Dear Clients & Friends-

We are pleased to share the March 11th edition of Capitol Insights by Michael Best Strategies, where we go over all things government and politics in Wisconsin.

In this update:

  • Redistricting
  • End of Session
  • Election Updates
  • MBS in the News

Also, make sure to read last week’s Marquette University Law School Poll and Wisconsin Supreme Court news alerts!


Republican legislators ask SCOWIS to stay its redistricting ruling as they appeal the decision to SCOTUS

Republicans in the State Legislature asked the Wisconsin Supreme Court this week to stay its ruling putting Gov. Tony Evers’ redistricting maps into place while they appeal the court’s decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Evers’ map incudes seven majority Black Assembly districts, which have a lower percentage of Black voters than the six majority Black districts under the current map. In comparison, the Republican proposal had five majority Black Assembly districts according to WisPolitics.

The petitioners argue that the map that is unconstitutional and does not survive scrutiny under the Voting Rights Act. They claim that the seven districts, which is the maximum that could be drawn in the Milwaukee area, racially gerrymander the region.

Notably, the Legislature is only asking for the court to stay the implementation of the new Assembly and Senate districts, not the state’s congressional districts.

The Wisconsin Elections Commission (WEC) has indicated that it needed the new maps by last week so that it could adequately prepare for the circulation of nomination papers on April 15th. However, Republicans have stated they believe the actual deadline for circulation to be towards the end of April.

On Wednesday, the five Republican members of Wisconsin’s congressional delegation joined the call for the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the appeal. The delegation includes U.S. Reps. Scott Fitzgerald, Mike Gallagher, Glenn Grothman, Bryan Steil, and Tom Tiffany.

Additionally, State Sen. Lena Taylor (D-Milwaukee) said she would challenge the maps in court because she believed it dilutes the electoral influence of Black voters. However, she has yet to formally file an appeal.

Majority Leader LeMahieu issues statement on SCOTUS appeal

Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu (R-Oostburg) released a statement in response to the Legislature’s decision to appeal the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s redistricting decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“Our objection to Governor Evers’ maps is not a question of partisan outcome but rather a question of law. The Governor, by his own legal argument, targeted minority voters to draw districts on the basis of race. That is expressly prohibited under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, and today we asked the U.S. Supreme Court to uphold the protections guaranteed by the Constitution and federal law.”

“If the U.S. Supreme Court does not resolve this issue, the Governor’s maps will constitute a fundamental erosion of the Equal Protection Clause and the Voting Right Act in Wisconsin—with the potential for nationwide impact.”

Justice Amy Coney Barrett requests responses in redistricting case

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett indicated interest in hearing a challenge to the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s redistricting decision on Monday, just after the Legislature asked the U.S. Supreme Court to intervene.

Barrett requested responses to the Legislature’s application from several parties, including Gov. Tony Evers and the Wisconsin Elections Commission (WEC), by 5:00 PM on Friday, March 11th.

In addition, Justice Coney Barrett gave parties until Tuesday afternoon to respond to a request from Wisconsin’s Republican members of Congress to overturn the maps Wisconsin justices put into place.

A call for response does not guarantee that the U.S. Supreme Court will actually hear the case. However, a Bloomberg Law report from 2018 found that calls for response increase the likelihood that the court will hear a case from 1% to 5%.

End of Session

Republicans reject Evers’ proposal to give every Wisconsin resident $150

Senate President Chris Kapenga and Assembly Speaker Pro Tempore Tyler August (R-Lake Geneva) gaveled in and out of Gov. Tony Evers’ special legislative session on Tuesday.

Evers had called the session to consider legislation that would have given each Wisconsin resident $150. For example, a family of four would receive $600 under his proposal. Evers announced the proposal last month after the Legislative Fiscal Bureau (LFB) reported an unexpected $3.8 billion budget surplus.

Republicans have said they wish to wait until the next biennial budget, which will be considered next year, to use the budget surplus to fund tax cuts. They have also called Evers’ proposal a political stunt to aid in his re-election campaign this November.

In a statement, Evers criticized Republicans for gaveling out of the session without considering the proposal. “Wisconsinites are feeling the pressure of rising costs, and they need action now—today—not months from now or a year from now,” he said. “Republicans are selfishly playing politics by sitting on a projected $3.8 billion surplus until next year while the people of this state watch prices on everyday items go up and gas is almost $4 a gallon. This is the people’s money. We should be doing the right thing and getting it back to them.”

Evers has also called out Republican legislators for their inaction despite their support for former Governor Scott Walker’s (R) tax rebates in the midst of his re-election campaign in 2018.

Vos extends contract with Gableman to further review 2020 election

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) has announced he extension of former Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman’s contract to review the 2020 election.

Gableman, who announced the results of his probe last week, has had his authority challenged in a number of lawsuits. The petitioners argue that Gableman is required to interview his witnesses in public before an Assembly committee, instead of his private office. In another suit, the petitioners contend that Gableman cannot jail local officials, such as mayors, unless they submit to private depositions.

The amended contract is through April 30th, unless it is further extended by both parties. The Assembly has pledged to cover the investigation’s attorneys’ fees, costs, and expenses incurred by the ongoing litigation against it.

In a statement, former President Donald Trump thanked both Speaker Vos and Rep. Janel Brandtjen (R-Menomonee Falls), the Chair of the Assembly Committee on Campaigns and Elections, for backing Gableman’s investigation.

“I feel confident that Robin will exercise his moral duty to follow up on Justice Gableman’s findings. In addition to announcing that they will stay in session and take action to get rid of ERIC and the WEC, which have done some very bad things and made review very difficult (as also noted by the Legislative Audit Bureau), based on the Gableman report, I would imagine that there can only be a Decertification of Electors,” Trump said.

Assembly Majority Leader says that marijuana legalization could happen “at some point”

Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke (R-Kaukauna) said on Monday that Wisconsin will legalize marijuana in the future, but the Legislature is unsure of how to do so.

Steineke — who announced earlier this year that he will not seek re-election — pointed at the state-level legalization of recreational marijuana across the country, such as Michigan and Illinois, as evidence that Wisconsin may follow their example “at some point.” He said that the legalization of recreational marijuana “has a much tougher path to get through the Legislature,” but added that the state is “heading in the right direction.”

One challenge with legalizing medical marijuana, he noted, is “trying to write language that’s tight enough to just keep it to the medicinal purposes.” However, Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu (R-Oostburg) has gone on the record saying that states should avoid legalizing medical marijuana before it is legalized at the federal level.

The latest Marquette University Law School poll found that about 61% of Wisconsin voters favored legalizing marijuana, while only 31% said that it should remain illegal.

Evers joins Democratic governors to request the suspension of the federal gas tax

Gov. Tony Evers joined four Democratic governors in calling on Congress to suspend the federal gas tax after a nationwide surge in gasoline prices due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine and heightened demand.

Evers, Gretchen Whitmer (MI), Jared Polis (CO), Michelle Lujan Grisham (NM), and Tom Wolf (PA) sent a letter to leaders in the House of Representatives and Senate that encouraged the passage of the Gas Prices Relief Act, which would suspend the federal gas tax of 18.4 cents per gallon until 2023. The bill would also require the U.S. Department of the Treasury to ensure that the resulting savings are effectively translated from oil and gas companies to consumers, among other measures.

“From rising costs in grocery store aisles and at gas pumps to affording the costs of childcare and caregiving, I know folks and families are feeling the pressure of everyday costs going up,” he said. “Wisconsinites can’t wait for relief—they need help today. I’m urging Congress to find common ground and take action now to help lower gas prices so we can make sure families, farmers, and small businesses can make ends meet.”

Evers has not called for the temporary suspension of the state’s gas tax, however. The state tax of 30.9 cents per gallon (32.9 cents when the petroleum clean-up program fee is included) is the 11th highest in the entire country. Several conservatives have criticized Evers for not suspending the state’s gas tax, including talk show host Dan O’Donnell, gubernatorial candidate Kevin Nicholson, and grassroots magazine Empower Wisconsin.

Jerry Petrowski will not seek re-election to State Senate

State Sen. Jerry Petrowski (R-Marathon) announced on Thursday that he will not be seeking re-election to another term as Senator of the 29th Senate District.

Petrowski, who is the current Chair of the Senate Committee on Transportation and Local Government, was first elected to the Senate in a June 2012 special election. Before that, he was a member of the Assembly since 1998.

“While I have enjoyed my time in both the Assembly and the Senate, there are still so many things left that I want to accomplish. I look forward to the next chapter in my life and being able to spend more time with my wife, children, and grandchildren. I want to thank the citizens of Northcentral Wisconsin for their trust and support throughout the years. I love this area of the state and the people that live here. It has been an honor and privilege to serve as your State Senator and represent you in the legislature,” he said.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester), Sen. Rob Cowles (R-Green Bay), and Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT) Secretary Craig Thompson all released statements thanking Petrowski for his public service and wishing him well in his retirement.

Janis Ringhand will not seek re-election to State Senate

State Sen. Janis Ringhand (D-Evansville) announced that she will not be seeking re-election to another term as Senator of the 15th District.

Ringhand, who is the current Assistant Minority Leader, was first elected to the State Senate in 2014. She was previously a member of the Assembly between 2011 and 2015 and the Mayor of Evansville between 2002 and 2006.

“I will always be grateful for the support people have shown throughout the years. I will miss the back-and-forth exchanges with my colleagues at the Capitol and helping folks back home,” Ringhand said.

Rep. Mark Spiretzer (D-Beloit) and Sen. Melissa Agard (D-Madison) released statements in honor of Ringhand’s retirement and career in the Legislature.

Election updates

Governor’s race

Republican Governors Association pledges to spend $6.2 million in Wisconsin during fall

The Republican Governors Association pledged on Tuesday to spend $6.2 million to defeat incumbent Gov. Tony Evers in November’s general election.

The funding will go towards an ad buy that will run between September 7th and the November 8th election. The ad will be broadcast in Green Bay, La Crosse, Madison, Milwaukee, and Wausau makets.

So far, Evers has outraised his Republican competition. Evers had $10.5 million cash on hand at the end of 2021, compared to $2.6 million for former Lt. Governor Rebecca Kleefisch. Businessman Kevin Nicholson and State Rep. Timothy Ramthun (R-Campbellsport) announced their campaigns after the reporting period closed.

The RGA’s strategy parallels the Democratic Governors Association (DGA) approach to the 2018 gubernatorial election, which it supported Evers after he was chosen as the Democratic nominee to take on former Governor Scott Walker (R).

The RGA released its first social media ad last month, a five-figure digital buy in the Milwaukee market. The ad criticized Evers for his handling of crime in the state.

Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce (WMC) also released ads that target Evers. One, which broadcasted on Milwaukee television stations, knocked Evers for taking credit for the state tax cut that was passed in last year’s biennial budget. The group also released a $25,000 digital ad buy that highlighted its endorsement of Kleefisch in the Republican primary.

Democrats have also begun to release ads, including a television advertisement in the Milwaukee market that praises Evers for signing the biennial budget’s tax cuts.

Mark Spreitzer to run for State Senate following incumbent’s retirement

State Rep. Mark Spreitzer (D-Beloit) announced his campaign for State Senate after incumbent State Sen. Janis Ringhand (D-Evansville) decided not to seek re-election on Wednesday.

Spreitzer has served in the Assembly since 2015. He is also the Assembly Minority Caucus Chair.

“As your State Senator, I will continue to fight for the principles that have guided me in the State Assembly. I will continue to push back against extreme attacks on our democracy, protect our frontline healthcare workers while helping families and small businesses recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, and work to advance equality and fairness for everyone in our state,” he said.

Spreitzer identified quality housing, childcare, higher education, and retirement as core issues that he would focus on, if elected.

To learn more about Spreitzer, visit his campaign website.

Impact of Redistricting on Legislative Races

If the maps approved by the Wisconsin Supreme Court survive legal challenges and are the maps for the 2022 Election cycle, six incumbent Republican lawmakers will be impacted and three will not return to the Legislature next session in their current seats.

5th Senate District

Under the new maps, State Senator Dale Kooyenga (R-Brookfield) has been redistricted into the 8th Senate District currently represented by State Senator Alberta Darling (R-River Hills). The 8th Senate District is not up for re-election in 2022, so unless Sen. Kooyenga moves, he does not have an opportunity to retain his Senate seat in this election cycle.

In a post on LinkedIn, Sen. Kooyenga said the following;

“There are other significant issues with these maps which is why the GOP has asked the US Supreme Court to intervene.

If the riddle was “How does a State Senator lose his seat if he hasn’t lost an election, given up the Seat, or died in office?” Even the savviest political hacks wouldn’t have come up with this answer.
Serving in elected office is a privilege, not a right. For this and other reasons, I am not a victim. I’m very confident in God’s plans and looking forward to redirecting the time I have spent in state service into my family, business, and Army career if SCOTUS doesn’t intervene. We’re in the fight for our principles for the long haul so this story is far from over.”

Under the new maps, the 5th SD has moved from a +0.5% Lean Democratic seat to a +11.8% Democratic seat. Potential Democratic candidates for the 5th SD include; State Rep. Robyn Vining (D-Wauwatosa), former 2020 Democratic Assembly candidate Jessica Katzenmeyer (15th AD versus Rep. Joe Sanfelippo, R-New Berlin) and former 2020 Democratic Congressional candidate Tom Palzewicz, Brown Deer, who ran unsuccessfully against Cong. Scott Fitzgerald.

24th Assembly District
Republican State Representatives Dan Knodl (R-Menomonee Falls) and Barb Dittrich (R-Oconomowoc) have been drawn into the same district under the new maps. Rep. Knodl currently represents the 24th District and under the new map, the district pushes further west. Rep. Dittrich currently represents the 38th District, which, under the new maps, no longer includes her residence. Dittrich announced on Friday that she will not move her residence and will run for re-election in November, while Knodl has yet to announce his intention.

83rd Assembly District
Similar to the 24th AD, Rep. Chuck Wichgers (R-Muskego) and Rep. Cody Horlacher (R-Mukowonago) have been paired in the 83rd AD, currently represented by Rep. Wichgers. The new district includes more of Wichger’s current 83rd AD than Rep. Horlacher’s current 33rd AD. And similar to the 24th AD, neither candidate has announced their 2022 intention pending the legal challenge to the new maps.

Retiring State Senators and Representatives

As the end of the 2021-2022 Legislative Session approaches, the number of lawmakers who have announced they will not be seeking re-election to the legislature or their current seat has increased. There will be at least 11 new members of the State Assembly next session and 4 new members of the State Senate. That number is still likely to further increase before the March 10th end-of-session date.
Here are some key dates for lawmakers to make their re-election decisions:

  • April 15th is when candidates can begin to circulate nomination papers to be on the ballot. Those nomination papers due June 1st.
  • For incumbent members of the State Assembly and the State Senate in odd-numbered seats, they have until 5:00 PM on May 20th, 2022, to file their declaration of non-candidacy if they are choosing to not seek re-election.
  • Non-incumbent candidates for state elected offices have until 5:00 PM on Wednesday June 1st, 2022 to submit their nomination signatures to be a candidate for the November 2022 elections.

State Senators (7) 

  • Dale Kooyenga (R-Brookfield), 5th SD; Senator Kooyenga was redistricted out of his seat.
  • Roger Roth (R-Appleton), 9th SD; Senator Roth is running for Lt. Governor and not seeking re-election to the State Senate.
  • Janis Ringhand (D-Evansville), 15th SD, is retiring and not seeking re-election.
  • Kathy Bernier (R-Chippewa Falls), 23rd SD; Senator Bernier is retiring and not seeking another elected office.
  • Janet Bewley (D-Mason), 25th SD; Senate Minority Leader Bewley is retiring and not seeking re-election.
  • Jon Erpenbach (D-West Point), 27th SD, is retiring and not seeking re-election.
  • Jerry Petrowski (R-Marathon), 29th SD, is retiring and not seeking re-election.

State Representatives (13)

  • Jim Steineke (R-Kaukauna), 5th AD; retiring
  • Gary Tauchen (R-Bonduel), 6th AD; retiring
  • David Bowen (D-Milwaukee), 10th AD; running for Lt. Governor
  • Sara Rodriguez (D-Brookfield), 13th AD; running for Lt. Governor
  • Amy Loudenbeck (R-Clinton), 31st AD; running for Secretary of State
  • Mark Spreitzer (D-Beloit), 45th AD; running for 15th SD
  • Jeremy Thiesfeldt (R-Fond du Lac), 52nd AD; retiring
  • Gordon Hintz (D-Oshkosh), 54th AD; retiring
  • Tim Ramthun (R-Campbellsport), 59th AD; running for Governor
  • Jesse James (R-Altoona), 68th AD; running for 23rd SD
  • Beth Meyers (D-Bayfield), 74th AD; retiring
  • Dianne Hesselbein (D-Middleton), 79th AD; running for 27th SD
  • Mike Kuglitsch (R-New Berlin), 84th AD; retiring

Have to give up seats if successful in other campaigns

Three incumbent lawmakers would have to give up their current legislative seats only if successful in their campaigns for other office.

  • Rep. Samantha Kerkman (R-Salem), 61st AD; running for Kenosha County Executive. Election is April 5th, 2022.
  • Sen. Brad Pfaff (D-Onalaska), 32nd SD; running in Democratic Primary for 3rd Congressional District.
  • Sen. Patrick Testin (R-Stevens Point), 10th SD; running in Republican Primary for Lieutenant Governor.

MBS in the News

MBS partner Bill McCoshen interviewed on state of Republican Primary

Bill McCoshen, a partner at Michael Best Strategies, was interviewed by the Wisconsin State Journal to discuss the Republican primary for Governor for an article published on Sunday, March 6th.

MBS equity partner Tom Schreibel to headline redistricting discussion next week

Tom SchreibelTom Schreibel, an equity partner at Michael Best Strategies and Wisconsin’s national committeeman for the Republican National Committee (RNC), will headline a breakfast discussion of the recent redistricting decision by the Wisconsin Supreme Court and the upcoming House of Representatives election next Thursday, March 16th in Washington, D.C.

Schreibel will by joined by Sam Cornale, the Executive Director of the Democratic National Committee (DNC). The event will be moderated by Taurean Small, a reporter for the Spectrum News DC bureau who covers Wisconsin’s congressional delegation.

The event will be held at the top floor of The Wharf, 1000 Maine Ave. SW, Washington, D.C., 20024. The cost to attend is $20 and includes breakfast. The event is subject to the district’s COVID-19 guidelines; masks are required for entry.

To register, visit this link and enter “March16DCBreakfast” in the purpose of the payment line.


Luncheon with Governor Tony Evers

  • When: Thursday, March 17th, 2022
  • Where: The Madison Club, 5 E. Wilson Street, Madison, WI 53703
  • Itinerary: Luncheon begins at 11:30 AM,. Program to run from 12:00-1:00 PM, with a moderated discussion followed by audience questions.
  • Register: Eventbrite 

Upcoming Fundraisers

For information on upcoming fundraisers for 2022 candidates please visit the link below: Wisconsin Campaign Fundraisers – Michael Best Strategies