In the final hours before Tuesday‘s midterm elections, Wisconsin Republicans had all but scheduled a group Lambeau Leap to celebrate their not-yet-attained takeover of the state Legislature and governor’s office.
State Rep. Gary Tauchen, R-Bonduel, during a Monday interview referenced “Governor (Scott) Walker,” before correcting himself to say, “candidate Walker.”
Tauchen can afford such confidence. He is running unopposed for his third term representing Wisconsin’s 6th District. Still, he said he expects to find several new Republican colleagues alongside him in January.
“I think we’ve got a wave in the Assembly,” Tauchen said. “I think the Assembly is going to switch to Republican hands.”
Graeme Zielinski, communications director for the Democratic Party of Wisconsin, said Tauchen is not the only one who has considered a potential Walker victory.
“The prospect of ‘Gov. Walker’ is so damn terrifying that people are getting out of their seats,” Zielinski said.
“We’re running the biggest coordinated campaign in history, and a lot of voters are going to turn out.”
Wisconsin construction industry leaders want a future that looks more like Tauchen’s vision than Zielinski’s. The industry has heavily supported Republican candidates through endorsements and campaign finance contributions.
“When Democrats had control of all three houses, they were able to push through all kinds of things we weren’t supportive of,” Associated General Contractors of Wisconsin Government Affairs Director Jim Boullion said.
Republicans say they’re poised to reward the construction industry for its support. Democrats hold a 52-46 majority in the Senate, and an 18-15 majority in the Assembly. Both chambers are up for grabs.
Among the concerns Republicans say they will deal with is money for new road projects. Road builders have been frustrated to see Gov. Jim Doyle transfer more than $1 billion out of the state’s transportation fund.
Although Walker and his Democratic opponent, Tom Barrett, have said they would leave the transportation fund alone, Tauchen is proposing a constitutional amendment that would prevent such transfers from any state fund.
“There were 16 funds that have been raided over the past four budgets,” Tauchen said. “We need to stop that, be honest with people and bring back integrity.”
Such an amendment would have to pass through two sessions of the Legislature and then go before Wisconsin voters, but Tauchen said that’s more likely to happen under a Republican-controlled Legislature.
Road builders also want to see broadened revenue streams — beyond the gasoline tax and vehicle registration fees — paying for future projects. Walker has said he would consider installing express lanes with tolls on I-39/90, and Sen. Glenn Grothman, R-West Bend, said he would support it.
“That I-90 (expansion) from Madison to the state line is ridiculous,” Grothman said. “They’re building that thing for a bunch of Illinois people on Sunday afternoons. The only way I’m going to vote for that is if they do it with toll roads.”
Beyond roads, the Democratic-controlled Legislature produced a flurry of licensing proposals targeted at crane operators, heavy equipment operators, ironworkers and others during the past two years. Republicans say it’s time to review those regulations.
“I would certainly hope the Republicans would repeal any regulations that made it more difficult for the construction industry,” Grothman said. “I would make an effort to do that.”
Although Republicans can’t produce an immediate economic recovery, Sen. Randy Hopper, R-Fond du Lac, said they can find other ways to help.
“The state is in such a bad position, there’s only so much we can do fiscally,” Hopper said. “But one thing we can do is to look at regulations and red tape.”
Like others, Hopper, who isn’t up for re-election until 2012, said he thinks Republicans will be in position to set the agenda for the next two years.
“I would predict we’ll be getting the Senate and Assembly, as well as Scott Walker winning as governor,” Hopper said. “From my perspective, the focus of the state will be all on job creation.”
Tauchen, though, after prematurely gifting the governor’s office to Walker, said Republicans still will need the help of Democrats to get things done.
“It’ll be so much easier if there’s a trifecta,” Tauchen said. “But we still need to develop relationships and work together. I hope we move in that direction and we don’t become as partisan as maybe we have been in the past.”