By Kirsten Adshead | Wisconsin Reporter
MADISON — A new poll highlighted potential problems for Democrats and Republicans this year in Wisconsin, according to one political expert.
Around the state, the state Senate recall elections process is on hold, a federal lawsuit against the GOP-drawn redistricting maps proceeded, and a flurry of bills have moved through the Legislature as the scheduled end to the spring session approaches.
Former Gov. Tommy Thompson bests U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin in a head-to-head matchup between the two candidates, who are vying to replace retiring Democratic Sen. Herb Kohl, according to a new poll of Wisconsin voters by Marquette University Law School in Milwaukee.
Forty-eight percent said they would choose Thompson, compared with 42 percent who would vote for Baldwin, who represents the 2nd District and is the only Democrat who has announced a run for the seat. Six percent were undecided.
Baldwin, though, leads over the other Republicans in the race: 44 percent to former Wisconsin U.S. Rep. Mark Neumann’s 40 percent, with 9 percent undecided; and 45 percent to state Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald’s 37 percent, also with 9 percent undecided.
“Remember, we’re a snapshot in time, not a prediction of the future,” said University of Wisconsin-Madison political scientist Charles Franklin, who is conducting the series of polls, taken about once a month, for Marquette.
February’s poll of 716 registered voters and eligible voters who said they would register by Election Day was conducted Feb. 16-19 by landline and cell phones. The poll’s margin of error is 3.7 percent.
The poll indicates a potential problem for Democrats: Many Wisconsinites don’t think they know enough about former Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk and state Sen. Kathleen Vinehout, D-Alma — two of the three Democrats are in the race to replace Gov. Scott Walker, if a recall election is held.
Secretary of State Doug La Follette filed paperwork with the Government Accountability Board, or GAB, the state’s election agency, on Thursday, indicating his interest in exploring a possible run.
“I need to get my name in the polls, and I need to find out what the response would be to see if I would be the strong candidate we need to defeat Walker,” La Follette said.
Franklin noted several possible concerns for Republicans as well: President Barack Obama is more popular among Wisconsinites than the leading GOP presidential candidates. And Walker’s “unfavorable” numbers are up: 46 percent said they favored the governor this month, down from 51 percent in January; and 48 percent said they disfavored him this month, up from 46 percent in January.
“The state may be very divided at this point, but we’re actually very capable of putting one party ahead in some races and another party ahead in other races,” Franklin said.
Senate recalls hearing coming March 12
GAB intends to hold off on deciding whether enough state Senate recall elections should be held until at least March 12, in hopes that any recall elections ordered can be scheduled on the same day.
“We believe this approach is better for the taxpayers because it reduces the costs of conducting multiple elections, and better for the voters because it avoids possible confusion about who is on the ballot and for what office,” GAB Director Kevin Kennedy wrote in a letter last Friday to the Wisconsin County Clerks Association and the Wisconsin Municipal Clerks Association.
Walker has until Monday to challenge the estimated 1 million signatures collected against him.
GAB has until March 19 to determine whether enough valid signatures were collected to push Walker, Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch and four state Republican senators into recall elections.
But challenges and responses to those challenges have been submitted in the recall efforts against Sens. Pam Galloway of Wausau, Van Wanggaard of Racine, Terry Moulton of Chippewa Falls and Scott Fitzgerald of Juneau, the Senate majority leader.
So the GAB could move forward with those, holding a public hearing on the signatures’ validity and scheduling any recall elections.
Kennedy’s letter acknowledges the difficulty of trying to work the system, so all recall elections are held on one day.
But, he wrote, “our focus is on conducting our review of the petitions and challenges as efficiently as possible. If recall elections are scheduled, we prefer them to be on the same sets of dates because that is what is best for taxpayers, voters and local election officials.”
Redistricting trial continues
Republicans chose not to have another go at drawing congressional and legislative district boundaries this week, an option suggested early this week by a three-judge federal panel overseeing a lawsuit challenging the redistricting maps.
Democrats and Voces de la Frontera, an immigrant-rights group, have sued GAB over redistricting and want to keep the new maps from being used for this year’s elections.
Boundary lines for political districts are required to be redrawn every 10 years to reflect population shifts identified by the U.S. Census.
Republicans, who control both chambers of the Legislature, drew the maps last year largely in secret, which prompted a scathing rebuke from the federal judges last week.
The judicial panel gave Republicans the option of redrawing the maps as a way of possibly eliminating the need for a trial.
According to the Associated Press news service, however, GOP lawmakers had told attorneys Tuesday they would have been willing to reconsider the maps, but they said the state constitution only allows the Legislature to modify the maps once every 10 years.
The judges rejected that idea, and the trial continued late this week. Arguments were supposed to wrap up Friday, with a ruling expected in the coming weeks.
A marathon session, pushing toward midnight, produced a flurry of approved bills this week — from expanding jobless benefits to reworking wetlands legislation — before shutting down for what promises to be a lively run-up to the end of session.
The divided Legislature moved through controversial and common-ground bills, but arguably the centerpiece of this session — the mining bill — remained unsettled Wednesday as lawmakers took a break from floor debate.
None of the major players was talking about what's next on the mining legislation, which Republican leadership insists has a limited shelf life.
The Assembly has passed a mining bill aimed at encouraging Gogebic Taconite LLC to push forward with plans to start an open-pit iron ore mine in northern Wisconsin.
Critics, including Democrats and environmentalists, said the bill does too little to address environmental concerns.
“Assembly Republicans are open to working with the Senate on a compromise that will ensure the future of mining in our state, but tax increases and legal red tape that will deny Wisconsin thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in revenue are non-starters in this house,” Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald, R-Horicon; Assembly Majority Leader Scott Suder, R-Abbotsford; and state Rep. Robin Vos, R-Rochester, said in a joint statement.