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Democrats prevent a Republican supermajority in the Wisconsin State Legislature
New maps gave Republicans a path to a supermajority, but key Democratic victories in Oshkosh and La Crosse County proved to be the difference.
The Recombobulation Area is a six-time Milwaukee Press Club award-winning weekly opinion column and online publication written and published by veteran Milwaukee journalist Dan Shafer. Learn more about it here.
In the first election under new maps, Wisconsin Republicans will make gains in the state legislature, but Democrats will successfully prevent a two-thirds supermajority that would have upended politics in the state.
Gaining that supermajority would have given the Republican-controlled state legislature the power to override a veto from Democratic governor Tony Evers, who won re-election Tuesday night.
“With the Governor’s veto power intact, Republicans in the Legislature will be prevented from turning Wisconsin into ground-zero for dismantling our democracy.” said Assembly Democratic Leader Greta Neubauer, in a press release from the Assembly Democratic Campaign Committee (ADCC). “Despite their best efforts, Republican Legislators were unable to silence the people of Wisconsin.”
The GOP will be two seats shy of a supermajority in the State Assembly, but as expected, they will reach that two-thirds threshold in the State Senate. But without supermajority control in both chambers, there is minimal impact on what legislative Republicans can do differently in the next term.
Tossup races won by incumbent Democrat Steve Doyle in La Crosse County (51%-49%) and by Lori Palmeri in Oshkosh (54%-46%) will prove to be the deciding races to prevent that supermajority. These numbers are according to the results page at Decision Desk HQ and can be found here.
Barring any unexpected updates, the total seat breakdown in the Wisconsin State Legislature will be as follows:
Republican 22 - Democratic 11
Republican 64 - Democratic 35
This is in a year where the state’s Democratic governor won by 3.5% and the Republican senator won by 1%.
It’s clear that these maps are wildly unbalanced, tilted in favor of the Republicans, who drew these maps. The State Supreme Court race next spring now looms especially large. Patience Roggensack, a conservative on the court who served as chief justice from 2015 to 2021, is retiring, and liberals will have a chance to win control of a court that’s currently a 4-3 conservative majority. That would potentially open up legal challenges to these ridiculously unfair maps.
In the Senate, Republicans will flip the 25th District in the far northwest corner of the state. Republican Romaine Quinn will defeat Democrat Kelly Westlund by a roughly 14-point margin. This was expected, as incumbent Democrat Janet Bewley is retiring and this is a district Donald Trump won by a double-digit margin in 2020.
Democrats will, however, hold a key State Senate seat in western Wisconsin, where Democrat Jeff Smith will defeat Republican Dave Estenson by a roughly 1% margin in the 31st District.
The two other competitive races, in the 5th District in Milwaukee’s western suburbs and in the 19th District in the Fox Valley, will remain in Republican control.
In the 5th, especially, you can really see the impact of Republican gerrymandering. Going into this election cycle, many thought the 5th could be flipped from red to blue, since two Assembly districts in the area had flipped in the last two election cycles. But under new maps, a 50-50 seat was shifted to have a 7-8% GOP lean. Republican Rob Hutton is on track to win this race by about a 6.5% margin.
When these maps were adopted, we identified Wauwatosa as the key city to the new GOP gerrymander. This city shifted further left than any other municipality in the state in 2020, and Republicans carved it into four Assembly districts and three Senate districts, diluting its power and moving the goalposts in favor of the GOP. Had the gerrymander not happened, it stands to reason that Democrats could have flipped this seat and kept the Senate under the two-thirds supermajority threshold.
The gerrymander was also key to another seat in the western suburbs that Republicans won on Tuesday. The 13th District, one we identified in our state legislature preview as “The Ridiculously Gerrymandered Open Seat,” flipped for Republicans. This was a 50-50 seat, one that Democrat Sara Rodriguez (now the Lieutenant Governor-elect) flipped in 2020.
The GOP redrew the map to give this seat a 16% GOP lean*. Republican Tom Michalski is on track to win in this western suburban seat by about 13%. With both the 5th Senate District and the 13th Assembly District, Democrats overperformed the math for the seat, but lost in tough gerrymandered districts.
Elsewhere in the Assembly, Democrats will come up just short of flipping two seats. In the 33rd, Democrat Don Vruwink is an incumbent, but redistricting drew him into a different district in eastern Dane and Jefferson counties. He was running for re-election in a very different seat, and appears to have come up about 250 votes short, losing by less than 1%.
And this one is a heartbreaker for us here at The Recombobulation Area after getting to know the candidate and her campaign, but Democrat LuAnn Bird is about 500 votes behind Republican Bob Donovan, and will lose by about 2% in the 84th District in Milwaukee’s southwestern suburbs.
Both the 33rd and the 84th lean toward the GOP, but by less than 5%. These strong performances here from Vruwink and Bird can give Democrats hope that these are races that can be won in future election cycles.
The GOP was also able to flip two more Assembly seats in the far northwest corner of the state. These were expected wins for Republicans, but their margins of victory were close, particularly in the 73rd, where Republican Angie Sapik will defeat Democrat Laura Gapske by about 2%. In the 74th, Republican Chanz Green will defeat Democrat John Adams by about 6%.
Perhaps the legislature’s single biggest winner this year was State Rep. Katrina Shankland of Stevens Point. Republicans targeted that seat in shifting central Wisconsin to the point where some projections were giving a real chance to a GOP upset, but Shankland is going to win by about a 15-point margin, even better than the 11-point margin she was re-elected by in 2020.
In other competitive seats, newcomer Clinton Anderson was able to hold the 45th District in the Beloit area for Democrats (56%-44%) and Democrat Tip McGuire won re-election 57% to 43% in his district in eastern Racine and Kenosha counties. And once again, Republican Todd Novak won re-election in the 51st District, this time winning by his widest margin to date, 56% to 44%.
Elsewhere, the rest of the elections in the Senate and Assembly went largely to expectations.
Seats we listed as “probably safe” for the GOP included the 21st District in southern Milwaukee County, where Republican Jessie Rodriguez won re-election by a roughly 8-point margin, and in the 85th District in the Wausau area, where Republican Patrick Snyder won re-election, by a roughly 12-point margin.
Conversely, the two “probably safe” Democrats both won re-election handily. Lee Snodgrass of Appleton and Kristina Shelton of Green Bay each won by nearly 20-point margins.
Perhaps the discrepancy between the margins in the “probably safe” categories tells a bit of a story about the night, where Democrats did better than many were expecting across Wisconsin.
Some due credit on this success in the Assembly preventing the supermajority goes to Neubauer, the 31-year-old state representative from Racine who became Minority Leader earlier this year after Gordon Hintz of Oshkosh announced he would not be seeking re-election.
In the end, Between Tony Evers’ victory, Attorney General Josh Kaul’s re-election victory, and Democrats preventing a supermajority in the legislature, there will be no “red wave” in the state of Wisconsin in 2022.
Republicans won important federal races like the one for Senate, with Ron Johnson squeaking by in a narrow victory over Mandela Barnes, and for Congress, where Derrick Van Orden won in the 3rd Congressional District, but their success in-state was limited to a win in the race for State Treasurer, where John Leiber defeated Democrat Aaron Richardson.
And of course — in large part because they’re the ones who drew the maps — Republicans will have a majority in the Wisconsin State Legislature. But they will not have a supermajority.
*This lean is a calculation from our friend John D. Johnson of Marquette University, using an average of results from the 2016 presidential, 2018 gubernatorial and 2020 presidential elections.
Correction: An earlier version of this story said Republican Patrick Snyder won re-election by a roughly 8-point margin. We have corrected it to accurately say it was a 12-point margin.
Dan Shafer is a journalist from Milwaukee who writes and publishes The Recombobulation Area. He previously worked at Seattle Magazine, Seattle Business Magazine, the Milwaukee Business Journal, Milwaukee Magazine, and BizTimes Milwaukee. He’s also written for The New York Times, The Daily Beast, Heartland Signal, Belt Magazine, WisPolitics, and Milwaukee Record. He’s won 13 Milwaukee Press Club Excellence in Journalism Awards. He’s on Twitter at @DanRShafer.
Follow Dan Shafer on Twitter at @DanRShafer.