Democrats are poised to take over the state Senate after Sen. Van Wanggaard, R-Racine, announced Tuesday that he won't go to court over his loss in last month's recall election, effectively conceding his seat to his Democratic challenger.
Once his rival, Sen.-elect John Lehman, is sworn in, Democrats will have a 17-16 Senate majority. But it's unclear how much political power they will have, as Republicans still control the state Assembly and GOP Gov. Scott Walker survived his recall challenge — and the Legislature isn't scheduled to be back on the floor for session until after the November elections.
The win marks the only victory for Democrats in June's six recall races. And it's unclear how long they will hold onto the majority — sixteen of the Senate's 33 seats are up for elections this fall, and new GOP-friendly legislative maps passed last year may spell tough races for a number of Democrats.
Wanggaard said Tuesday that he is committed to running for Senate again during the next election. That would be 2014 — unless Lehman faces a recall challenge before then, a possibility according to Republicans.
"As General Douglas MacArthur once said, 'I shall return,'" Wanggaard said.
But Democrats said they don't want to wait for the November vote before taking action, and they called on Gov. Scott Walker to order the Legislature into a special session to work on job creation bills.
"If we can hit some common ground with Republicans, we could get started before January," Lehman said.
He and Sen. Mark Miller, D-Monona, who will become Senate majority leader after Lehman is sworn in, said jobs legislation could include
"Anything that creates jobs is on the table," Miller said.worker training, boosting small businesses, infrastructure development and other economic development bills.
Walker spokesman Cullen Werwie said the governor has no immediate plans to call lawmakers into session.
"We are not currently looking at a special sesion," Werwie said. "The only way we would consider it is if there were broad bipartisan support in the four caucuses of the Legislature for a narrowly defined bill or set of bills focused on job creation."
Miller and Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Middleton, also called on GOP lawmakers like Senate President Mike Ellis, R-Neenah, to facilitate a smooth, swift transition.
"Most importantly, Sen. Ellis has to hand over the gavel," Erpenbach said.
Ellis did not return telephone calls seeking comment.
Senate Republican Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, said he is open to sitting down and talking about new ideas, but thinks people would be better served if lawmakers "get their ducks in a row" and wait until January to come back to the floor.
The state Government Accountability Board is scheduled to certify the election results at 8 a.m. Wednesday, and Lehman will have up to 10 days to be sworn in.
Lehman, who was defeated by Wanggaard in 2010, held a 834-vote lead after the June 5 recall. Wanggaard called for a recount, which dropped Lehman's lead only slightly, to 819 votes.
But Wanggaard's campaign has voiced concerns about the vote tally and the election process, such as unsealed ballot bags and missing poll book signatures.
Wangaard on Tuesday still cited "mountains of evidence" he says his campaign found that raised questions about the June recall, but said he did not have enough time from the end of the recount to develop his case to challenge election tallies. State law called for the GAB to wait five business days before it could certify the results and declare Lehman the official winner, which gave Wanggaard a Tuesday deadline to file a lawsuit to challenge the results.
Wanggaard said there was a "surprising lack of cooperation" from Racine city officials.
"The investigation into irregularities does not stop today," he added. "The investigation will continue and evidence discovered will be provided to law enforcement."
Wanggaard also said that Dane County judges' rulings against Wisconsin's new voter ID law played a role in his race.
Lehman and other Senate Democrats had been urging Wanggaard to concede since the recount was finalized last week. And Lehman said the outgoing senator "insulted" Racine and its election workers with his allegations of voter fraud.