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May 13, 2010


One Party Control in Wisconsin: History and Results


Wisconsin is generally a politically independent state, where partisan affiliation changes often.  It has been rare when one political party controls the full State Legislature and Governor’s office.  For the 2009-10 legislative session, however, the Democrats controlled the State Assembly, State Senate, and the Governor’s office.  Before this session, the last time one political party controlled both houses and the Governor’s office for an entire session was the 1985 session when Democrats controlled all three.  The last time that Republicans controlled all three was forty years ago in the 1969-70 legislative session.  Republican Governor Warren Knowles from New Richmond had both a Republican-led State Assembly and State Senate during that session.  Ironically, the leader of the State Senate was Senator Robert Knowles, Warren’s brother, who was from River Falls.


In the 40 years since, split governance has been the norm.  Even during Governor Tommy Thompson’s 14-year tenure, Republicans did not control both the Assembly and Senate for a full session.   Senate leadership alone switched five times over a six year period from 1993 to 1999.


Split governance inevitably requires compromise and consensus building, since either house can block partisan action.  However, with the last legislative session now wrapped up, we can see how one-party rule by the Democrats shaped policy changes in Wisconsin.  Some key changes included:


  • Banning smoking in places of public employment
  • Limiting school districts ability to negotiate teacher-pay contracts
  • Increasing state taxes on businesses, investors, and high-income earners
  • Mandating sex education where local schools want to teach abstinence-only
  • Reforming drunken-driving laws
  • Expanding health care entitlements
  • Banning Indian Mascot logos for public schools
  • Public funding for state judicial campaigns


A number of other issues gained much attention but failed to pass, including Climate Change legislation, Voter Registration overhaul, and reforms to Milwaukee Public Schools governance.


What do you think of single-party control of state government?  Do you prefer a government that requires consensus and compromise to bring about change; or do you prefer a government that is positioned to embark on a sweeping liberal or conservative agenda?  I welcome your feedback.  You can contact me through or by calling 1-800-862-1092.