Race for key Wisconsin state Senate seat too early to call
The outcome of the race for an open Wisconsin state Senate seat that’s been under Republican control for decades was too early to call Tuesday, with only a few hundred votes separating the candidates in a contest that could put the GOP a step closer to being able to override Gov. Tony Evers’ vetoes or even impeach him.
Republican Rep. Dan Knodl held a narrow lead over Democratic attorney Jodi Habush Sinykin. The Associated Press will continue to track the vote count and consider declaring a winner as election officials confirm they have completed their tabulation of all outstanding ballots.
The 8th Senate District, which includes Milwaukee's northern suburbs, came open in November after longtime Republican incumbent Alberta Darling chose to retire after serving 30 years in the Senate. Evers called a special election to fill the position to coincide with Tuesday's state Supreme Court election.
A Knodl victory would give Republicans the 22nd vote they need to have a supermajority in the Senate, giving the GOP enough votes to override an Evers veto in the Senate. A fully successful override requires a two-thirds vote in both chambers, however, and Assembly Republicans are two seats shy of the 66 they need in that house. But vetoes still wouldn't be safe; if two Democratic Assembly members can't attend a floor session Republicans would have enough votes to override.
A Knodl win also would enable Republicans to impeach Democratic rivals in the executive and judicial branches. Fifty votes in the Assembly is enough to trigger an impeachment trial in the Senate. It would take a two-thirds majority vote in that house to convict.
The state constitution says civil officers can be impeached, including the governor, lieutenant governor and judges. A February analysis from the Legislative Reference Bureau concluded that other constitutional officers such as the attorney general and the state schools superintendent can be impeached as well.
Knodl has said he's not interested in impeaching Evers, saying he has been able to work with the governor. But he said he wants to impeach Milwaukee judges for being too lenient on criminal defendants. That list could include Milwaukee County Circuit Judge Janet Protasiewicz, he said. She won Tuesday's election to the Supreme Court and will take the seat in August.
Knodl also has his sights set on Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chilsholm. Republicans have criticized the Democratic prosecutor for years as too soft on crime. They've called for his job since he acknowledged his office's bail request for Darrell Brooks Jr. was far too low.
Chisholm's office requested a judge set bail at $1,000 for Brooks after he allegedly tried to run over his ex-girlfriend with his SUV in November 2021. The judge complied. Brooks posted the money and was released from jail. Days later he drove his SUV through a Christmas parade in Waukesha, a Republican stronghold. Six people were killed and dozens more were hurt.
Chisholm has said an assistant prosecutor handling Brooks' initial case never had access to his risk assessment and shouldn't have asked for such a low bail amount.
Habush Sinykin, who holds a law degree from Harvard, worked as an attorney for Midwest Environmental Advocates. She was a key litigator in a lawsuit challenging Wisconsin wolf hunters' right to use dogs. An appeals court ultimately rejected MEA's arguments in 2014.
She said she's running for the Senate to stop Knodl from winning the seat, saying it's crucial that checks on the Legislature's power remain in place.