Dear Clients & Friends-

We are pleased to share the March 25th edition of Capitol Insights by Michael Best Strategies, where we go over all things government and politics in Wisconsin.

In this update:

  • SCOTUS Redistricting Decision
  • End of Session Updates
  • Election Updates

SCOTUS Redistricting Decision

In a 7-2 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court rejects the Governor’s legislative maps

On Wednesday afternoon, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) overturned the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s decision to use the State Assembly and State Senate maps proposed by Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers. The maps approved by the State Supreme Court would have been effective for elections beginning on August 9th, 2022.
The Court ruled that the state court had erred in “its application of decisions… regarding the constitutional guarantee of equal protection and the Voting Rights Act (VRA).”
The State Legislature and other parties appealed the Wisconsin Supreme Court decision to the U.S. Supreme Court, arguing that the Wisconsin Supreme Court had “selected race-based maps without sufficient justification.” Specifically, they claimed that the maps violated the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution.
Below are static comparisons of the current maps and the ones proposed by Governor Evers. An interactive version of Evers’ Assembly map can be found here. An interactive version of Evers’ Senate map can be found here.
SCOTUS ruled that the Wisconsin State Supreme Court “committed legal error” in its application of the constitutional guarantee of equal protections and the VRA. Because of this, the decision of the Wisconsin Supreme Court on these two maps was reversed and remanded back to the Wisconsin Court “for further proceedings not inconsistent with this opinion.”
Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Kagan dissented from the majority opinion. The two justices— who fall in the Court’s liberal minority stated, “The Court’s action today is unprecedented. In an emer­gency posture, the Court summarily overturns a Wisconsin Supreme Court decision resolving a conflict over the State’s redistricting, a decision rendered after a 5-month process involving all interested stakeholders. Despite the fact that summary reversals are generally reserved for decisions in violation of settled law, the Court today faults the State Su­preme Court for its failure to comply with an obligation that, under existing precedent, is hazy at best.”
Wisconsin’s redistricting decision even made it into discussions at this week’s confirmation hearing of Supreme Court nominee, Ketanji Brown Jackson. Jackson was questioned on Wednesday about the Court’s use of a “shadow docket.” The so-called “shadow docket”, which describes when SCOTUS makes rapid decisions in an unsigned manner— usually for the sake of flexibility, was used in Wisconsin’s Supreme Court Decision. On the issue of the Court’s usage of the “shadow docket” such as in cases like Wisconsin’s, future Associate Justice Brown stated, “On the one hand, [the Court] has always had an emergency docket; the need for flexibility, the ability to get answers to the party at issue is something that is important in our system… On the other hand, the Court has also considered the interest in allowing issues to percolate, allowing other courts to rule on things before they come to the Court.”

SCOTUS denies request to rule on Wisconsin’s congressional maps

However, in a separate ruling, SCOTUS denied a request from the GOP member of Wisconsin’s congressional delegation to overturn the state’s congressional maps that were also adopted by the state Supreme Court. In that 4-3 ruling, the state Supreme Court picked the Governor’s map for Wisconsin’s congressional boundaries, finding it most closely followed the core retention principle the justices used to evaluate the proposals that had been submitted.
Yesterday’s motion to reconsider seeks the chance to submit a new map that Republicans argue would follow the core retention principle more closely than Evers’ proposal did. The court denied the application for stay that was presented to Justice Amy Coney Barrett. Justice Barrett had previously referred the case to the court and requested responses from relevant parties. The court did not provide comment as to why a stay was not granted. As a result, the congressional maps will remain intact even though the maps for the Wisconsin State Legislature must change.
Despite this following the ruling, Wisconsin’s GOP congressional delegation asked state justices to give them the chance to propose a new map. The House Republicans argued in their filing that it would take “just an hour” to draw a new map that better followed the core retention principle better than the Governor’s proposal. Evers’ proposal includes two solidly Democrat seats, four heavily Republican seats, and two swing seats— the 1st CD and 3rd CD. Republicans produced a map that would give them a 6-2 advantage, with the 3rd CD having a slight GOP lean.

Evers reacts to SCOTUS decision

Following the release of the SCOTUS decision, Governor Tony Evers released a statement in which he celebrated the “good news” of the proposed congressional maps remaining in place.
He continued that, “Unfortunately, the Supreme Court of the United States today made a remarkable departure, even from their own recent actions, by deciding to reject our maps that the Wisconsin Supreme Court selected just a few weeks ago. Our maps are far better than Republicans’ gerrymandered maps we have now and their maps I vetoed last year, and we are confident our maps comply with federal and state law, including the Equal Protection Clause, the Voting Rights Act, and the least-changes standard articulated by the Wisconsin Supreme Court.”
Evers vowed that he will go back to the Wisconsin Supreme Court to “demonstrate again that these maps are better and fairer than the maps we have now.”

AG Josh Kaul offers verbal reaction

While Attorney General Josh Kaul was attending a luncheon, news broke that SCOTUS had tossed out the legislative maps created by the Governor. Kaul was asked to share his reaction during the luncheon.
He stated, “I think it is frankly consistent with the increasing activism we have seen from the conservative super majority on the U.S. Supreme Court. There have been several other states whose maps have been challenged, and the Court had consistently said that it was too late in the process to require courts or legislatures to redraw maps. But apparently they have reached a different conclusion here in Wisconsin. They said that this needs to go back to the State Supreme Court. Now there is going to have to be a new process in place. We are already past the date when the Elections Commission had asked to have maps settled. This is going to create some real complications for our election process. And I think what we are going to see is a flurry of court action coming out of this regarding what the next round of maps will look like.”
Read Kaul’s statement on Twitter.

Other notable reactions

End of Session

Evers criticizes Natural Resource Board over inaction on PFAS regulations

Governor Tony Evers expressed frustration with the Natural Resource Board (NRB) because of their handling of per- and polyfluorinated substances (PFAS) regulations during a luncheon last week.
The Board, which determines policy for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR), voted against groundwater standards for PFAS last month, thereby ending a three-year rulemaking process. Over a million Wisconsinites rely on groundwater as a source of drinking water, including residents of Madison and Eau Claire.
The board instead approved drinking water standards of 70 parts per trillion, which was well over the 20 parts per trillion recommended by the DNR and the Department of Health Services (DHS). The board also approved the recommended surface water standards without changing them.
“We have to set standards,” Evers said. “It could take three more years minimum to create standards for PFAS, while French Island residents are asking ‘How much longer do I have to drink Culligan water?’ It’s just not right.”
Evers also criticized the Wisconsin State Senate for not confirming his appointees to the NRB. One of the members of the NRB, Frederick Prehn, has refused to give up his seat on the board for over a year. While Sandra Dee Naas has been nominated for Prehn’s seat, the Senate has refused to confirm her. This has likely impacted the results of several board votes, including the recent one on PFAS standards and for the fall wolf hunt last year.

Vos hints at end to Gableman election probe

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) said Tuesday that he is considering abandoning the subpoenas that he issued last fall to election officials, mayors, and others, thereby hinting at an end to the election probe headed by former Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman.
In a radio interview on WSAU-AM, Vos said that withdrawing the subpoenas could lead to the prosecution of some officials for crimes. Under current state law, those who receive subpoenas from the Legislature are provided immunity from prosecution. However, he did not specify what crimes they could be charged with. Three district attorneys have also recently declined to prosecute members of the Wisconsin Elections Commission (WEC).
“I am seriously considering pulling back the subpoenas because it makes no sense to give people immunity now that we see there is so much that has been found that a Republican attorney general could later prosecute,” he said.
Ann Jacobs, the chairwoman of the WEC, said that she would welcome an end to the investigation but warned against further accusations against the integrity of the 2020 presidential election. “The criminalization of election administration is a terrible thing to be accusing people of and it’s going to not lead to more effective elections administration,” she said.
By withdrawing the subpoenas, Gableman would no longer have a basis to sue Jacobs and other officials that have not cooperated with his investigation. It would also likely close a lawsuit from Attorney General Josh Kaul over the extent of Gableman’s authority.

Evers appoints Elmer Moore Jr. to serve as WHEDA CEO and Executive Director

Governor Tony Evers announced the appointment of Elmer Moore Jr. to serve as the CEO and executive director of the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority (WHEDA) effective April 11th, 2022.
“Access to affordable housing is critical in supporting Wisconsin’s working families, employers, and the economic well-being of our communities,” said Evers. “I’m thrilled to have Elmer Moore join our administration to serve in this important role. His background in business development, job creation, strategic partnerships, and community engagement will be critical to ensuring that WHEDA’s commitment to housing equity and economic opportunity remains strong throughout our great state.”
Moore currently serves as the executive director of Scale Up Milwaukee for the Greater Milwaukee Committee. According to Evers, Moore has “a proven track record in creating public-private partnerships and innovative programs that support business development and job creation, resulting in over 1,400 jobs created for more than 200 Wisconsin organizations and securing more than $60 million in new capital investments.
“It is a tremendous honor to accept Gov. Evers’ appointment to serve as WHEDA’s CEO and executive director,” said Moore. “Advancing innovative solutions and resources that provide equity for all has been the foundation of my career. I look forward to working with WHEDA and its many public and private stakeholders to support the mission of stronger, more sustainable communities across Wisconsin.”

2022 Election Updates

Lt. Governor & U.S. Senate candidate Mandela Barnes releases his plan to bolster the state’s manufacturing sector and unions

Lt. Governor Mandela Barnes, a candidate in the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate, released his “Make It Here” Agenda that lays out his plan to “boost Wisconsin manufacturing, strengthen unions, and invest in communities” on Wednesday.
“I believe that Wisconsin is an amazing place for empowered workers to make the products of the future and for young people to make a fulfilled, successful life.” Barnes said. “That’s why I’m releasing my plan to breathe new life into manufacturing in Wisconsin, support communities and create new jobs, strengthen our communities, and improve quality of life so that the next generation can thrive in Wisconsin.”
The plan’s provisions include support for the bipartisan Made in America Act, updating federal regulations to allow American manufacturers to export their products easily, renegotiate old trade deals, and repeal the 2017 tax breaks that incumbent U.S. Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI) helped pass.
Barnes also called to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour “…to ensure a living wage for all workers,” as well as legislation that would index the minimum wage to inflation. He also said he supports the PRO Act, which would “strengthen labor protections related to employees’ right to organize and collectively bargain in the workplace.”

Josh Kaul labels GOP Attorney General opponents “political extremists”

Incumbent Josh Kaul described the two candidates in the Republican primary for Attorney General as extremists during a event on Wednesday.
Two candidates are currently running for the Republican nomination to take on Kaul in November. Adam Jarchow is a former Representative in the State Assembly who currently works as a private attorney after unsuccessfully running for the State Senate in 2018. Eric Toney is the current District Attorney for Fond du Lac County.
During the event, Kaul said that Jarchow and Toney are competing to be the candidate who is farthest to the right. Kaul argued that both saw the Attorney General’s office in political terms while he claimed that the position is about protecting public safety.
“We shouldn’t be diverting resources from drug traffickers and murderers and violent crimes to serve a political agenda like the Gableman investigation,” Kaul said.
In response, Jarchow said that the state’s police need a stronger ally in the Attorney General’s office. Toney pointed to his record on crime as District Attorney and accused Kaul of ignoring right-wing claims of election fraud.

Super PAC releases TV ad backing Kevin Nicholson for Governor

Fighting for Wisconsin, a new Super PAC that registered with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) early this month, released an advertisement endorsing Kevin Nicholson in the Republican primary for Governor.
The organization is led by Cabell Hobbs, who was the assistant treasurer for U.S. Senator Ted Cruz’s (R-TX) campaign committee. The filing for the organization says it is based in Austin, Texas.
WisPolitics found purchases for the ad in the Green Bay, La Crosse and Eau Claire, Madison, Milwaukee, and Wausau and Rhinelander markets. The filing for the advertisement lists its content as mentioning support for the police and getting kids back into school, as well as opposing critical race theory. The ads will run through early April.

Alex Lasry releases new digital ad targeting Ron Johnson over past Russia comments

Senior Vice President of the Milwaukee Bucks Alex Lasry, a candidate in the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate, announced the release of a new, six-figure digital advertisement campaign.
The advertisement targets incumbent Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) for meeting with “Vladimir Putin’s cronies” on July 4, 2018. He then references a Russian news agency’s report on Johnson’s comments about the trip, including a quote that American sanctions on Russia were “way out of proportion;” The sanctions in question were enacted due to Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. Lasry also quotes a news report that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) warned Johnson that he could be a target of Russian disinformation.
Lasry closes the advertisement by saying that “Wisconsin only has one U.S. Senator we can count on to represent our values of freedom and democracy.” He promises to “…represent you as a Wisconsinite and as an American.”

Sarah Godlewski releases ad targeting Ron Johnson on prescription drug prices

Sarah Godlewski, the current State Treasurer and a candidate in the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate, released her second television advertisement of her campaign this week, criticizing incumbent Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI) over current prices for prescription medication.
The advertisement is part of a seven-figure ad buy on broadcast television, cable television, and digital in Wisconsin’s major media markets over the next couple of weeks.
Godlewski says that federal politicians — including Johnson — have promised to lower prescription costs but have failed to do so. She claims that both Republicans and Democrats “don’t have the guts to stand up to the pharmaceutical companies.” In contrast, she promised ” to bring “practical solutions to Washington.”

Tom Nelson releases first paid ads of Senate campaign

Tom Nelson, the current Outagamie County Executive and a candidate in the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate, released the first advertisements of his campaign this week.
It includes radio advertisements on Devil’s Radio, which runs in the Madison, Milwaukee, and central Wisconsin markets. In one advertisement, Nelson says that he won six times in a county won by former President Donald Trump “…because I’m a proven progressive who fights for workers.” In another advertisement, Nelson contrasts his family background with incumbent Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI).
In addition, Nelson’s campaign released a series of Facebook advertisement in which Nelson discusses the histories of three former paper mills in NeenahKimberly, and Appleton. According to a press release, he uses the stories to highlight his campaign promise to “save Wisconsin manufacturing jobs as opposed to Ron Johnson’s clear record of neglect.”
Irene Lin, Nelson’s campaign manger,“ said that the advertisements ”…are in line with our underdog grassroots approach by targeting progressive audiences on a radio station that has so far been sadly neglected by other Democratic candidates spending millions on TV.“

Ken Skowronski will not seek re-election to Assembly

State Representative Ken Skowronski (R-Franklin) announced on Wednesday that he will not seek re-election to the 82nd Assembly District.
In his press release, Skowronski says: “It has been my honor and privilege to serve the people of Franklin, Greendale and Greenfield as their Representative in Madison. I will miss my constituents and my friends and colleagues in Madison but the time has come for me to retire.”
Skowronski was first elected to the Assembly in December 2013 in a special election. He is currently the Chair of the Assembly Committee on Veterans and Military Affairs
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) thanked Skowronski in a press release, praising him for his efforts in the creation of the Silver Alert and “…ensuring all veterans are laid to rest with dignity.”

New conservative group intends to replace GOP legislators over the decertification of the 2020 election

A group named Wisconsin Citizens Demanding Election Integrity announced on Tuesday its intentions to replace Republican members of the State Legislature over its inaction on Assembly Joint Resolution 120, which would attempt to decertify Wisconsin’s 2020 presidential election.
In a press release, it said that “our network is already activating. We will replace Republican legislators or ensure that Republican seats are lost. It’s all the same to us.” However, the release did not specify how the group would go about removing Republican legislators.
“Your impotence lies not in any defect of the Constitution you swore to uphold, but rather in your refusal to embrace it and to act. We elected you to protect our rights and voice. We fully vested you with authority to do so. Yet you stand around and pretend at powerlessness—often ignoring or demeaning us while you do so,” the group wrote.
The group claims that “experts also laid a clear path to decertification,” contrasting with claims by Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) and numerous legal experts that decertification is not allowed by state law.

Candidates for Milwaukee mayor take opposite positions on drop boxes

The two candidates in the general election for Mayor of Milwaukee, acting Mayor Cavalier Johnson and former Alderman Bob Donovan, have taken different positions on the use of ballot drop boxes during elections.
In a Milwaukee Rotary Club event, Donovan said that the city had implemented drop boxes due to COVID-19 pandemic-related issues over mailing absentee ballots. He said he was unsure if it is okay for drop boxes to become normalized, noting that mailing issues have largely subsided since the 2020 presidential election.
“But concerns are raised every single election, it would seem,” Donovan said. “And so do we or do we not have an obligation to ensure that our elections are squeaky clean, and that there’s no possibility of making some accusation? And if an accusation comes in, it’s so bizarre it’s just dismissed.”
Johnson criticized Donovan for his comments, saying that it was sad to see the latter “…fall into the abyss of conspiracy theories.” He also referenced comments made by State Senator Kathy Bernier (R-Chippewa Falls), the chair of the Senate Committee on Elections, Election Process Reform and Ethics, when she called attempts by Republicans to discredit the 2020 presidential election a “charade.”
The two candidates will meet in a public debate on WTMJ-TV,, Marquette University, 620 WTMJ, and the Milwaukee Business Journal on Sunday between 6:00-7:00 PM. The debate will be viewable in Milwaukee on TMJ4.

DPW names Devin Remiker as Executive Director

Devin Remiker, the interim Executive Director of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin (DPW), has been named to the position officially after a nationwide search.
Remiker has been serving in the position since Nellie Sires, his predecessor, left for another position in Washington, D.C. He previously served in several roles at DPW in recent years, including as deputy director of Wisconsin Victory. He also managed U.S. Representative Ron Kind’s (D-WI) re-election campaign to the 3rd House District in 2016.
Ben Wikler, the chair of DPW, told that he realized Remiker “has this unparalleled level of expertise and accomplishment.” He added that, by having Remiker staying on in a permanent capacity, “…we’re able to just keep picking up momentum, rather than having a challenging transition to someone who frankly wouldn’t have been as well positioned to drive this enormous operation forward.”
Cassi Fenili, the campaign manager for Governor Tony Evers, said that Remiker is a “tremendous partner” whose “experience will help us secure Gov. Evers’ re-election in November.”

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