For the first time in 14 years, state Democrats will be the ones selecting a new speaker for the state Assembly today at their caucus meeting.
With Rep. Pedro Colon, D-Milwaukee, and Rep. Fred Kessler, D-Milwaukee, dropping their bids for Assembly speaker on Monday, the race comes down to just two: Rep. Jon Richards, D-Milwaukee, and Rep. Mike Sheridan, D-Janesville.
Colon and Kessler announced they would be backing fellow Milwaukee resident Richards, while Sheridan is backed by Rep. Mark Pocan and Rep. Joe Parisi, both Democrats from Madison.
According to Kessler, the next Assembly leader needs to realize that pushing progressive values and issues will be important, as will understanding the inevitable switch in majority leadership in the next election.
“The other side is going to get control again in the next election,” Kessler said. “It’s a pattern that occurs all the time.”
Richards, formerly an assistant minority leader, has been in the Assembly for 10 years. He has headed reforms to reduce the costs of health care, been an advocate for protecting the Great Lakes and authored several bills to protect consumers.
Sheridan has been a member of the Assembly since 2004 and has served on numerous committees, including the Transportation and Jobs and the Economy Committee, of which he is the ranking Democrat.
The 52-member Democratic caucus will elect either Richards or Sheridan as speaker by secret ballot.
The speaker is the highest post in the Assembly, and the job will include setting the party’s agenda and working with both Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle and the Democratic-controlled Senate.
The Republicans already elected their Assembly officials on Monday, with Rep. Jeff Fitzgerald, R-Horicon, chosen as the minority leader. Other posts filled include Rep. Mark Gottlieb, R-Port Washington, as assistant minority leader, Rep. Scott Suder, R-Abbotsford, as caucus chair, and Rep. Joel Kleefisch, R-Oconomowoc, as the vice caucus chair.
Fitzgerald spokesperson Jim Bender said the priorities of both parties will soon become apparent in this current economic crisis. Bender also said the Republicans would continue to work for job growth and help residents by opposing tax increases.
“We believe that families’ budgets have to take priority over the state budget, and raising taxes at this time is the absolute worst thing to do for Wisconsin families,” said Bender.
Bender added the Republicans and Democrats will continue to work mainly together on legislation but said the parties disagree about 10 percent of the time.
The state Senate also elected its new leadership this week. The Senate Republicans selected Sen. Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, as the minority leader, Sen. Glenn Grothman, R-West Bend, as the assistant minority leader, and Sen. Joe Leibham, R-Sheboygan, as the caucus chair.
The Democrats unanimously chose Sen. Russ Decker, D-Weston, to be the Senate majority leader, a post he has held since October 2007. The assistant majority leader will be Sen. Dave Hansen, D-Green Bay, and the caucus chair will be Sen. John Lehman, D-Racine.
–Alicia Abercrombie contributed to this report.