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Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester


After a Dane County judge ruled that Gov. Scott Walker has to call for a special election to fill two empty legislative seats, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, called her an “activist Dane County judge.”

That was met with a stinging rebuke by Circuit Judge William Hanrahan, who called Vos’s statements “inflammatory, uncalled for,” and “patently offensive.” But interviewed on the Sunday political talk show, “Capital City Sunday,” Vos showed no signs of backing down.

“You said it was a political ruling, you said she was an activist judge, do you stand by those comments?” asked host Mike Gousha.

“I do,” Vos said.

“Even though she was appointed by Governor Walker?” Gousha asked.

“Well, and she’s also endorsed Rebecca Dallet (for State Supreme Court), so as I said in my availability, once in a while Governor Walker, myself, all of us get it wrong with an appointment,” Vos said. “In Dane County unfortunately, you have to be an ultra-liberal to get elected.”

In December, Walker appointed Sen. Frank Lasee, R-De Pere, and Rep. Keith Ripp, R-Lodi, to positions in his administration, leaving empty seats in the 1st Senate District and the 42nd Assembly District.

Rather than hold a special election to fill those seats, Walker said it made more sense to wait until the upcoming Nov. 6 election. Former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder's National Democratic Redistricting Committee sued for more immediate representation.

After Dane County Circuit Judge Josann Reynolds ruled in favor a special election, Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, proposed changing state law to prevent a “very messy” logistical election year, were the two seats would be determined by a special election this spring, and then be up for election again in the fall.

Vos said he was on board with Fitzgerald’s plan, as “there’s no sense putting the taxpayers through the expense of an election, knowing that literally a couple weeks later people circulate nomination papers for the exact same office with an election in November.”

He explained that when the state legislature moved the date for primaries from after Labor Day to August, they mistakenly didn’t also move the date for special election to be triggered.

Gousha challenged Vos’ statement that it wouldn’t make sense to hold a special election after the legislative session ends.

“You’re still representing the people of that district. You just don’t shut down your representation,” Gousha said.

Vos argued that the legislators’ job is “primarily to vote, to have committee hearings, to listen to our constituents” and said that by mid-April, legislators are running for re-election.

“Having someone who takes office never has a single day on the floor, never casts a single vote in the legislature, seems to me to be a waste of taxpayer resources,” Vos said.

Asked to respond to Hanrahan’s statement that he had taken “the low road,” in criticizing Reynolds, Vos chuckled, and quoted former Gov. Lee Sherman Dreyfus statement that “Madison is 30 square miles surrounded by reality.”

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“There are good, decent people in Dane County, but I think that their view of the world is distinctly different from a lot of the rest of the state. I want judges who follow the rule of the law. I want judges who actually defer to the legislature. I want them to make sure they are not politicizing their rulings,” Vos said.

While Vos said he wasn’t surprised by Reynolds’ ruling, he pointed to separation of powers as a chance to make it right.

“She has the right to make that decision, the legislature now has the right to come and correct it,” he said.

This is not the first time a judge has subverted the will of the people, Vos said.

“I’ve seen that in almost every issue from Act 10, Right to Work, voter ID, a Dane County judge elected by very liberal voters overruled the will of the legislature only to be turned back by a court at a different level,” he said. “Sometimes the appeals court, sometimes a federal court, sometimes it’s the Supreme Court. They can’t be taken seriously there.”

Democrats have argued that Republicans are afraid of the momentum in their party’s favor, pointing to the special election of Democrat Patty Schachtner in a district that was formerly held by a Republican and voted strongly for Trump in 2016. Vos said he’s optimistic that a Republican will win the seat. 

“Every single time that we go through an election cycle, Democrats predict that they’re going to take over the state,” he said. “I am very confident that we’re going to do it, but you still have to follow the law.”