Election night was a good night for national Democrats; President Obama won reelection, and Democrats gained two seats in the Senate. The news was not as good for local Democrats in Wisconsin, though, who lost their hard-fought majority in the Wisconsin State Senate, the only thing standing between Governor Scott Walker and Republicans' full control of the Wisconsin Legislature.
Of the 33 Senate seats, 11 were up for election on Tuesday. Five Democratic incumbents and four Republican incumbents kept their seats. Senate District 12 was up for grabs after Democrat Jim Holperin, who survived two recall attempts during his time in office, announced that he would not be seeking reelection. Republican Assemblyman Tom Tiffany beat Democrat Susan Sommer 56 percent to 40 percent to fill that seat, flipping the seat from D to R. Senator Jess King, who won the August 2011 recall election against Republican Randy Hopper, lost her reelection to Republican Rick Gudex by only 590 votes. This gave the Republicans their second gain of the night. Because of the tight margin, King has decided to wait until the count is verified before she concedes, and there is a possibility of a recount.
If Gudex's win holds up, the Wisconsin Senate will sit with 15 Democrats, 17 Republicans, and one empty seat after Republican Rich Zipperer announced he was resigning to become the Walker administration's deputy Chief of Staff and Senior Counsel. His seat will be filled in a special election set to take place in December 2012, and a Republican is expected to win in the deeply red 33rd Senate district.
Democrats Held the State Senate for Five Months, But the Legislature Was Not in Session
Wisconsin had historic recall battles in 2011 and 2012. In all, 13 Senate seats were subject to recall petitions -- ten seats held by Republicans and three by Democrats -- and three seats were successfully swung from Republican to Democrats, giving the Democrats a slender 17-16 majority as of July 2012.
Governor Scott Walker survived the June 2012 recall election, but Democrat John Lehman defeated recalled incumbent Van Wanggaard by a slight margin, turning the Senate from a 17-16 Republican majority to a 17-16 Democrat majority.
The Senate was not scheduled to meet, and has not had a floor session since the Democrats took the majority. They are not scheduled to meet until 2013. Some have suggested that this makes the Democrats' hard-fought battle to win the Senate in the recall elections seem inconsequential. But, there is one accomplishment some are pointing to. In the period of Democratic control of the state Senate, Majority Leader Mark Miller was able to request previously withheld documents relating to the redistricting of Wisconsin's legislative seats. And, many are pointing to the highly partisan redistricting process of 2011 as a reason for the Democrats' losses in this week's election.