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Special election will decide fate of tied Wisconsin Senate.

Business as usual or political upheaval? The answer to that question will be decided in a special election April 6 for three vacant seats in the now tied (15 to 15) Wisconsin Senate where the former majority and minority leaders are now Democratic Leader and Republican Leader.

The vacancies occurred when two Democratic senators were elected to Congress, and Republican Governor Tommy Thompson appointed a Democrat to the state Labor Department.

Republicans, who say they have traditionally done better in special elections, have hopes of taking at least two of the seats where candidates are Assembly members--Peggy Rosenzweig and David Zien.

Democrats have held the leadership in the Senate since 1974 and are fielding 11-year Assembly veteran Joseph Wineke and Assemblyman David Cullen in two of the races.

"I'd say it's at least a 50/50 chance," comments GOP Leader Senator Michael Ellis. "The three districts were held by Democrats, but two of the three have a marginal track record of being Democratic."

Democratic Leader Senator David Helbach agrees. "Because of the nature of the candidates--we have three very, very tight and very, very expensive races."

Whatever the elections bring, the two Senate leaders are pleased with some of the outcomes of the tied Senate.

The Senate was organized in early January the day before two Democratic members went off to Congress. Because of the majority that vanished the next day, Democrats were able to establish leadership and make the committee assignments. Republicans, however, negotiated a rules change.

Facing an evenly divided Senate and the possibility of a Republican win in the special elections, Democrats agreed that committee seats would be apportioned between the parties in proportion to the seats held in the body. The Democrats also named Republicans vice chairmen of all Senate committees which now have six members--three Democrats and three Republicans. Senate representation on the joint committee is also equal.

"We're going to try to carry that over, no matter who wins the election, because it's the fair thing to do," Ellis says.

"It's a permanent reform," Helbach adds. "We made a big thing of it. And, although rules are easy to change, I don't think the media or the public would let us change this one.

"Actually, the 15-15 split has been easy to deal with," Helbach adds, "because the former minority leader and I get along very well. We've tried to run the Senate in a bipartisan fashion."

An incentive for this sense of cooperation, is that most issues that generate partisan splits--such as the state budget--will be considered after the elections.

Some people seem to be surprised that bipartisanship can actually work, Helbach says. "I think it forces something good on both political parties, and I hope the spirit will continue--no matter who's in charge."
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Copyright 1993, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:On First Reading
Publication:State Legislatures
Date:Apr 1, 1993
Words:461
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