MADISON — Wisconsin government is in for a face-lift in 2015. Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen has decided to call it quits. So have two veteran state senators. Another faces a challenge from within his own party, and yet another might give up her seat to run for governor again.
Even though the elections are a year off, it’s clear Wisconsin’s political landscape will shift.
“Institutional memory is important. It’s a shame to lose that,” said Mordecai Lee, a University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee political science professor and former Democratic state representative. “On the other hand, there’s also a benefit to churning. You get new ideas, new initiatives, new energy.”
At least four people are considering running for attorney general after Van Hollen unexpectedly announced last week he won’t seek re-election. Brad Schimel, Waukesha County’s district attorney, is the lone Republican so far. He’s already formed a campaign committee and hired longtime Republican operative Darrin Schmitz to handle his campaign. Two Democrats have expressed interest — state Reps. Chris Taylor, of Madison, and Jon Richards, of Milwaukee. Wisconsin Professional Police Association Executive Director Jim Palmer said he might run as an independent.
Meanwhile in the Senate, Bob Jauch, D-Poplar, announced last week he won’t run for re-election in 2014. Jauch, 67, was first elected to the Senate in 1986 after serving four years in the Assembly.
Sen. Tim Cullen, D-Janesville, decided last month he won’t seek re-election. Cullen, 69, served in the Senate from 1975 to 1987. He was elected again in 2010 but said he’s grown disillusioned with legislators’ unwillingness to compromise.
Cullen and Jauch will leave 48 years of combined experience behind when they walk out the door.
Jauch and Cullen’s districts are solidly Democratic. Rep. Janis Ringhand, D-Evansville, said she will run for Cullen’s seat and state Rep. Andy Jorgensen, D-Milton, is considering a bid. All three state representatives in Jauch’s district — Nick Milroy, D-South Range, Janet Bewley, D-Ashland, and Stephen Smith, D-Shell Lake — are considering running for his Senate seat, said Beau Stafford, executive director of the State Senate Democratic Committee.
Two other longtime senators face serious challengers next year, making their returns uncertain.
Sen. Dale Schultz, a moderate Republican from Richland Center and one of Cullen’s closest colleagues, faces a primary challenge from Rep. Howard Marklein, R-Spring Green. Schultz, who was first elected to the Senate in 1991 after spending nearly a decade in the Assembly, angered GOP leaders after he cast the lone Republican vote in the Senate against Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s plan to strip public employees of their union rights and opposed a GOP bill relaxing the state’s mining regulations.
The longest-serving Republican senator, Mike Ellis, of Neenah, faces his first contested election since 1998. State Rep. Penny Bernard Schaber, D-Appleton, is taking him on next year.
Sen. Kathleen Vinehout, D-Alma, has said she will decide next year whether to run for a third Senate term or launch a bid to unseat Walker. Vinehout vied for the Democratic nomination during an attempt to recall Walker over his union restrictions in 2012 but she never gained any traction with voters. She ultimately lost to Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett in a primary. Walker easily defeated Barrett to keep his job.
Another Democrat, former Trek Bicycle Corp. executive Mary Burke, announced her gubernatorial bid last week.