Seat won by Democrat is 1 of 3 in Kapanke’s district
La Crosse County Board Chairman Steve Doyle was elected Tuesday to the Assembly, defeating home builder John Lautz to take a seat that had been in Republican hands since 1994. The special election was held after Republican Gov. Scott Walker tapped Rep. Mike Huebsch to run the state Department of Administration and serve as his chief adviser.
It is one of three Assembly districts within Kapanke’s Senate district. One of the other districts is represented by Democratic Rep. Jennifer Shilling, who plans to run against Kapanke if a recall election is held. Both Kapanke and Shilling are from La Crosse.
Kapanke is one of nine senators – six Republicans and three Democrats – who are under threat of recall.
Two more candidates emerged Wednesday to run against incumbents. Rep. Sandy Pasch (D-Whitefish Bay) plans to run against Sen. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills) and will formally announce that this week, sources said.
Pasch could not be reached for comment. Former Rep. Sheldon Wasserman, who unsuccessfully ran against Darling in 2008, has considered running. On Wednesday, he wouldn’t say if he’d run or not, but he said he and Pasch would both talk at a news conference Friday in Whitefish Bay, which is her hometown.
Meanwhile, in the race against Sen. Jim Holperin (D-Conover), recall organizer Kim Simac released a statement saying she’d run against Holperin.
The recall attempts took root after the Republican-run Legislature approved Walker’s plan to limit collective bargaining for public workers and Senate Democrats left the state for three weeks to try to prevent action on it. The legislation is now tied up in court.
The state Government Accountability Board will determine in the coming weeks whether petitions were properly filed to recall the senators. Barring legal challenges, most of the elections would be held July 12.
Kapanke is considered one of the most vulnerable senators, and Democrats seized on Doyle’s win as a sign they had momentum.
“It signals that people are having a pretty negative reaction to what’s happening in Madison,” said Gillian Morris, a spokeswoman for the state Democratic Party.
Shilling said the victory was a “strong momentum builder” for her campaign against Kapanke, but she added, “I’m not taking anything for granted.”
Kapanke said he’s always had tough races and expects to again this time. Outside special interest money also will likely pour into the race, both he and Shilling said.
“I expect this to be a close race and that there’ll be third-party participation, and I expect to work as hard as ever,” Kapanke said.
Bill Feehan, chairman of the La Crosse County Republican Party and a La Crosse County supervisor, attributed the loss of the Assembly seat to Doyle’s better name recognition, which helped particularly in a short campaign.
Democrats also benefited from their efforts to get their base to the polls, he said.
“The political pendulum swings back and forth. Right now their party is more active than ours is,” he said.
But he said the parallels to Kapanke’s recall election are limited.
“This isn’t a political newcomer taking on a political veteran,” Feehan said. “I think it’s going to be a very different race. I think it’s going to be very close.”
Joe Heim, a University of Wisconsin-La Crosse political scientist, said Doyle’s win is a sign that Shilling has a slight edge in the race against Kapanke. He said Doyle’s victory also can be seen as a sign that Democrats in other recall contests have an advantage because of the support they are getting from labor groups.
“It appears to me right now the forces of labor have good memories,” he said.