Wisconsin Democrats Win Election That Scott Walker Tried to Keep From Happening

Trump won the seat by 18 points and the GOP has held it for 40 years.

A group of protesters chant at the entrance for the Gov. Scott Walker event Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2017, at Mid-State Equipment in Janesville, Wis. (Angela Major/The Janesville Gazette via AP)Janesville Gazette via AP

Let our journalists help you make sense of the noise: Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter and get a recap of news that matters.

Wisconsin Democrats won a special election Tuesday in a state Senate district that President Donald Trump carried by 18 points. Democrat Caleb Frostman, a former head of the Door County Economic Development Corp, defeated Republican Rep. Andre Jacque by 800 votes in a district outside Green Bay. It’s the first time a Democrat has won the seat in 41 years.

While Republicans held on to an open assembly near Madison that was also on Tuesday’s ballot, the defeat was a major rebuke to Republican Gov. Scott Walker. As energized Trump-era Democrats won special elections in unexpected districts across the country earlier this year, Walker had refused to schedule the elections until three different judges ordered him to do so. 

The seats became open in December 2017 after two Republican members of the Legislature joined Walker’s administration. Walker said he wouldn’t schedule elections to replace them, claiming it would be a waste of money because the Legislature was set to adjourn in the spring. A Democratic group led by former Attorney General Eric Holder sued Walker, and on March 22 Dane County Circuit Court Judge Josann Reynolds ruled that the governor had a “plain and positive duty” to hold the elections. Republican legislative leaders then attacked Reynolds as an “activist Dane County judge,” even though she was appointed by Walker in 2014, and announced they would reconvene to pass legislation allowing the governor not to schedule the elections.

Meanwhile, Walker went back to court to ask for more time to postpone the elections, only to face two further rulings that he was constitutionally required to schedule them. “Representative government and the election of our representatives are never ‘unnecessary,’ never a ‘waste of taxpayer resources,’ and the calling of the special elections are, as the governor acknowledges, his ‘obligation,’” Court of Appeals Judge Paul Reilly, a Republican, ruled March 28. Walker then dropped his appeal and scheduled the elections.

This is the second special election Wisconsin Democrats have won this year. In January, Democrat Patty Schachtner pulled off a shocking upset by 11 points in a northwest Wisconsin state Senate district that had been in GOP hands since 2000, and that Trump carried by 17 points. Walker called it a “wake-up call,” and subsequently refused to schedule further special elections. Democrats need to win two more seats to retake the Senate chamber in November.


Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

payment methods

We Recommend