Darling’s retirement and the impact on the spring election 

Empower Wisconsin | Nov. 25, 2022

By M.D. Kittle

MADISON — After more than 30 years serving Wisconsin’s 8th Senate District and helping to lead the Badger State’s conservative agenda, Sen. Alberta Darling is retiring.

The River Hills Republican announced she will end her long and distinguished career on Dec. 1. Her departure will have at least short-term implications on the GOP’s dominance in the Senate and it could have a longer-term impact on control of the state Supreme Court.

Darling, who co-chaired the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee for a record six terms, the only female lawmaker to do so, said she’s honored that the voters of her suburban Milwaukee district entrusted her to represent them for so long. But the 78-year-old senator said it’s time for someone else to take up the mantle.

“Service comes with sacrifices. I look forward to staying active in the community and spending more time with my grandchildren, family, and friends,” she said.

Praise for Darling poured in from both sides of the political aisle.

Senate President Chris Kapenga (R-Delafield) accepted Darling’s resignation with “sadness and gratitude for her many years of service.”

“Alberta has worked tirelessly to provide a voice for her district and for Southeastern Wisconsin as she championed school choice, public safety, and economic development,” Kapenga said.

“She was a role model to many and her legacy will be defined by helping turn the state’s massive fiscal deficit into surpluses used for transformational tax reform,” Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) said.

Darling was first elected to the Assembly in a special election in 1990, winning the Senate seat two years later. Milwaukee Magazine once named her one of the Most Influential People in Milwaukee and “arguably the most powerful woman in state government.”

She was one of the original authors of the nation’s first school choice program and has been a tireless fighter for education reform.

Her retirement on Dec. 1 would give Gov. Tony Evers, a Democrat, ample time to call a special election for the vacant seat to occur in the spring election, slated for Tuesday, April 4. On the statewide ballot is a state Supreme Court election which will determine the court’s balance of power. Currently, conservatives (including “swing vote” Justice Brian Hagedorn) hold a 4-3 majority. Conservative Justice Patience Roggensack is retiring, giving liberals a shot at taking back control. Some — if not many — of the conservative reforms Darling supported over the last dozen years face being overturned by a liberal court.

Sources tell Empower Wisconsin holding the special Senate election on April 4 would motivate more conservative voters to turn out in a district that has only turned more red after the recent legislative map changes.

But Evers has played politics with the process in the past. In 2020, he attempted to schedule a special election in the 7th Congressional District on Jan. 27, with a Dec. 30 primary. Beyond taking the unprecedented step of scheduling the elections on Mondays, Evers’ plan would have put the primary in the middle of holiday seasons, when voters would be less likely to go to the polls.

The governor was forced to retreat when he learned that his schedule would violate federal election law regarding military and overseas voters. He delayed the special election until May of that year. It made no difference. Republican Tom Tiffany easily defeated his Democrat opponent.

Darling’s departure will cost Republicans their supermajority in the Senate. They can regain it with a special election win. Regardless, the Assembly is short of a supermajority, keeping Evers’ veto power intact for the upcoming session.

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One response to “Darling’s retirement and the impact on the spring election ”

  1. Don Murrow Avatar
    Don Murrow

    Good morning. I enjoy reading the Empower notes, I had sent an outline to a few US Senators including Ron Johnson and Mike Gallagher after the 2020 election cycle. This outline of possible election framework could make voting safer and Inclusive to anyone legally allowed to vote. I am not an election denier, but believe there was manipulation from corrupt elections over the last 20 years. Would I be able to send to your folks at Empower for your review? I never received a response from any elected official. Thank you, Don Murrow, Appleton, Wi.

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