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Number of seats up for election: 116. Number of incumbents who lost: 1*.

State Sen. Caleb Frostman (D-Sturgeon Bay)


Just one.

That’s how many incumbents, from 116 seats up for reelection, lost in the Wisconsin State Legislature earlier this month.

And even that hardly counts. That lone incumbent, Democrat state Sen. Caleb Frostman of Sturgeon Bay (who has a great name for a politician from the Great White North), will only hold the seat in the traditionally-Republican state Senate 1st District, the thumb of Wisconsin, for about six months after winning it in a special election in June.

Of those 116 seats up for reelection (some of the 116 incumbents did not run again), 37 didn’t even face a challenger in the general election. A legislator makes $50,000-a-year and is considered part-time.

Not exactly competitive elections.

Despite winning all five statewide races – U.S. senator, governor, attorney general, secretary of state and treasurer – Democrats lost a seat in the state Senate, growing the Republican majority to 19-13. Republicans appear to have lost a seat in their huge Assembly majority, dropping that split to 63-36.

The gerrymandered maps also help Democrat incumbents stay in power. Of the 11 Democrats representing Milwaukee in the Assembly, only three faced a general election opponent, whom they all easily crushed. In Madison, none of the five Assembly Democrats faced a general election opponent.

But the net effect appears to help Republicans hold the legislature in a great election year for Democrats.

Critics say the Wisconsin legislative district maps, drawn by Republicans in 2011, help Republicans, but also protect incumbents from the will of the voters by making districts less competitive.

“In a democracy, citizens are supposed to choose their legislators,” University of Wisconsin law professor Bill Whitford said in 2016 to the alumni magazine of the law school. “In Wisconsin, legislators have chosen their voters.”

Assembly Speaker Rep. Robin Vos, a Republican from Burlington, disagrees. He told the Wisconsin State Journal last week that gerrymandering in Wisconsin is a “made-up issue,” pointing to how well Democrats did in Madison and Milwaukee while losing most of the rest of the state. Vos also reportedly cursed at Ohio Gov. John Kasich last year for supporting a lawsuit asking the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn the maps in Wisconsin.

Whitford and others filed suit against the Republican-drawn district maps, saying the state of Wisconsin is unconstitutionally gerrymandered. A federal court in Wisconsin agreed.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Supreme Court threw it back to the lower court on a technicality, but the case might not matter anymore.

The election of Tony Evers to governor of Wisconsin means he will be able to veto any maps the Republican-controlled legislature produces. Then it will go to the courts for drawing. That should give the state of Wisconsin a more competitive map.

The Badger Project is a nonpartisan, citizen-supported journalism nonprofit in Wisconsin.

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