By Kirsten Adshead | Wisconsin Reporter
MADISON — Roger Breske understands state Senate District 12 better than most — he did, after all, represent it for 18 years.
The longtime Democrat knows what it will take to win the seat now that his successor, Democratic Sen. Jim Holperin of Conover, has opted not to seek re-election in the north-central Wisconsin district; state Rep. Tim Tiffany, R-Hazelhurst, has announced his intention to run for the seat.
“Well, for one thing, it’s going to take a lot of work because it’s a big district. It’s huge, and you only have three major cities … And the rest (including parts of 10 counties) is all pretty rural," said Breske, who resigned from the Senate in 2008 to become railroad commissioner under then-Gov. Jim Doyle.
Tiffany's announcement Thursday that he would run to replace Holperin is a reminder the recall elections — expected to be held in June — are just the start of a long election year.
Half the state Senate and the entire state Assembly is up for election this November.
Holperin's seat is one of five the state GOP is targeting.
The seat has long been held by Democrats — but people in the district don't care much about party affiliation, Breske said. The Senate district also contains three Assembly districts, including Tiffany's, and all three Assembly members are Republicans.
“Being visible and being with people and being around. That’s the big difference,” he said.
Most of the political attention has gone this year to efforts to recall Gov. Scott Walker, Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch and, for the moment, four GOP senators — although recalls of Sens. Bob Jauch, D-Poplar, and Dale Schultz, R-Richland Center, are possible, too.
The November elections, though, may have an equal — even larger — impact, and not just because Wisconsinites will help choose a president and fill a key U. S. Senate spot.
Much is at stake: The party that controls the two Legislative chambers and the governor’s office sets the public-policy agenda.
Walker is Exhibit A for how expansive those changes can be.
Democrats have used anger over collective bargaining changes and budget cuts to drum up support for a recall and for Democratic candidates.
Republicans such as Tiffany say Republicans stood strong, making tough financial decisions to fix the state's $3.6 billion budget hole.
With the Senate chamber split, 16-16, with one empty seat, Democrats have to win just one of the recall elections against three Republican senators, or the recall election for the seat recently vacated by Republican Sen. Pam Galloway of Wausau.
The chamber still could switch hands again, though, in November, with Republican victories.
The Republicans drew the district boundaries as required after the U.S. Census, so, theoretically, they were able to craft districts favoring their party.
Republicans also have fewer seats to defend in November: Six districts up for re-election are represented by Republicans; 10 by Democrats.
Dennis Dresang, professor emeritus of public affairs and political science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, sees potential for Democrats to have a strong year, too.
“I think the other kinds of things that are at work here are the mobilization of the Democrats because of the recall election,” he said, adding, “(President Barack Obama) consistently has been doing better in Wisconsin than he’s done in terms of the nation as a whole.”
This year's elections, too, have an interesting twist.
Unless a judge orders otherwise, the GOP-drawn redistricting maps will be in use for the November elections, but not for the summer recalls.
“There will be some voters who will be voting for a senator in the recall elections and they will not be voting for another senator for really about another six years,” Dresang said. “Others will be voting in June and they’ll be voting in November, and it’ll be for different senators in different districts.”
In last summer's recalls, Democrats succeeded in ousting two GOP senators and protected their own seats; Republicans held on to four seats of their own.
It's those Senate seats, and the remaining even-numbered districts, up for re-election this fall.
Dan Romportl, executive director of the Committee to Elect a Republican Senate, said he is confident in the Senate’s Republican incumbents, even those who performed worse in last summer’s recalls than two years earlier in the regular election.
The incumbents nevertheless won, he said, and “It’s a little tougher (for Democrats) to take a second run at them.”