MADISON, Wisconsin — Wisconsin Democrats picked Jennifer Shilling as their new state Senate minority leader Wednesday, hoping she can help them regain the majority in the chamber after a disappointing showing in last week's elections.
Senate Democrats voted unanimously during their first meeting since the Nov. 4 elections to make Shilling the new leader. Sen. Chris Larson of Milwaukee had held the post during the last session but stepped down this week. He told his colleagues Wednesday it was clear he didn't have enough support to hold onto the position any longer.
Republicans have controlled the Senate, Assembly and governor's office for the last four years and used the elections to expand their power. They built a 19-14 majority in the Senate, up from 18-15 last session, and grew their advantage in the Assembly by two seats to 62-36 with one race still too close to call. Gov. Scott Walker defeated Democrat Mary Burke to win a second term.
Shilling, who hails from La Crosse, didn't offer any specific plan to recapture the majority in 2016, saying it was premature to talk about that. She did say, though, that Democrats can't afford for turnout to "lurch" between presidential and midterm elections. Democratic-leaning voters typically turn out in bigger numbers during presidential years.
As for the upcoming legislative session, she promised to work to restore civility in the state Capitol and build relationships with Republicans. She said she'll push to increase the minimum wage and try to convince Walker to accept federal funding to expand Medicaid coverage that he's turned down. But she acknowledged the GOP will prevail on policy in the end.
Retiring Sen. Bob Jauch, a Poplar Democrat, tried to offer his party some hope, saying Republicans are bound to overreach and their arrogance will alienate the public. Sen. Fred Risser, a Madison Democrat, promised the pendulum will swing back Democrats' way. As for now, he said, "anything that goes wrong, it's not our fault."
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