State Legislative Tracker: Democrats officially take control of Wisconsin State Senate

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July 23, 2012

Edited by Greg Janetka
This week's tracker features a look at the recent transition of power in the Wisconsin State Senate.

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Weekly highlight

The drama of the recall elections in Wisconsin finally came to an end last Tuesday as Democrats officially took control of the state Senate. The 40-minute session was largely ceremonial, with John Lehman (D) taking the oath of office. Democrats elected new leadership, naming Sen. Fred Risser as President of the Senate. Risser, who takes over from Mike Ellis (R), is the longest serving state senator in the country, having been first elected in 1962.[1]

During the session new Majority Leader Mark Miller (D) proposed a special session on job creation, saying the people couldn't wait until next year for the legislature to act. Republicans dismissed the comments as "political theater" and a spokesman for Gov. Scott Walker (R) said there would only be a special session if leaders from both parties in both houses agreed to an agenda, something extremely unlikely.[1]

As Republicans have pointed out, the Democratic victory may be short lived as half of the senate seats will be up for election in November. Of those 16 seats, only 6 are held by Republicans. Additionally, the GOP controlled the redistricting process this year, putting into place Republican friendly maps. The switch in power has not been unusual in recent years - this has been the fourth time since 2004 that the chamber has changed hands. Democrats went into the 2010 elections with an 18-15 majority, but saw Republicans take the Senate 19-14.

Adding to the changes in the Senate, Gov. Walker announced Wednesday he was appointing Sen. Rich Zipperer (R) as his deputy chief of staff. Zipperer, who has served in the Senate since 2011, will resign his seat effective August 5. With his term not up until January 3, 2015, Walker plans to call a special election.[2]

Ceremony aside, gaining power has allowed Democrats a position to request documents related to the redistricting process that have been kept secret by Michael Best & Friedrich, the law firm that was hired by Republicans to draw the new maps. Shrouded in secrecy, the process was done behind closed doors with Republicans signing an oath that they would not discuss the maps in public. The firm was forced to release some of those documents earlier this year per court order, but have continued to keep others under wraps. Miller, who requested the documents, said he would make them public.[3]


This week 2 out of 50 state legislatures - Ohio and Massachusetts - are meeting in regular session. As of May 16, all states had convened their 2012 sessions. No states are projected to adjourn this week.

Thirty-eight states have adjourned for the year, while four states - Montana, Nevada, North Dakota, and Texas - will not hold regular sessions in 2012.

Current sessions capture for the week of July 23, 2012

Regular sessions

See also: Dates of 2012 state legislative sessions

All states have convened their regular 2012 legislative sessions.

The following states have ended their regular session:

Click here to see a chart of each state's 2012 session information.

Special sessions

Snapshot of State Legislatures:
Monday, July 23, 2012
There are 7,383 Total State Legislators
Total Democratic state legislators 3,306 (44.8%)
Total Republican state legislators 3,958 (53.6%)
There are 99 Total State Legislative Chambers
Total Democratic Party-controlled chambers 37
Total Republican Party-controlled chambers 58
Total tied or nonpartisan chambers 4
2012 Session Information
Total Special Elections 28
Total Special Sessions 15

In 2011, special sessions were a widespread occurrence in state legislatures. This was largely due to states' having to complete the redistricting process for legislative and congressional districts. Overall in 2011, there were 45 special sessions in 28 states.

Since the beginning of 2012, there have been 15 special sessions in 13 states. There are no special sessions currently ongoing.


Last Tuesday, Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) said he believes a special session on gambling looks promising. Maryland was tentatively scheduled to hold a special session to address the issue on July 9 but an 11-member work group appointed by the governor could not reach consensus on a plan that would expand gambling in the state. After meeting with legislative leaders again, O'Malley said progress was made and that there's a good chance the issue will be dealt with "sooner rather than later." Less optimistic was Speaker of the House Michael Busch (D), who said they "came really to no conclusion...but the breakfast was delicious."[4]


Governor Mark Dayton (D) announced there will be a special session to address flood relief. Tentatively scheduled for late August, a date has not yet been scheduled as state and local officials are waiting to hear how much the federal government will cover.[5]

The special session may also address previous disasters, such as the Verso Paper Mill, which was destroyed by a fire in May, and the 2010 tornado that damaged public facilities in Wadena. Dayton has made it clear from the beginning, however, that he only wants the session to address disaster relief, something the legislature has historically come together on. That hasn't stopped some from trying to interject divisive, partisan issues into the session.[6]

In recess

As of today, July 23, 7 state's sessions are currently in recess:

  • California - In recess from July 8, 2012 to August 5, 2012.[7]
  • Illinois - In recess until January 7, 2013.[7]
  • New Jersey - In recess from July 3, 2012 to September 13, 2012.
  • New York - In recess from June 22, 2012 to January 7, 2013.[7]
  • Michigan - In recess from July 20 to August 14, 2012.
  • Pennsylvania - In recess from July 3, 2012 to September 23, 2012.[7]
  • Wisconsin - In recess from March 17 to December 31, 2012.[7]

See also: State legislative elections, 2012 and State legislative elections results, 2012
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A total of 86 of the 99 chambers will hold state legislative elections on November 6, 2012.

1,301 (65.97%) of the country's 1,972 state senate seats are up for election in November 2012, and 4,714 (87.12%) of the country's 5,411 state house seats are up for election. Altogether, 6,015 (81.47%) of the country's 7,383 state legislative seats will be up for election during the presidential election year.

  • 43 of the 50 state senates are holding elections.
  • 43 of the 49 state houses are holding elections.

The 6,015 seats up for election is 110 fewer than the 6,125 that were contested in 2010.

Filing deadlines

See also: Signature requirements and deadlines for 2012 state government elections and 2012 Elections preview: Comparing state legislative filing deadlines

As of July 12, all signature filing deadlines have passed:


See also: 2012 election dates

There are no state legislative primaries taking place this week.

So far, primaries have taken place in 24 states:

A total of 76 state legislative incumbents have been defeated in a primary - 54 Republicans and 22 Democrats.

States with upcoming primaries:

Currently, 18 states permit the recall of state officials. Between 1913 and 2008, there were just 20 state legislative recall elections in five states. Of the 20 state legislative recall elections, 13 out of 20 resulted in the state legislator being recalled. In 2011, there were 11 state legislative recalls in three states, four of which resulted in the legislator being recalled. In 2012, there have been four state legislative recalls - three have failed while one succeeded.


Recall efforts are currently targeting four Republican members of the Louisiana House of Representatives - Charles "Chuck" Kleckley, Kevin Pearson, George Cromer and Ray Garofalo.

The legislators have been targeted primarily because of their support for controversial public education reforms backed by Gov. Bobby Jindal (R).[8]


2011 saw a wave of recall attempts in Michigan. While most of those efforts dried up, at least two campaigns continued on (the recall of Paul Scott was successful on November 8, 2011). Organizers of the campaigns to recall Bruce Caswell (R) and Phil Pavlov (R) set their sights on the August 2012 ballot, but in April organizers of the Pavlov recall announced they did not have enough signatures and were abandoning their efforts.[9] The Caswell campaign remains active.

Following several attempts to get recall language approved against Sen. Randy Richardville, organizers succeeded on June 12, 2012. The approved petition language against Richardville states that one reason for the recall is Richardville's support for a new bridge between Detroit and Windsor, Ontario.[10]


See also: Timeline of events of the recall of Wisconsin State Senators in 2012

Recalls against four Republican state senators took place on June 5.[11] Going into the recalls the Senate was tied, meaning if the Democrats could win one of the recalls they would take control of the chamber.[12]

Incumbents Scott Fitzgerald (R) and Terry Moulton (R) won easy victories. Republican Jerry Petrowski easily won Pam Galloway's (R) former seat. Unofficial results showed John Lehman (D) defeated Van Wanggaard (R) by 779 votes and he declared victory. With the official canvass showing Lehman winning by 834 votes, Wanggaard called for a recount on June 15.[13]

The recount began on June 20 and concluded July 2.[14] Final tallies released show Lehman won by 819 votes - 36,358 to 35,539.[15] Wanggaard was looking at possible legal challenges but ultimately conceded the race on July 10.

Wanggaard stated, "Despite pleas from around the state to challenge the election, it is not in the best interests of Racine, or Wisconsin, at this time. Now is the time to focus on gaining the state senate back in November, winning Wisconsin's U.S. Senate seat and electing Gov. (Mitt) Romney as president."[16]

Democrats officially took control of the Senate on July 17.[17][18]

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See also: State legislative special elections, 2012

So far in 2012 there have been 28 special elections in 12 states.

There is one special election scheduled to take place this week.

South Carolina House District 68

Thad Viers (R) resigned on March 21, 2012--a day before being indicted for stalking and harassment in the first degree. A special election to replace him will be held on July 24. A special Republican primary was held on June 5. Given the small gap between the special election and the general election, local leaders called for a law blocking the special election. It was not approved prior to the special election.[19][20][21]

Democratic Party Democratic Primary Candidates:
  • No candidates filed
Republican Party Republican Primary Candidates:
  • Heather Ammons Crawford Approveda
  • Larry Richardson
  • Thomas Muse

General election candidates:

Republican Party Heather Ammons Crawford

Recent election results

CheckedBoxOffset.jpg On July 20, South Carolina's July 17 special election was decided following a recount:

  • South Carolina Senate District 41: After unofficial election results showed Walter Hundley (R) defeating Paul Tinkler (D) by a mere 14 votes, an automatic recount took place on July 20.[22] Hundley survived the recount, winning the seat. However, Hundley will only hold the seat until November as he is not running in the general election.[23]

Looking ahead

Upcoming special elections include:

  • July 24: South Carolina House District 68
  • August 7: Pennsylvania Senate District 40
  • November 6: Mississippi State Senate District 19
  • November 6: New Jersey Assembly Districts 16, 26, 68

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 Twin Cities, "Wisconsin Senate: Dems take power, propose special session," July 17, 2012
  2. WisPolitics, "Zipperer resigning Senate seat to join Walker's staff," July 18, 2012
  3. Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Democrats will get GOP redistricting file," July 19, 2012
  4. CBS News, "Md. gov: Progress coming toward special session," July 18, 2012
  5. Duluth News Tribune, "Minnesota officials pledge cooperation to deliver disaster relief," July 12, 2012
  6. Jamestown Sun, "Minnesota officials eye late-August disaster legislative session," July 11, 2012
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4 StateScape, Session schedules, accessed July 23, 2012
  8. American Press, "Leaders call Kleckley recall push a 'grass-roots effort'," June 15, 2012
  9. The Times Herald, "State Sen. Phil Pavlov recall fails," April 13, 2012
  10. My FOX Detroit, "Recall language targeting Richardville approved," June 12, 2012
  11. Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Recall votes set for May 8 and June 5," March 14, 2012
  12. Channel 3000, "Wisconsin Democrats counting on recall elections to win state Senate control," May 26, 2012
  13. Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Wanggaard calls for recount in Senate recall race," June 15, 2012
  14. The Journal Times, "Wanggaard requests recount, to begin Wednesday," June 15, 2012
  15. Chicago Tribune, "Recount: Dem wins Wisconsin Senate recall," July 2, 2012
  16. ABC 7 Chicago, "Wis. GOP lawmaker won't challenge his recall loss," July 10, 2012
  17. Telegraph Herald, "Wisconsin Democrats to take control of Senate Tuesday," July 16, 2012
  18. Wisconsin Radio Network, "Senate leadership transferred to Democrats," July 17, 2012
  19. Myrtle Beach Online, "Myrtle Beach-area Rep. Thad Viers resigns from S.C. House seat," March 22, 2012
  20. WCSC, "Representative Thad Viers indicted by grand jury," March 21, 2012
  21. Carolina Live, "Local lawmakers don't want special election for Viers' vacated seat," March 28, 2012
  22. Examiner, "Special election results still undetermined for SC State Senate race," July 17, 2012
  23. Post and Courier, "Hundley survives recount, challenged ballots in Senate District 41," July 21, 2012