MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Senate Republicans chose new leaders Thursday as they prepare to use an expanded majority to revise the next state budget, draw new legislative district maps and potentially fire Gov. Tony Evers' health secretary.
The caucus picked Devin LeMahieu to replace veteran legislator Scott Fitzgerald as majority leader. Fitzgerald has served as majority leader since 2011 but is heading to Washington, D.C., next year after he won an open congressional seat in Tuesday's elections.
LeMahieu, of Sheboygan, was first elected to the Senate in 2014. He served on the powerful Joint Finance Committee last session. He holds a political science degree from Dordt College and owns the Lakeshore Weekly community shopping mailer.
He's kept a relatively low profile as a legislator, picking and choosing his moments to speak during floor debates and committee meetings. When he does speak, his remarks are typically calm and measured and he's been less prone to launching partisan attacks against Democratic rivals than some of his colleagues. A biography on his website indicates he has broad support from an array of groups, listing awards from Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, the state's largest business group; the Wisconsin Builders Association; and the Wisconsin Wildlife Association, among others.
He said in a statement that he plans to discuss committee assignments with members over the next few weeks.
"We need a strong and unified team in order to accomplish what is best for Wisconsin," LeMahieu said.
Republicans also chose Chris Kapenga of Delafield to succeed Roger Roth as Senate president. Kapenga was first elected to the Senate in 2010 and has built a reputation as one of the GOP caucus' most conservative members.
LeMahieu and Kapenga will lead a larger majority than Fitzgerald and Roth had last session. Republicans headed into Tuesday's elections with an 18-13 advantage with two vacancies. They flipped two Democratic seats to emerge with a 21-11 majority with one race still too close to call.
“The people of Wisconsin see that our reforms are working,” Kapenga said in a statement. “We will continue to push for limited government, lower taxes, and deliver meaningful results for the people of Wisconsin.”
Republicans maintained their majority in the Assembly as well after Tuesday's elections, which means the GOP will again have complete control of the legislative branch with Evers' veto the only roadblock to their agenda. Assembly Republicans planned to select their leadership team on Tuesday, with Robin Vos widely expected to return as speaker.
One of the GOP's first tasks when the new two-year legislative session begins in January will be revising Evers' executive state budget proposal, which the governor is expected to deliver in February. They also will begin redrawing legislative district boundaries to reflect population changes in the 2020 census. The boundaries will stand for the next 10 years, giving the party an opportunity to further solidify its power by creating red and blue districts.
The Senate also could move to fire state Department of Health Services Secretary Andrea Palm. The list of the GOP's problems with Palm include her stints as a senior counselor to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services secretary under then-President Barack Obama and as Hillary Clinton's health policy advisor. Republicans also aren't pleased with what they see as a far too Draconian approach to the coronavirus pandemic from the Evers administration.
Since the pandemic began, Republican lawmakers have convinced the conservative-leaning state Supreme Court to strike down Evers' stay-at-home order and are currently challenging his statewide mask mandate.
Evers tweeted his thanks to Fitzgerald and Roth and congratulated LeMahieu and Kapenga. He added that he looked forward to working with them on a pandemic response plan and the state's economic recovery.