Gov. Walker defends decision not to hold special elections for 2 vacant seats

By Kevin Carr, WSAW News

WAUSAU, Wis. (WSAW) -- Governor Scott Walker is defending his reason to wait until the November elections to fill two vacant seats in the State Legislature.

Gov. Walker discussed the matter during a stop at Janke Book Store in Wausau, where he talked about his proposed $100 child tax credit.

Some opponents have been calling on the governor to hold special elections for the two vacant seats - one in the 42nd Assembly District, north of Madison, along with the 1st Senate District, in the Green Bay area.

Back in late December, former Republican State Senator Frank Lasee of De Pere and former Republican State Representative Keith Ripp of Lodi took jobs in Gov. Walker's administration, leaving their seats open.

Despite some calls to hold a special election to fill those positions, the governor says it makes sense to wait until the November elections instead.

"If I called it today it couldn't be until after the beginning of April for which we would be probably a good month after the legislature adjourned," Gov. Walker explained. "We thought it doesn’t make any sense to use taxpayers' money on something to put somebody in after they would no longer be able to vote, for which they'd already be running again for the fall election."

Stevens Point Democratic Representative Katrina Shankland argues Gov. Walker is worried if a special election were to be held, it would turn those former Republican seats blue.

"For the governor to wait almost a full year for an election to happen, is essentially putting the thumb on the scale. And it shows he's scared of what an election will do," Rep. Shankland said. "He understands that Senate seat special election went the wrong way for him. It went for Democrats and against Republicans and there was a backlash for the extreme Republican policies coming out of Madison."

Politics aside, some believe the governor may be violating a state statute.

The statute referred states the following:

"Any vacancy in the office of state senator or representative to the assembly occurring before the 2nd Tuesday in May in the year in which a regular election is held to fill that seat shall be filled as promptly as possible by special election. However, any vacancy in the office of state senator or representative to the assembly occurring after the close of the last regular floorperiod of the legislature held during his or her term shall be filled only if a special session or extraordinary floorperiod of the legislature is called or a veto review period is scheduled during the remainder of the term. The special election to fill the vacancy shall be ordered, if possible, so the new member may participate in the special session or floorperiod."

"The statute mentions May. And it says if the seat becomes vacant after May then he can leave them open until the next election," UW Stevens Point Political Science Professor Ed Miller said. "Well, this is before May. And it's been a while now. And therefore he may clearly be in violation of the statute."

Miller said if Walker were to be challenged on this matter, it would have to happen in court. It's unclear if a legal challenge will occur.

Right now, the two vacant seats are slated to be filled after the elections on November 6.