Frost filled the Branch 9 vacancy created by the retirement of judge Richard Niess. Judicial positions on the court are nonpartisan.

A fourth vacancy occurred on August 4, when Branch 12 judge Peter Anderson resigned. Gov. Evers is seeking applications for that and a fifth anticipated vacancy, which will occur when judge Shelley Gaylord resigns effective August 31.

Taylor, Frost, White, and the two pending appointees will each serve on the court for a term ending July 31, 2021. They must stand for retention elections in the spring of next year in order to serve full six-year terms on the court.

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Wisconsin Supreme Court justice to be sworn in during ultramarathon

Jill Karofsky, who won election to the Wisconsin Supreme Court on April 7 of this year, will be sworn in while running an ultramarathon race on Saturday. She plans to stop at mile 35 of a 100-mile race for a socially-distanced ceremony over which Justice Rebecca F. Dallet will preside.

Karofsky defeated incumbent Daniel Kelly with 55.2% of the vote to Kelly’s 44.7% in April’s nonpartisan election. Although the race was officially nonpartisan, Kelly has been a member of the court’s conservative majority and received support from conservative groups. Karofsky said she would join the court’s liberal minority and received support from liberal groups.

Of the seven justices on the state supreme court prior to Karofsky’s swearing-in, five justices were elected in nonpartisan elections and two, including Kelly, were appointed by Republican governor Scott Walker. Karofsky’s win reduced the size of the court’s conservative majority to 4-3, meaning that the 2023 election will determine control of the court, assuming no justices leave the bench early. A Kelly win would have prevented control of the court from changing until the 2026 election at the earliest.

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Wisconsin Supreme Court largely upholds constitutionality of extraordinary session legislation, strikes down provisions related to guidance documents

The Wisconsin Supreme Court on July 9 upheld the constitutionality of the majority of the legislation passed by state lawmakers during the 2018 extraordinary legislative session, with the exception of certain provisions concerning guidance documents.

The legislation brought major changes to administrative processes, including eliminating judicial deference to state agencies, abolishing sue-and-settle practices, and setting new standards for agencies’ regulatory guidance documents.

A group of Wisconsin unions led by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) filed suit, claiming that the legislation violated the separation of powers by increasing legislative authority over executive branch actions. The plaintiffs brought a facial challenge—meaning they claimed that the legislation violated the separation of powers in all of its applications. The Wisconsin Supreme Court disagreed, ruling that the legislation (with the exception of certain provisions concerning guidance documents) could be applied lawfully in some cases and that the facial challenge should have been dismissed by the lower court.

The court ruled that certain provisions regarding guidance documents violated the separation of powers because, according to the court, the legislative branch does not have the authority to dictate the manner in which the executive branch carries out its power to execute the law. “We conclude that when the legislature prohibited the executive branch from communicating with the public through the issuance of guidance documents without first going through a preclearance process and including legislatively-mandated content,” wrote Justice Daniel Kelly in the opinion, “it invaded the executive branch’s exclusive province to ‘take care that the laws be faithfully executed.'” Kelly’s opinion clarified, however, that “a guidance document does not have the force of law and does not provide the authority for implementing or enforcing a standard, requirement, or threshold, including as a term or condition of any license.”

Three other lawsuits have challenged the extraordinary session legislation. A state lawsuit sought to void the legislation on the grounds that state lawmakers unconstitutionally convened the extraordinary session, but the Wisconsin Supreme Court held in June 2019 that the Wisconsin Constitution grants legislators the authority to convene meetings. A pending federal lawsuit seeks to overturn changes to early voting procedures that were included in the legislative package. Lastly, another pending federal lawsuit argues that the legislation violates the U.S. Constitution’s Guarantee Clause, which guarantees every state the right to a republican form of government.

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Milwaukee County Executive Crowley resigns from Wisconsin State Assembly

State Rep. David Crowley (D) resigned from the Wisconsin legislature on June 18. Crowley won the nonpartisan election for Milwaukee County Executive April 7 and was sworn into that office on May 4. He succeeded former county executive Chris Abele, who announced in 2019 that he would not run for re-election in 2020.

Under Wisconsin law, individuals cannot hold office in multiple branches of state government for more than 60 days after the certification of an election. The county executive election was certified on April 20, meaning Crowley was required to resign his seat in the State Assembly by June 20.

Crowley’s term as county executive ends in 2024.

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Wisconsin Rep. Taylor appointed to succeed Karofsky on Dane County Circuit Court

Gov. Tony Evers (D) appointed Wisconsin State Assemblymember Chris Taylor (D) to the Dane County Circuit Court on June 11, replacing Jill Karofsky, who was elected to the Wisconsin Supreme Court on April 7. Taylor said she plans to continue to serve in the state legislature until just before her swearing-in on the court August 1, which is also the day Karofsky is sworn into the state Supreme court.

Taylor was first elected to represent District 76 in the General Assembly in a 2011 special election. She did not file to run for re-election to the legislature this year.

The Dane County Circuit Court is one of 72 circuit courts, or trial courts, in Wisconsin. Judicial elections in Wisconsin are nonpartisan, though candidates often receive support from partisan organizations. Wisconsin is one of 18 states that select judges through nonpartisan elections at all trial court levels.

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Romanski appointed as Wisconsin Secretary of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection

Gov. Tony Evers (D) appointed Randy Romanski as the Wisconsin Secretary of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection on June 1. Romanski has held the position in an interim capacity since November 2019 and before that served as deputy secretary. His appointment is subject to confirmation by the Wisconsin State Senate.

Romanski first assumed state executive duties after the state Senate denied confirmation of Evers’ previous appointee, Brad Pfaff, on November 5, 2019. Evers had appointed Pfaff in December 2018. Pfaff is now running for state senate in Wisconsin and is on the ballot in the Democratic primary on August 11.

Romanski previously served as secretary under Gov. Jim Doyle (D). His duties as interim secretary, and secretary if confirmed, include enforcing regulations; promoting agriculture, manufacturing, commercial fishing, and domestic arts; promoting and advertising Wisconsin’s material and agricultural products; monitoring livestock aid; and providing guidance to Wisconsin’s public university system. The office defines its mission as partnering “with all the citizens of Wisconsin to grow the economy by promoting quality food, healthy plants and animals, sound use of land and water resources, and a fair marketplace.”

Ballotpedia covers 12 executive offices in the state of Wisconsin. Of those, six offices are partisan and six are non-partisan. All six partisan offices are currently held by Democrats.

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Tiffany defeats Zunker in special election for Wisconsin’s 7th Congressional District

Tom Tiffany (R) defeated Tricia Zunker (D) in the special election for Wisconsin’s 7th Congressional District. With 95% of precincts reporting, Tiffany received 57% of the vote to Zunker’s 43%. The special election was called to fill the vacancy left by former Rep. Sean Duffy (R), who left office in September 2019 in anticipation of the birth of a child with health complications.

Tiffany will serve in the U.S. House of Representatives until January 2021. To remain in office, he will need to win a partisan primary on Aug. 11 and the district’s regular election on Nov. 3, 2020.

Tiffany, a state senator, defeated Jason Church in the February 18 Republican primary by a margin of 15 percentage points. Zunker, a member of the Wausau School Board and associate justice on the Ho-Chunk Nation Supreme Court, won the Democratic primary with 89% of the vote to Lawrence Dale’s 11%.

Duffy won his last election in 2018 by a margin of about 22 percentage points. Before Duffy took office in 2011, former Rep. Dave Obey (D) held the 7th District seat for 42 years. The 7th District includes or overlaps with six pivot counties, counties that voted for Donald Trump (R) in 2016 after voting for Barack Obama (D) in 2008 and 2012: Jackson, Juneau, Forest, Lincoln, Price, and Sawyer.

Gov. Tony Evers (D) announced on April 29 that there would be no delays in the special election due to the coronavirus pandemic. Clerks in the 7th District implemented safety measures including distributing hand sanitizer and personal protective equipment to poll workers, installing protective barriers in polling places, limiting the number of voters who may be present at a time, and making use of assistance from the National Guard.

As of May 2020, nine special elections have been called during the 116th Congress. Seven of those were called for seats in the U.S. House, and two were called for seats in the U.S. Senate. Regular elections to the U.S. House will be held on Nov. 3, 2020, and coincide with the 2020 presidential election. All 435 House districts will be up for election, and the results will determine the partisan balance of the U.S. House in the 117th Congress. As of May 2020, Democrats have a 233-196 advantage over Republicans in the House.

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Special election in Wisconsin’s 7th Congressional District to be held May 12

On May 12, Tom Tiffany (R) and Tricia Zunker (D) will face off in the special election for Wisconsin’s 7th Congressional District to fill the vacancy left by former Rep. Sean Duffy (R). During his daily COVID-19 briefing on April 29, Gov. Tony Evers (D) said the special election would proceed as planned.

The candidates participated in two debates over the past week, on May 1 and May 4. In both debates, the topic of the coronavirus pandemic was prominent, with the candidates disagreeing on correct responses.

Duffy, who left office in September 2019 in anticipation of the birth of a child with health complications, won his last election in 2018 by a margin of about 22 percentage points.

Before Duffy took office in 2011, former Rep. Dave Obey (D) held the 7th District seat for 42 years. Major independent observers rate the district’s regularly scheduled general election as solid Republican or safe Republican.

The 7th District includes or overlaps with six pivot counties, counties that voted for Donald Trump (R) in 2016 after voting for Barack Obama (D) in 2008 and 2012: Jackson, Juneau, Forest, Lincoln, Price, and Sawyer.

The winner of the May 12 special election will serve from May 2020 to January 2021. To remain in office, he or she would need to win a partisan primary on August 11, 2020, and the district’s regular election on November 3, 2020. The filing deadline for the regular election is June 1, 2020.

Nine special elections had been called during the 116th Congress. Seven of those were called for seats in the U.S. House, and two were called for seats in the U.S. Senate.



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