By Tom Still
MADISON – A memorable election day and another round of winners and losers – including some names and issues that didn’t appear on any ballot.
Winner: Wisconsin’s scientific and research community. Democrat Gov. Jim Doyle hammered away on his support for stem-cell research, which may have won him the Republican “soccer mom” vote and widened his margin of victory over Mark Green. And with the state Senate returning to Democratic control, Doyle need not worry about anti-stem cell bills or other bills restricting research reaching his desk.
Loser: The “cultural right” in the Republican Party. Yes, the advisory referendum on the death penalty passed; yes, the constitutional amendment banning gay marriage and civil unions passed. But some of the GOP state senators who lost Tuesday were leaders of the “gays, God and guns” wing of the party. The clear message: It wasn’t all about the war in Iraq. Republicans need to get back to basics, which includes the economy, health care, education and efficient government.
Winner: Attorney General-elect J.B. Van Hollen. On a night in which all the currents flowed in favor of Democrats, U.S. Attorney Van Hollen swam upstream to defeat Democrat Kathleen Falk. It wasn’t a pretty race to watch, beginning with the primary elections in both parties, but it demonstrated that Wisconsin voters tend to hedge their bets. Who was the Democratic attorney general for all those years Tommy Thompson was governor? Jim Doyle. Now, Doyle must deal with a Republican A.G. But at least Doyle knows what it’s like from Van Hollen’s seat.
Winner: Democratic Party chairman Joe Wineke. Republicans may call him “Tail Gunner” Joe for his aggressive style, but it was Wineke’s doggedness that helped make the Democratic Party organization click in this election. The “tail gunner” shot down a few GOP bogies.
Loser: Issue ads and the groups that paid for them. There’s no question that private groups and individuals have the free-speech right to air ads that aren’t authorized by the candidates. But those ads need to be believable. Some of the anti-Doyle ads apparently missed the mark.
Winner: Mike Huebsch, the next Assembly Speaker in waiting. His party lost seven seats in the Legislature’s lower house, but Republican Huebsch still has a working majority. The pragmatic Huebsch realizes that working with a Democratic governor and Senate won’t be easy, but it need not be painful. If he can get his house to focus on core issues, progress is possible.
Winner: Lt. Gov. Barb Lawton. Will Jim Doyle run again in 2010? If not, Lawton will have served eight years as lieutenant governor and even better-known statewide. Falk’s loss eliminates a potential challenger for the governor’s chair, should Doyle not run again.
Loser: The push for legalizing the concealed carry of weapons in Wisconsin. State Sen. Dave Zien, a Republican from Eau Claire who lost his seat Tuesday, was a leading proponent of a concealed carry law. Who will pick up the gun and run with it?
Half-and-half: Wisconsin’s clout in Washington. With Democrats regaining control of the U.S. House of Representatives, two veterans Republicans (Jim Sensenbrenner and Tom Petri) will lose their lead positions on key committees. But Democrat Dave Obey of Wausau is in line to become the next chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, a mega-committee that deals with federal spending programs.
Winner: The UW System. Some persistent critics of the university lost their bids for re-election. That doesn’t mean the UW can sweep problems under the rug, but it will find a more receptive audience in both houses for its budget proposals.
Mini-winner: Competitive elections. Pre-election favorites didn’t always win, and some of the upsets were just short of stunning. The only poll that counts takes place on Election Day, as many Wisconsin voters – and politicians – were reminded on Tuesday.
Still is president of the Wisconsin Technology Council. He is the former associate editor of the Wisconsin State Journal in Madison.