Wisconsin Republicans have ended their legal fight to wait until November to conduct elections for two vacant legislative seats.
The seats ― one in the state Assembly, the other in the state Senate ― have been vacant since December when the Republicans holding them resigned to take jobs in the administration of Gov. Scott Walker (R). Walker said he wouldn’t call special elections, and instead allow the seats to be filled in the regularly scheduled votes in November to save the state money.
Democrats sued Walker over that refusal, saying he was violating a state law requiring that special elections be called as promptly as possible for vacancies. A state circuit court judge sided with them on March 22, giving the governor until noon Thursday to schedule the special elections.
Walker twice appealed that decision and asked for more time, as Republican legislative leaders called lawmakers back for a special session to try to change the state law. A judge denied Walker’s request, and the governor decided Wednesday not to appeal the decision to the state Supreme Court.
The judge ruled that “representative government and the election of our representatives are never ‘unnecessary,’ never a ‘waste of taxpayer resources.’”
On Thursday, Walker issued an executive order scheduling the special elections. The primaries will be on May 15 and the general election on June 12. The seats will again be on the ballot in November. Wisconsin Republicans, meanwhile, announced they would drop their attempt to change the state law on special elections.
Democrats had accused Walker of refusing to call the special elections out of fear Republicans would lose the seats. In January, a Democrat won a surprising victory in a state Senate district President Donald Trump won by over 20 percentage points in 2016. Walker called the Democratic victory a “wake up call” for Republicans.
Walker said in a Thursday radio interview that the special elections would be “meaningless” because whoever wins the June contest will serve for just a few months, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
In a series of tweets Thursday, Walker blamed former Attorney General Eric Holder and other Democrats for forcing the issue on the special elections. Holder is the chair of the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, which is affiliated with the National Redistricting Foundation, the group that brought the lawsuit on the matter.
Amy Hasenberg, a Walker spokeswoman, said in a statement Thursday that a special election would just be duplicative.
“A D.C.-based special interest group is forcing taxpayers to pay for special elections for seats that will be filled again in just a few short months,” she said. “The Legislature has indicated they are done. To illustrate how ridiculous this is, nomination papers for the fall elections are due on June 1st, which means candidates will already be on the November ballot before the special elections are held.”
State Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R) said Thursday Walker was “boxed in” and risked being held in contempt of court if he didn’t call for the special elections, according to the Wisconsin State Journal.
State Sen. Jennifer Shilling, the chamber’s Democratic leader, celebrated the call for elections.
“There is nothing more fundamental to our democracy than the right to vote. Despite Gov. Walker’s best attempt to block elections and deny 200,000 voters their constitutional right to representation, justice prevailed and the courts correctly ruled that Republicans can’t ignore the law,” she said in a statement.
″This is a victory for the citizens of Wisconsin who are without representation because of Governor Walker’s refusal to do his job,” Holder said.
This article has been updated with a statement from Hasenberg.