The state GOP Senate caucus selected Sen. Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) Friday as the new state Senate Majority Leader.
Sen. Cathy Stepp (R-Sturtevant) nominated Fitzgerald and Sen. Joe Leibham (R-Sheboygan) seconded the nomination of the 10-year Senate veteran. The caucus voted 17-1 in favor of Fitzgerald’s selection, with Sen. Carol Roessler (R-Oshkosh) accounting for the lone dissenting vote.
“I’m very proud to have earned the support of my Senate Republican colleagues,” Fitzgerald said in a press release. “I’m looking forward to a very productive future.”
Fitzgerald succeeds Mary Panzer (R-West Bend), who stepped down as majority leader after being crushed by state Rep. Glenn Grothman in the GOP primary Sept. 14.
Leibham believes Panzer’s decision to step down is best for the Republican Party.
“I’m sure it wasn’t easy for her,” Leibham said. “But it is in the best interests of our caucus and the citizens of this state. I respect her decision to allow a new leader to come in.”
Fitzgerald — who also serves on the Joint Committee on Finance — has pledged support for the Taxpayer Bill of Rights, a proposed constitutional amendment capping state and local government spending at the previous year’s budget, plus inflation and population growth. The amendment stalled in the Senate last session, a failure that Grothman attributed to Panzer.
Grothman’s victory and Fitzgerald’s ascension are signals that Wisconsin citizens want TABOR to pass, Leibham said.
“The message is loud and clear that citizens are asking the state government to hold the line on spending and control taxes,” the Sheboygan lawmaker said.
Leibham said he was confident Fitzgerald would be able to facilitate cooperation with Assembly Republicans, expressing uncertainty as to why a rift occasionally developed in the past between Panzer and Assembly Speaker John Gard. Republicans currently control both chambers of the state Legislature.
However, Democrats hope to bite into that advantage in the upcoming election by targeting the Republicans’ shift to “extreme” right-wing legislators like Grothman. They feel this will raise a red flag with voters.
Julie Laundrie, spokesperson for Democratic Senate Minority Leader Jon Erpenbach, feels Fitzgerald is among those steering the Senate to the right.
“He was the author of the gay marriage ban, so he has definitely driven that far right agenda,” Laundrie said, adding that Fitzgerald was part of a Senate that last session debated social issues while ignoring health care and job growth.
Laundrie noted weaker and more extreme Republican candidates emerged from the primary election, such as Gary Drzewiecki in the 30th Senate District.
“All incumbents are in good shape — the only wide open play is in the 32nd (Senate) District, an open seat,” Laundrie said. “But something could shake up. We feel we had strong candidates come out of the primary, while the Republicans are choosing candidates like Drzewiecki, who’s on the outside of the party.”