By John Cronin
2022 is here. For all of you who made New Year’s resolutions, I hope they remain intact or on track. From a Government Relations standpoint, our goals remain relatively unchanged; we are still striving to accomplish portions of our legislative agenda before the Legislature adjourns for the year in March.
Whether in person or on Zoom, I often get confused looks when I say the Legislature is wrapping up its activity for the rest of the year in March. “Aren’t these people supposed to be working for us year-round?!” The answer is yes, but they’ll stop meeting for floor sessions and committee meetings on bills and resolutions. But don’t worry, legislative staff work year-round on research and constituent service.
So why will state legislative activity come to a halt in just a few weeks? It is an election year! And a very significant one at that. Believe it or not, candidates are going to be on the campaign trail in April already, a full seven months ahead of the general election on November 8. This is Wisconsin after all; we live in a purple state and from the bottom of the ticket to the top, races will be resource-intensive and highly competitive.
WBA and our member bankers will certainly be interested observers for many state and federal races this fall. We will also be supporting pro-banking candidates whose interests are aligned with those of our industry.
With that, I would like to highlight a few key races, and take a way-too-early look at what we may wake up to and see in the news on November 9.
As I write this column, Sen. Ron Johnson has just announced that he will seek a third term in the U.S. Senate. Johnson’s decision was one nearly every political observer in Wisconsin was waiting for. Given the split in the U.S. Senate and the competitiveness of this race, Johnson’s bid will ensure the national, political spotlight will remain on Wisconsin. Sen. Johnson is a polarizing figure for sure, but Republicans are enjoying a 2010-esque tailwind in the political environment right now. If that holds, I can see Johnson retaining his seat by a razor thin margin.
Johnson’s announcement will undoubtedly have a ripple effect on races down the ticket and could play a role in the state’s other high profile race — Governor. I predict odds-on favorite Rebecca Kleefisch will be the GOP nominee facing off against incumbent Democrat Gov. Tony Evers. Since defeating Scott Walker three years ago, Evers has not done much to upset the apple cart in the eyes of the public and will benefit from being the incumbent. He has also delivered on key topics such as increased education funding and tax relief. Kleefisch will be running on her experience and accomplishments during the eight years she was Lieutenant Governor and has already rolled out a concise, but high energy approach to the campaign. Kleefisch will benefit from statewide name recognition and the same strong GOP tailwinds. I’m going to weasel out and put this in the too-close-to-call bucket for now.
Lastly, let’s take a quick look at the Legislature, where the GOP holds a 61-38 edge in the Assembly, and a 21-12 margin in the Senate; strong majorities but not quite veto-proof. The redistricting process remains before the courts, but the GOP has achieved wins that point to generally favorable outcomes for the maps they drew and passed before they were vetoed by the Governor. If the political climate holds, I predict the GOP will pick up additional legislative seats this fall and extend their majorities.
It is going to be an action-packed year, and I’m confident we will see some of the most expensive races in Wisconsin history this fall. Our political “coverage” will continue to ramp up, so stay tuned to all of WBA’s publications for the latest.