MADISON, Wis. (AP) — A national Democratic group led by former U.S. Attorney Eric Holder filed a lawsuit Monday attempting to force Republican Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker to call two special elections to fill legislative vacancies.
Walker has refused to call special elections for the seats that became open two weeks before a surprise Democratic victory in a state Senate special election in a district that had been in Republican hands for 17 years.
Both of the vacancies are in traditionally Republican districts.
Walker has argued he’s not required to call special elections and it would be a waste of taxpayer money to do it for the two vacancies, given that the Legislature is slated to complete its work for the year next month. Walker instead wants to wait for the regularly scheduled election in November to fill the seats, meaning constituents in the districts will be without representatives for a year.
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Democrats have argued, as does the lawsuit, that he has an obligation under the law to fill them as soon as possible.
“A right to representation in the lawmaking body is a bedrock of democracy, and Governor Walker’s refusal to comply with his plain legal duty” causes voters in the districts “substantial harm,” the lawsuit said.
Attorneys for the National Redistricting Foundation, an affiliate of the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, filed the lawsuit Monday in Dane County Circuit Court on behalf of voters who live in the affected state Senate and Assembly districts.
“Governor Scott Walker’s refusal to hold special elections is an affront to representative democracy,” Holder said in a statement. “Forcing citizens to go more than a year without representation … is a plain violation of their rights and we’re hopeful the court will act quickly to order the governor to hold elections.”
The National Democratic Redistricting Committee, chaired by Holder, launched in 2017.
Walker’s spokesman Amy Hasenberg said Walker’s decision not to call special elections was “consistent with the law” and accused a “D.C.-based special interest group” of wanting to waste Wisconsin taxpayers’ money.
“Voters are already going to the polls this year to elect new representatives in these districts,” she said, referring to the August primary and November general election. “The Legislature will be adjourned for 2018 before these seats could be filled in special elections, and staff in these offices are working for constituents until new leaders are elected.”
Democrats, including Holder’s group, have launched a coordinated effort to chip away at Republican dominance from lower-level offices on up. The fight for control of legislative chambers matters both over policy debates but also because they will be the ones who draw state and congressional political boundary lines following the 2020 Census.
Both of the vacant seats were held by Republicans — Sen. Frank Lasee, of De Pere, and Rep. Keith Ripp, of Lodi — who resigned on Dec. 29 to take jobs in Walker’s administration. The Senate seat, which covers the Door County peninsula northeast of Green Bay, has been under Republican control for at least the past 40 years and Ripp had held the Assembly seat, in a rural area north of Madison, since 2008.
Republicans control the state Senate 18-14 with one vacancy and the Assembly 63-35 with one vacancy.
Follow Scott Bauer on Twitter at https://twitter.com/sbauerAP