State Sen. Janet Bewley (D-Mason) was not sure if she wanted to keep the job of minority leader after the elections, but when the Democrats in the Senate met Tuesday, her colleagues voted for her to continue in the role and she accepted. Bewley was first elected to the position in spring when then-Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling stepped away from leadership and announced she would not be running for re-election, later resigning her seat.
In addition to Bewley as the Democratic Senate leader, Sen. Janis Ringhand (D-Evansville) will continue to serve as assistant minority leader, fending off a challenge from Sen. Chris Larson (D-Milwaukee). The roles of caucus chair and vice chair will be filled by Sen. Jeff Smith and Sen.-elect Melissa Agard Sargent, according to Bewley chief-of-staff Joseph Hoey.
Bewley laid out a brief outline of Senate Democrats’ priorities in her statement thanking her colleagues for their support.
“With death tolls rising and case counts surging even higher, our communities are being devastated, and as a caucus we know that more must be done to stop the spread of COVID-19,” said Bewley.
“We are facing a pivotal moment for our state with many critical issues to address. From the systemic racism that plagues our communities, to the environmental threats that endanger our precious natural resources, and the economic uncertainty that has caused hardship for so many Wisconsin families, especially in rural areas, it’s clear that the road ahead will be challenging.”
The Assembly Democrats did not have any contested races, with Rep. Gordon Hintz (D-Oshkosh) continuing in the role of minority leader. The assistant minority leader will continue to be Rep. Dianne Hesselbein (D-Middleton), and Rep. Mark Spreitzer (D-Beloit) will be caucus chair. The new member to the team will be Rep. Lisa Subeck (D-Madison) who will serve as vice caucus chair, succeeding Rep. Steve Doyle (D-Onalaska), who declined to seek re-election.
“Our state is facing major issues in this upcoming session. First and foremost, Wisconsin is a hotspot in the global COVID-19 pandemic,” said Hintz in a statement after his election. “We must do all we can as a state to slow the spread of the virus and help our economy recover. I am confident that our caucus will offer up innovative legislative solutions to address this crisis.
“In addition to addressing COVID-19, redistricting is set to determine the future of legislative districts for the next decade. We will need all hands on deck in order to fight for fair maps and fair representation for the people of Wisconsin. Our increased numbers and dynamic caucus will help us push back on Republican efforts to gerrymander our state to their political advantage again.”
Assembly Republicans were also in caucus Tuesday afternoon to vote on leadership, where WisPolitics reported there could be some long-shot shake ups in the most closely watched caucus leadership. Those did not come to pass.
Rep. Robin Vos (R-Rochester) was reelected speaker, despite the Wispolitics report that Rep. Rob Brooks (R-Saukville) was contacting his colleagues about a potential change. Rep. Jim Steineke (R-Kaukauna) won reelection as majority leader over challenger in Rep. Cody Horlacher (R-Mukwonago). Speaker Pro Tem will continue to be Rep. Tyler August (R-Lake Geneva).
And the race for assistant majority leader, a position vacated by Mary Felzkowski’s senate win, there was a three-way challenge with Rep. Kevin Petersen (R-Waupaca) beating Shae Sortwell (R-Two Rivers) and Nancy Vandermeer (R-Tomah). Caucus chair is Tyler Vorpagel, vice-chair is Cindi Duchow (R-Town of Delafield).
“With a strong 61-seat majority, I look forward to advancing our conservative priorities and protecting the Republican gains that we have made over the past decade,” Vos said in a statement, which noted this will be his fifth term as speaker, making him the longest serving speaker in Wisconsin history come early January.
The Senate Republicans elected leadership last week, choosing Sen. Devin LeMahieu (R-Oostburg) as majority leader and Sen. Chris Kapenga (R-Delafield) as Senate president.