MADISON, Wis. — Races to fill two vacant legislative seats began to solidify Tuesday as candidates filed nomination papers with state election officials, setting the battle lines in contests that Democrats hope will bolster their momentum heading into November's mid-term elections.
The 1st Senate District and the 42nd Assembly District have been vacant since December when Gov. Scott Walker appointed the Republican incumbents, Frank Lasee and Keith Ripp, to positions in his administration. Walker last month set special elections to fill the spots, with primaries on May 15 and the general elections on June 12.
Candidates had until the end of the day Tuesday to file nomination papers. As of Tuesday morning two Republicans, state Rep. Andre Jacque and Alex Renard, and one Democrat, Caleb Frostman, had filed papers for the Senate seat.
Jacque, one of the most conservative members of the Assembly, has made a name for himself by pushing anti-abortion legislation. A group of his GOP colleagues, including Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke and Rep. John Nygren, co-chairman of the powerful Joint Finance Committee, have endorsed Renard.
Steineke said Renard has a better chance to win the seat because he's not an incumbent and has business experience. Renard is an operations manager at his family business, Renco Machine Company, Inc., in Green Bay.
"It's really more about Alex's positives than Andre's negatives," Steineke said.
Jacque said during a telephone interview Tuesday that he believes Republican leaders are upset with him for holding a hearing about repealing the state's prevailing wage law. GOP leaders had already included provisions in the 2015-17 state budget that repealed only a portion of the law.
"I've ruffled some feathers," Jacque said. "My constituents know who I am and know I stand with them rather than any particular person in Madison or a group."
Frostman works as executive director of the Door County Economic Development Corp. but plans to resign April 27 to campaign full-time.
The 1st Senate District includes the Door County peninsula south to Two Rivers.
Republicans Spencer Zimmerman, Colleen Locke-Murphy, Jon Plumer and Darren Schroeder, Democrat Ann Groves Lloyd and independent Gene Rubinstein have all filed in the Assembly race.
Zimmerman challenged U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan in 2016, running as a self-described "Trump Conservative." He didn't survive the primary. Locke-Murphy didn't immediately respond to a Facebook message or a voicemail left at a possible residential listing. Plumer is a member of the Lodi town board. Schroeder didn't immediately return a voicemail.
Groves is an academic adviser at UW-Madison. No listing could be found for Rubenstein.
The 42nd Assembly District covers a rural swath of south-central Wisconsin.
Whoever wins in each district will have to stand for re-election in November but will have the advantage of incumbency going into those races.
Filling the seats has been a bone of contention with Walker. He initially refused to call any special elections to fill the spots, even though state law requires the governor to call such elections to fill legislative vacancies that occur before May in regular election years. It took a Dane County judge's order in March to force Walker to schedule the contests.
Walker said he didn't see any sense is scheduling multiple elections for the seats given they will be up again in November. But his reluctance fueled speculation that he fears Democrats could harness voter anger toward President Donald Trump and flip the seats.
Democrat Patty Schachtner defeated Republican Rep. Adam Jarchow to win an open seat in a traditionally Republican northwestern Wisconsin state Senate district in January and liberal-leaning Rebecca Dallet won election as a state Supreme Court justice this month.
In addition to Lasee and Ripp, 10 incumbent Republicans in the Assembly and Senate have decided not to seek re-election in November. Three of the eight Assembly Republicans are running for the state Senate; the rest are retiring. One senator, Leah Vukmir, is leaving to run for U.S. Senate. Sen. Terry Moulton is retiring.