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The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


Wisconsin’s divided government has profound impacts on policy outcomes

Despite moderate success, Democrats may face challenges amid political deadlock
David Guenthner

Many people in Wisconsin found themselves glued to the television on election night, waiting for results to slowly trickle in from across the state. Voters felt this election had higher stakes than ever before — advertised as referendums on abortion rights and democracy, among other issues. Consequently, Wisconsin had a 60.2% voter turnout — among the highest in the nation. 

Democratic Gov. Tony Evers secured reelection in his bid for governor and Republican Sen. Ron Johnson edged Mandela Barnes out of the U.S. Senate race. While these two high-profile elections were covered by almost every national news outlet, elections for the state Legislature lacked the same coverage. The results of these elections could have just as big of an impact on the people of Wisconsin. 

Republicans came out on top in both State Senate and Assembly elections. The makeup of the Senate is now 10 Democrats to 22 Republicans, with one open seat. The Assembly is not too different — 35 Democrats and 63 Republicans. 


State Democrats take consolation in the fact that Republicans were unable to win a supermajority in the Assembly. A supermajority would have given the GOP the power to pass legislation by overriding the governor’s veto. Such Republican dominance would be an indictment of Wisconsin democracy and a misrepresentation of a state with almost even political division.

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With a divided state government, Evers faces an uphill battle in accomplishing the policy agenda he campaigned on — investing in public education, solidifying abortion rights and protecting voting rights. Many of these issues hinge on gaining bipartisan support from the Legislature.

Working against a Republican-dominated state Legislature is nothing new to the reelected governor. Since January of 2021, Evers has vetoed 126 GOP bills — a record high. The Democratic governor served as a goalkeeper in his last term, blocking conservative legislation on issues ranging from election law to abortion rights. 

Bipartisan cooperation seems especially unlikely after a bitter campaign season. Republican and Democratic candidates ran on fundamentally different platforms, seemingly disagreeing on every issue. In a statement given to the Associated Press, Evers described his GOP opponent’s stance on abortion and education as “radical.” 

Regarding abortion rights, Wisconsin Democrats realize legislative help is not coming from Washington. The chance for Roe v. Wade to be codified federally appears unviable given the Republican flip of the U.S. House. Evers and the Democrats must either compromise with Republicans or use the courts to overturn the 1849 near-total abortion ban currently in place. 

Reaching agreements with Republicans in the Legislature is not totally out of the picture for Evers. In a radio interview on WISN-AM, Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos hinted at compromising with the governor if Evers agrees to conservative tax cuts. 

But the Republican Party is not unified on this strategy of compromise. The Senate majority leader, Devin LeMaiheu,was less enthusiastic about working with Evers. According to PBS, LeMaiheu said he wants to use the Senate as a block on Evers’ agenda.

Evidently, the governor and the Legislature will have to settle for a bargain or risk political deadlock, leaving a government that serves political parties more than the people. 

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Additionally, the Department of Administration projects the state budget surplus at more than $6.5 billion. How and where these funds are distributed has already become the source of intense debate.

Republicans in the Legislature and Evers see the record surplus in a very different light.  LeMahieu believes that the surplus is a chance to give back to the state’s wealthiest residents, proposing replacing the existing progressive income tax with a flat tax. 

Evers and the Democrats wish to use the surplus to invest an additional $2 billion into public schools — including funding to the University of Wisconsin System’s tuition freeze — alongside tax cuts for middle-income families, according to his newest budget proposal. Crucially, these policies would benefit working families across the state — the GOP alternative indulges the economic elite. 

The courts may be the only way for Evers to bypass a political stalemate with the Republican Legislature and achieve some of his campaign promises on abortion rights. In July, Evers and Attorney General Josh Kaul filed a lawsuit that aims to overturn the state’s 19th century abortion ban. 

Legal processes like this do not need approval from the Legislature and an often liberal-ruling Wisconsin Supreme Court looks promising for Evers if the challenge is brought to the state’s highest court. A legal win for the Democrats could result in the reinstatement of significant abortion rights, which based on referendums showing public support for the policies, would also benefit Wisconsin citizens.

Though the state Supreme Court has a recent history of 4-3 rulings in favor of politically liberal outcomes, the court only has three liberal justices. One conservative Justice, Brian Hagedorn, is known to unreliably swing — voting with the liberals in some cases and with the conservatives in others.

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The upcoming Supreme Court election in 2023 could change the tilt of the court. Conservative Justice Roggensack is retiring, leaving room for a potential liberal justice to fill. A reliably liberal-leaning Supreme Court would be monumental for Evers and the Democrats of the state.

This spring, the state Supreme Court ruled in favor of a heavily gerrymandered redistricting map that favored Republicans in the Legislature. This map makes it nearly impossible for Republicans to lose control of the State Assembly or Senate. A reliably liberal court could reverse the tide of conservative gerrymandering and enable fairer maps to be drawn. 

Evers’ back-to-back statewide election victories highlight the current disparities between the popularity of Democratic candidates and the representation they receive in the Legislature. Alternative non-partisan legislative districts could restore balance and competitive electoral outcomes.

A shakeup of the partisan makeup in the Legislature could mean a state government free from a terminal political standstill, forcing Republicans to compromise and allowing Evers to pursue the agenda he was twice elected on.

Jack Rogers ([email protected]) is a freshman studying economics and Chinese.

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