State Assembly Republicans elected Rep. John Gard, R-Peshtigo, speaker yesterday in the GOP’s caucus-leadership elections. This puts Gard in position to lead the Republican Assembly through the state’s budget woes.

“I think John and our Caucus have taken a definite step in a positive direction, which is what our state needs,” said Gard’s spokesman Jeff Schoenfeldt. “According to Wisconsin law, the governor’s new budget must be introduced by the end of February. Everyone feels that the budget is the No. 1 issue we have to tackle in this state.”

“Every single member in this Assembly is going to have to find ways to cut back on spending,” Schoenfeldt said.

Schoenfeldt said Democratic governor-elect Jim Doyle attended Gard’s acceptance speech and stood arm to arm with Gard.

“Doyle really extended a bipartisan olive branch today,” Schoenfeldt said.

Republicans will hold a 58-41 majority in the next Legislature. Since being elected last week, Doyle has remained positive about working across party lines to fix the state’s budget.

“We’re going to solve this crisis,” Schoenfeldt said. “We have a Republican House, a Republican Senate and a Democratic governor-elect, and they’re all standing in locked step with each other about solving the budget problem without increased taxes for Wisconsin families.”

“At this point, there seems to be a tremendous amount of interest in keeping things bipartisan,” said Donald Kettl, professor of political science and public affairs at the University of Wisconsin.

Kettl said it seems everyone in state government realizes there is no way out of the budget problems without working together.

According to Kettl, Gard is a well-respected legislator, and was the “odds-on favorite” for the speaker position.

“Gard is a strong opponent to tax increases, which seems pretty in line with what Doyle stands for,” Kettl said.

Former Assembly Speaker Rep. Scott Jensen said he would step down from his seat as soon as a successor was elected. Jensen was charged with felony misconduct in office while investigating illegal campaigning at the Capitol.

Assembly Majority Leader Steve Foti was also charged but has so far refused to step down from his position.