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Stories about Wisconsin

Two Wisconsin school board members named in recall petition after voting to continue virtual learning

An effort to recall Robert Hesselbein and Minza Karim from their positions on the Middleton-Cross Plains School District Board of Education in Wisconsin began in October 2020. The effort started after the board voted 5-4 on September 28, 2020, to keep students in virtual learning for the rest of the first semester of the 2020-2021 school year in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The other option, which did not pass, would have allowed students in pre-school through second grade to return to in-person instruction starting on November 2, 2020. Hesselbein and Karim were two of the five members who voted in favor of continuing virtual learning. 

The recall effort was started by the group Parents for Change. Angela Rachidi, an organizer of the group, said that the board members’ votes to continue virtual learning did not represent the wants and needs of the community. She also said that virtual learning did not support an equitable education. 

Both Hesselbein and Karim both said they stood by their votes. Hesselbein said that though he understood families’ frustrations, safety had to come first while COVID-19 cases were rising in the county and the state. Karim said she voted to keep schooling virtual “for the sake of safety and health for the students, staff and the entire community.”

The Middleton-Cross Plains Board of Education has nine members. Hesselbein is one of the four Area IV representatives of the board, and Karim is the Area III representative of the board. Both of them have terms ending in 2022. 

To get the recall on the ballot, supporters must collect approximately 5,000 signatures in 60 days. The number of signatures is equal to 25% of the votes cast for governor in the school district in the 2018 election.

Hesselbein and Karim are not the only school board members included in a recall effort in Wisconsin this year. An effort to recall three of the seven members of the Appleton Area School District Board of Education began in September 2020. That effort also centers around the board’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

In 2019, Ballotpedia covered a total of 151 recall efforts against 230 elected officials. Of the 66 officials whose recalls made it to the ballot, 34 were recalled for a rate of 52%. That was lower than the 63% rate and 57% rate for 2018 and 2017 recalls, respectively.

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Frostman resigns as Wisconsin Secretary of Workforce Development

Caleb Frostman resigned as secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development (DWD) on September 18 at the request of Gov. Tony Evers (D). Evers said he requested Frostman’s resignation due to the long wait times Wisconsin residents experienced for unemployment benefits during the coronavirus pandemic. In a statement, Evers said, “people across our state are struggling to make ends meet, and it is unacceptable that Wisconsinites continue to wait for the support they need during these challenging times.”

Amy Pechacek will replace Frostman on an interim basis. Pechacek has served as deputy secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Corrections since 2019.

Frostman is a former Democratic member of the Wisconsin state Senate. He was first elected to the legislature in a June 2018 special election to succeed Frank Lasee (R). Gov. Evers first appointed Frostman to lead the Department of Workforce Development in January 2019.

According to its website, the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development’s responsibilities include providing job services and training, working with employers to fill job openings, and providing assistance to those looking for employment. The secretary of the DWD is a state executive position nominated by the governor and is subject to confirmation by the Wisconsin State Senate.

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U.S. Senate confirms two U.S. District Court nominees

The U.S. Senate confirmed Christy Wiegand to the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania and Brett Ludwig to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin. The Western District of Pennsylvania and the Eastern District of Wisconsin are two of 94 U.S. District Courts. They are the general trial courts of the United States federal courts.

After Wiegand receives her federal judicial commission and takes her judicial oath, the court will have eight Republican-appointed judges and two Democrat-appointed judges. Wiegand will join seven other judges appointed by President Trump.

After Ludwig receives his judicial commission and takes his judicial oath, the court will have two Republican-appointed judges and two Democrat-appointed judges. Ludwig will be the first judge appointed by President Trump to join the court.

The U.S. Senate has confirmed 205 of President Trump’s Article III judicial nominees—two Supreme Court justices, 53 appellate court judges, 148 district court judges, and two U.S. Court of International Trade judges—since January 2017.

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Scott Fitzgerald wins Republican nomination in Wisconsin’s 5th Congressional District

Wisconsin state Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R) defeated Clifford DeTemple to win the Republican nomination in Wisconsin’s 5th Congressional District. As of 9:00 p.m. Central Time, Fitzgerald had received 78% of the vote to DeTemple’s 22%.

Incumbent Jim Sensenbrenner (R), who was first elected to the House in 1978 and is the second-most senior member of the U.S. House, did not run for re-election. He and former Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) endorsed Fitzgerald.

Fitzgerald said he was an early supporter of President Donald Trump’s and would be an effective ally to the president in Congress. DeTemple, a Coast Guard veteran and small business owner, said he would bring a new perspective to Washington.

Election forecasters say the Fifth District, which is located to the west and northwest of Milwaukee, is a safe Republican district.

All 435 seats in the U.S. House will be up for election on November 3, 2020. As of August 2020, Democrats have a 232-198 advantage over Republicans. There is one Libertarian member and four vacancies.



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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