DECISION 2012: GOP reclaims full cotrol of state government

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MADISON — Wisconsin Republicans have retaken full control of state government, winning majorities in both the Senate and Assembly and erasing Democrats’ gains in last summer's recalls.

Results from Tuesday's elections show Republicans captured an open Senate seat and four incumbent GOP senators fended off challengers, allowing them to capture the majority, and their colleagues in the Assembly easily held onto their advantage in that chamber.

With Republican Gov. Scott Walker in office, the GOP now has complete control in Madison. And the ramifications are huge: Republicans will be able to pass legislation without a single vote from Democrats and Walker should be able to push through the next state budget with ease, setting himself up for his 2014 re-election bid.

Still, the governor was careful not to alienate Democrats on Tuesday night.

“I look forward to working with members of both parties to grow our economy and create jobs,” Walker said in a statement.

Among contested seats in the Northland, incumbent Democratic Rep. Janet Bewley held off a challenge from Republican John Sendra in District 74, which covers much of Ashland, Iron, Bayfield and Sawyer counties. Bewley led 59-41 percent with all precincts reporting.

In District 75, which covers parts of Washburn County, Democrat Stephen Smith ousted incumbent Republican Rep. Roger Rivard 51-49 percent with all precincts in.

In District 87, which covers much of Sawyer County, incumbent Republican Rep. Mary Williams beat Democratic challenger Elizabeth Riley 59-41 percent with all precincts in.

Republicans rode a wave of national discontent over the flagging economy to win the Senate, Assembly and governor's office in 2010. They used their power to pass a contentious Walker proposal that stripped most public workers of nearly all their union rights.

Enraged Democrats ousted two Republican senators in recall elections in August 2011. They launched another round of recalls last spring, forcing Walker, Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch and four more GOP senators into elections.

Democrats managed to chase only one Republican senator from office in those elections, but it was enough to earn a 17-16 majority in the Senate. That edge grew to 17-15 after Sen. Rich Zipperer, R-Pewaukee, left to join Walker's staff. But Republicans have held that seat for decades and are expected to keep it in a special election in December, meaning Democrats really had only a one-seat advantage.

The Democrats’ majority has been mostly symbolic anyway since the legislative session isn't scheduled to begin until January. As the rancor over Walker's union law faded, Republicans went back on offense heading into Tuesday's elections.

By early Wednesday morning, election results showed that Republican Tom Tiffany had defeated Democrat Susan Sommer for an open seat in far northeastern Wisconsin's 12th Senate District. All four GOP incumbents who faced re-election easily won.

That left the balance of power at 16-16, but with Zipperer's seat bound to turn red in December, the GOP will have a 17-16 edge when the session starts.

Their advantage could grow to 18-15. Republican challenger Rick Gudex had a 590-vote lead over Democrat Sen. Jessica King in east-central Wisconsin's 18th Senate District as of early Wednesday morning, but King had refused to concede.

“Whatever,” Senate Republican Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, said of King's refusal to give up. “That's her call; 590 votes is a lot to overcome. I fully expect to be at 18” Republican seats.

Assembly Republicans went into Election Day with a formidable 59-39-1 advantage in that chamber. Three GOP incumbents met with defeat but Republicans picked up three other seats to offset the losses. Five races were still undecided early Wednesday morning, but they didn't matter in the math — Republicans still retained an overwhelming majority.

Rep. Robin Vos, R-Burlington, co-chairman of the Legislature's powerful budget committee and one of the leading contenders for Assembly speaker next session, said voters realized Republicans held true to their promises of balancing the state's finances without raising taxes.

“It was a good night,” Vos said. “The quality of our candidates was truly superior.”

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