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Editorial: Legislature must work together to achieve common goals

8:19 PM, Jan. 7, 2013  |  Comments
Newly elected members of the state Senate take the oath of office Monday, Jan. 7, 2013, in Madison at the opening of the legislative session.
Newly elected members of the state Senate take the oath of office Monday, Jan. 7, 2013, in Madison at the opening of the legislative session.
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The message sounded familiar: The Legislature needs to focus on creating jobs, closing the skills gap and reforming education.

It's the same drum that Gov. Scott Walker and his fellow Republicans in the Legislature have been beating for the past year.

This time, however, the messenger was a Democrat: Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca of Kenosha.

In a state where politics have been divisive in the last two years of state Capitol protests involving tens of thousands and numerous recall elections, both the Democrats and Republicans seem to be in agreement on priorities.

How to achieve those priorities is another story.

A new two-year session of the Legislature convened on Monday as 28 new members - 25 in the in Assembly, three in the Senate - were sworn in. In the coming weeks, we'll see how this new session unfolds and whether it bears any resemblance to last session's chaos.

The Republicans hold majorities in both the Assembly - 59-39 with one vacancy - and Senate - 18-15. This almost guarantees anything the Republicans bring to the floor will be passed. This includes an amended mining bill, which stalled when a Republican senator opposed it in the last session, but appears to be one of the first items of business.

But the GOP should be cautious in its approach to legislation. Its victories in November weren't as decisive as its majority in the Assembly appears.

As columnist Bill Lueders of the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism pointed out last month, Democratic candidates got more total votes than Republicans in Wisconsin in both the state Senate and Assembly races, but the GOP ended up with majorities in both houses.

For example, Republicans in the Assembly received 62.5 percent of the seats but garnered only 46.9 percent of the votes compared with 53.1 percent for Democrats, according to the WCIJ.

In fact, the Democratic candidates' vote totals in Wisconsin were greater than the Republicans' in the presidential, U.S. Senate and U.S. House races. The Democrats retained that Senate seat, but the GOP won five of eight House seats.

Some critics attribute the disparity to the 2010 redistricting that the Republican Legislature hammered out in secret. Whatever the reason, the results show a state where Republicans hold a majority in the Legislature but not in the state.

This, then, calls for a bipartisan approach in the State Capitol. Walker seems to have started down that road by promising a more moderate agenda, and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Burlington, said on Monday he won't allow a vote on a right-to-work bill if the issue comes up.

It would be wise for those in the majority of the Legislature to listen to the concerns of those in the minority because even though the Republicans control both houses, that majority wasn't reflected in the overall vote in November and some of these politicians will have to run on their record in two years.

The priorities are the same for both the Republicans and Democrats. How we achieve them will be telling.

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