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Legislative Update

Legislative Update-Part Two: A look at the political landscape in 2022

by | Jan 24, 2022 | Federal Issue, Legislative Update Blog, State Issue | 0 comments

(Note: This is the second of three blog posts detailing information that was provided by the WASB Government Relations team to in-person attendees at the Legislative Update presentation during the State Education Convention last Friday.)

Election Preview
Sen. Ron Johnson’s anticipated announcement that he will seek reelection to his Senate seat means that on the Republican side the openings available for statewide candidates are in the race for governor. 

              • Former Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch is already in the race on the GOP side.  Last week, she picked up a key endorsement from Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester).
              • Former U.S. Marine and consulting business owner Kevin Nicholson is expected to announce shortly that he is running for governor on the GOP side. 
              • Former Republican Governor Tommy Thompson raised some eyebrows when he indicated he hasn’t ruled out running for governor after he steps down from his current positions as UW System interim President.

            We’re also seeing the beginnings of the candidate’s campaign platform’s take shape.

            For example, Rebecca Kleefisch’s 1848 Project agenda calls for, among other things:

                • combining the state’s three existing voucher programs into a single, uniform voucher program,
                • expanding the circle of entities that can authorize independent charter schools, and
                • creating educational savings accounts for special education students.

            The latter proposal would essentially convert the state’s existing special needs voucher program from one that provides tuition to private schools to a program that provides parents of students with disabilities with annual funding they could use to purchase an array of services and therapies for their child.

            Ahead of his anticipated announcement, Kevin Nicholson has released details of his plans for schools if elected, which includes:

                • “universal school choice,”
                • closing “failing schools” and
                • making the state superintendent an appointed position rather than elected one, something that would require state voters to approve an amendment to the state constitution to accomplish.

            Already the sides are taking shape heading into the primary.  Early last week, Vos called Nicholson’s expected entry into the race a problem for Republicans’ effort to create a unified front to defeat incumbent Democratic Gov. Tony Evers, and during a luncheon, which was broadcast, Vos exclaimed, “If Kevin Nicholson is listening — you need to not run for governor.” 

            Vos’ comments came two days after Nicholson specifically called out Republicans in the “political class” for not overhauling the state Department of Public Instruction and changing the position of state superintendent to an appointed cabinet office.

            If one had to summarize in a nutshell what the emerging Republican gubernatorial candidates’ agenda for education is shaping up to be, it would probably include: expand vouchers, empower parents, toughen test-based accountability, ensure in-person instruction, and direct money to the classroom (i.e., mandate that money be spent directly on classroom instruction). 

            Gov. Evers veto pen is currently standing in the way of the GOP agenda. The stakes in the next gubernatorial are large indeed, especially because we fully anticipate Republicans will continue to control the Legislature after the 2022 elections.

            Stay tuned. The governor’s race will likely get more and more interesting.

            State Legislature
            Time is winding down on the 2021-22 Legislative Session. It’s very late to be trying to get any newly-introduced bills through both hoses. We think few, if any, education bills will become law during the remainder of the session.

            The GOP majority is likely to pass several “messaging” bills that the Governor will likely veto. (Those will be covered in part three of this series of blog posts.) The aim will be to try to use those vetoes to mobilize the party base during the 2022 gubernatorial campaign.  We’ll talk about some of those bills later in or presentation.  For his part, Gov. Evers will likely argue to his base that he has used his veto to stop more than just a few bad policy ideas.

            The combination of COVID and intense partisanship has made for a very unusual and frustrating process this session, with many hearings being held on short notice, and few, if any, opportunities to testify online, despite the rise of the Omicron variant.

            We’re going to lay out the planned schedule, but bear in mind that it is entirely possible (and not unprecedented) that one house could pull the plug early.

            At present, each house of the Wisconsin Legislature is expected to meet once or twice monthly in January, February, and March, and then adjourn for the remainder of the year.

                • We’ve just finished the first week of a two-week January floor period. The state Senate will be on the floor tomorrow (Tues. 1/25).
                • We’ll have another two-week session in February 15-27.
                • One final week of floor votes from March 8-10.

            Gov. Tony Evers will deliver his fourth annual State of the State address on Feb. 15 at 7 PM in the Assembly Chambers.  That may be the last opportunity for a cordial, bipartisan gathering before the campaign begins.

            Now is probably not the time to be proposing new ideas for legislation unless it is something that is an urgent need or emergency facing your district.

            Not many new proposals will be able to get through the process of a legislative hearing and get scheduled for a floor vote in both house unless they are: a) urgent and b) noncontroversial.

            All 99 state Assembly seats and 17 of the 33 state Senate seats will be on the ballot in November and this is a legislative redistricting year.  Everybody is waiting to see what the new maps and new legislative boundaries will look like. All state Assembly and state Senate races will be run under new maps. Lawmakers (at least those who are running again) will eager to go home to begin campaigning in their newly redrawn districts.

            We’re anticipating there are likely to be numerous retirements as incumbent lawmakers may be placed in new districts they would share with another incumbent or may be drawn out of their existing district. 

            Already, some significant retirements have been announced:


                • Assembly assistant majority leader Jim Steineke (R-Kaukauna)
                • Assembly Education Committee chair Jeremy Thiesfeldt (R-Fond du Lac)
                • Joint Finance Committee Vice-Chair Amy Loudenbeck (R-Clinton) will not seek reelection but will instead run for Secretary of State


                • Education Committee Vice-Chair Sen. Kathy Bernier (R-Lake Hallie)
                • Current Joint Finance Committee member Jon Erpenbach (D-West Point)

            Things We Recommend You Should be Doing NOW:

                • Use this time to build relationships with your lawmakers or anticipated legislative candidates in your area.
                • Make legislators aware of challenges you face and that you are going to be looking for their help with down the road (in the 2023-24 session).

            Examples of those challenges:

                • Teacher supply challenges and other shortages (e.g., issues with the supply of substitute teachers, bus drivers, cafeteria workers, custodians, etc.)
                • Fiscal cliff (the sudden drop off in revenues for schools when one-time federal COVID relief ends)
                • Inflation on the rise (you should describe how it is eating into your budgets at a time when state lawmakers provided no increase in revenue limits or per pupil aid)

            With a large number of legislative retirements creating open (vacant) seats, if you know of people in your area who would be strong supporters of public education and capable legislators, encourage them to run (i.e., to not just consider running but actually run).

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