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The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


Tides change in state leadership

[media-credit name=’Bryan Faust’ align=’alignnone’ width=’648′]Senate2_BF_400[/media-credit]State Sen. Scott Fitzgerald’s, R-Juneau, reign as Senate Majority Leader came to a surprising and abrupt halt Tuesday as the Republican caucus elected Sen. Dale Schultz, R-Richland Center, to be its next leader.

Fitzgerald, who was selected interim Majority Leader after former leader Sen. Mary Panzer, R-West Bend, lost in the September primary, had widely been expected to retain his post. But by a secret vote it was Schultz who emerged to lead the Republicans, who hold a 19-14 seat edge over the Democrats in the legislature’s upper chamber.

At a press conference at the Capitol Tuesday afternoon, Schultz stressed a need to work across the aisle when the Senate convenes in January.


“There are good thoughtful senators with legitimate feelings and concerns on many issues that face us today,” Schultz said. “To not allow for an orderly debate on those issues … would be to deny a voice to every person who has been sent here.”

Schultz, fresh off a loss against U.S. Rep. Ron Kind for Wisconsin’s 3rd Congressional District, has served in the state legislature since 1982. He was elected to the Senate in 1991, where he currently chairs the Committee on Agriculture, Financial Institutions and Insurance.

Fitzgerald said he was confident early Tuesday he would remove the interim tag from his title, but “votes unraveled” in the hidden caucus voting process.

Making his first decisions as Majority Leader, Schultz announced Fitzgerald had accepted his invitation to serve as co-chair on the legislature’s Joint Committee on Finance. Schultz appointed Sen. Mary Lazich, R-New Berlin, vice-chair of the committee, which will play a key role in approving Gov. Jim Doyle’s upcoming biennial budget.

“I’m eager to see what the Governor has to offer,” Fitzgerald said.

On the Democratic side, Sen. Judy Robson, D-Beloit, succeeds Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Middleton, who stepped down as Minority Leader last week. Robson defeated Sen. Tim Carpenter, D-Milwaukee, and Sen. Robert Jauch, D-Poplar, who many expected to claim the role as Democratic leader.

“I am deeply humbled and honored by the support of my colleagues and I look forward to my duties as Senate Democratic Leader,” Robson said in a statement.

Tuesday proved to be a banner day for legislators from Western Wisconsin. In addition to Schultz, Sen. Ron Brown, R-Eau Claire, was elected Republican Caucus chairperson and Sen. David Zien, R-Eau Claire, assumed the role of Senate President Pro Tempore.

In the state Assembly, Rep. John Gard, R-Peshtigo, will again serve as Speaker, while Rep. Mike Huebsch, R-West Salem, will take over as Assembly Majority Leader. The Democratic caucus elected Rep. Jim Krueser, D-Kenosha, to serve another term as Assembly Minority Leader.

Impact on policies

Numerous policies potentially stand to change as a result of Tuesday’s caucus votes. Some analysts view Schultz as being a more moderate choice than Fitzgerald, who has led the charge to enact a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage in the state.

At the press conference, Schultz declined to say when the amendment might go up for public referendum. The measure is expected to pass the legislature for a second consecutive session this year, meaning it may go to referendum as early as April 2005.

The number one priority for the state, Schultz said, will be holding the line on state spending and taxes. Many say the failure last session to pass one such piece of legislation, the Taxpayer Bill of Rights, led to Panzer’s downfall.

Schultz Tuesday appointed the man who defeated Panzer, Senator-elect Glenn Grothman, to draft an acceptable version of the controversial measure.

“I’d like to make it clear that I am committed to holding hearings and having a vote on TABOR as soon as possible,” Schultz said. “Job one in this Senate will be to get our fiscal house in order.”

A spokesperson for Robson said she was hopeful the results from both parties Tuesday would facilitate “a more reasonable” approach to issues like the property tax freeze and TABOR.

Proponents for campaign finance reform hailed Schultz’s victory as a step in the right direction for their cause, which stalled in the legislature in March.

“Schultz has been a strong supporter of reform, in contrast with Fitzgerald,” Jay Heck, executive director of clean government group Common Cause In Wisconsin, said.

Heck said Robson, like Erpenbach before her, would also fight for more extensive regulation of state campaigns.

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