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The August Partisan Primaries

New districts and new date could baffle voters

Jul. 3, 2012
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Although most Wisconsinites are still recovering from the June 5 recalls, another election cycle is beginning. Partisan primaries will be held Tuesday, Aug. 14, for U.S. Senate, the state Assembly and Senate and district attorneys.

The primaries have been bumped up from early September to Aug. 14 to accommodate military voters. But that change could decrease turnout, since many Wisconsinites will be on vacation and perhaps will not be paying attention to the primaries.

One race that will draw huge amounts of attention is the Republican primary for the U.S. Senate seat currently held by Democrat Herb Kohl, who is leaving office. While only Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin has stepped forward for the Democratic nomination, four Republicans will by vying for the chance to be on the Nov. 6 ballot. Republican voters must decide between outgoing Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald, businessman Eric Hovde, former Congressman Mark Neumann and former Gov. Tommy Thompson.

Although Wisconsin has an open primary and doesn't limit primary voting to party members, voters must remember that there is no crossover voting. You essentially choose to vote in one party's primary or the other. The Republican Senate primary will be drawing so much interest that it will likely reduce turnout for the Democratic legislative races across the state, since many independents will choose to vote in the Republican Senate race.

Milwaukee County Assembly Races

Although the Republican Senate primary will dominate headlines this summer, the legislative races across the state—and within Milwaukee County—should not be overlooked.

The Republican-led Legislature radically changed the district maps across the state, making it far easier for Republicans to hold or gain seats in the state Assembly and Senate. Two Assembly districts on the near South Side of Milwaukee were so out of proportion with their constituents that a federal judicial panel ordered them to be redrawn. The rest of the districts, though, have remained as Republicans intended.

In the Milwaukee area, districts have been redrawn to pack Democrats together in the city seats while diluting the voting percentage of Democrats in the suburban areas. So moderate Democrats who were able to bridge the differences between the parties are now fighting for their political lives or, in the case of David Cullen and Tony Staskunas, have decided to leave the Assembly for good.

Some Milwaukee-area Assembly primary races to watch are:

  • Assembly District 7: The new district stretches north to include Miller Park. Longtime state Rep. Peggy Krusick won in 2008 with 59% of the vote in a three-way race and earned 57% of the vote in 2010. The new Assembly District (AD) 7 has about 55% Democrats. Krusick will face newcomer Daniel Riemer in the Democratic primary. There is no Republican in this race, so whoever wins the Democratic primary will win in November.
  • Assembly District 8: Incumbent Democrat JoCasta Zamarripa is facing her 2010 opponent, Laura Manriquez. No Republican is running. This is one of the districts that the Republicans had drawn to weaken the power of Hispanic voters, but the court-ordered revised district is in line with federal law and is much fairer to Hispanics.
  • Assembly District 9: Incumbent Democrat Josh Zepnick is facing Jose Guzman, who ran as one of right-wing Republican Tom Reynolds' "Democratic" candidates in 2008 against Pedro Colon. Zepnick has filed a complaint against Guzman alleging that he permitted individuals to sign nomination petitions fraudulently. Zepnick's house has been drawn out of his district and he must move to stay within the new boundaries of AD 9. No Republican is on the ballot.
  • Assembly District 10: Four Democrats are vying to replace Rep. Elizabeth Coggs, who is running for the state Senate. This district remains primarily African American, overwhelmingly Democratic, and now includes Shorewood. The four Democrats are Harriet Callier, Millie Coby, Ieshuh Griffin and state Rep. Sandy Pasch (D-Whitefish Bay), who must move to this district to represent it, since her family home is now located in Republican Jim Ott's district, AD 23. No Republican is on the ballot.
  • Assembly District 11: Incumbent Jason Fields is facing fellow Democrat Mandela Barnes in a North Side district that now includes the northern part of the old AD 10 and portions of the old AD 12. It's overwhelmingly Democratic. No Republican is on the ballot.
  • Assembly District 12: This is pretty much a "new" AD 12, since it's been radically redrawn and runs from the northwest edge of Milwaukee County to Lindsay Park and beyond. The district is highly Democratic. Incumbent Democrat Fred Kessler must move to remain within its boundaries. He faces Mario Hall in the primary. No Republican is on the ballot.
  • Assembly District 13: This was a West Side district with a north-south orientation and long held by Democrat David Cullen, who ran unopposed in 2008 and won with 76% of the vote against a Constitution Party candidate in 2010. The new district now stretches west into Waukesha to include the Milwaukee County Zoo, Brookfield and Elm Grove and is about 58% Republican. Cullen is now a Milwaukee County supervisor, so this is an open seat. Three Republicans—Rob Hutton, Nate Ristow and Thomas Schellinger—are on the August ballot. The winner will face Democrat John Pokrandt in November.
  • Assembly District 15: Longtime incumbent Democrat Tony Staskunas of West Allis is not running again in a district that, like Cullen's old seat, stretches west to include Greenfield and New Berlin and is now 55% Republican. Staskunas had won with 60% of the vote in 2008 and 51% of the vote in 2010 under the old boundaries. Two Democrats are running in the primary, Chuck Garrigues and Cindy Moore. The winner will face Republican Joe Sanfelippo, a Milwaukee County supervisor, in November.
  • Assembly District 17: Incumbent Barbara Toles is not running again and four Democrats (and no Republicans) are competing for this open seat in an overwhelmingly Democratic district on Milwaukee's Northwest Side. This predominantly African-American district will be represented by one of these four candidates: Sam Coleman, Tracey Dent, La Tonya Johnson or Fred Royal.
  • Assembly District 18: Eight Democrats are on the Aug. 14 ballot to take the place of Rep. Tamara Grigsby, who is stepping down after serving so ably in the Assembly. The new district has some of the former AD 17 area, including Sherman Park, as well as the near West Side of Milwaukee. The candidates on the ballot are Lisa Erin Brown, James Dieter, Jarett Fields, Michael Glabere, Evan Goyke, Ty Jackson, Andrew Parker and Lashawndra Vernon. No Republicans are on the ballot, so the winner of the primary will serve in the Legislature.
  • Assembly District 20: Molly McGartland and Kristan Harris are the Republicans running on Aug. 14. The winner will face incumbent Democrat Christine Sinicki to represent the South Side of Milwaukee, St. Francis and Cudahy, a district that has retained its majority Democratic population.

The Milwaukee Senate Race to Watch

Only half of the state Senate is up for election in 2012, so the full impact of redistricting won't be felt until 2014. In the Milwaukee area, both Democrat Lena Taylor (SD 4) and Republican Alberta Darling (SD 8) are unopposed.

The hottest race to watch is Senate District 6, which has long been held by Spencer Coggs, who was recently elected city of Milwaukee treasurer and is not seeking re-election to the state Senate.

Five Democrats are on the Aug. 14 ballot, and no Republican is running, so the winner of the primary will serve in the state Legislature.

The candidates are state Rep. Elizabeth Coggs, county Supervisor Nikiya Harris, county Supervisor Michael Mayo, Allyn Monroe Swan and Delta Triplett. This is sure to be a lively, hard-fought race with labor rights, school choice and economic development as top issues.


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