HERE ARE one scribe’s picks for Wisconsin’s Top Ten political stories of 2016.
• No. 1: Donald Trump wins Wisconsin.
Proving pollsters wrong, Republican Donald Trump scored the first win by a Republican presidential candidate in 32 years.
Wisconsin’s first recount of a presidential vote gave Trump a 22,748-vote margin over Democrat Hillary Clinton — less than 1% of the 2.97 million votes cast. Trump got 47.2% of all votes; Clinton, 46.4%. Both lost the state’s April primaries.
One reason for Trump’s win was the drop in Democratic votes for president in several urban counties: Kenosha, -20%; Racine, -19%; Brown, -14%, and Milwaukee, -13%.
• NO. 2: Second term for GOP U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson.
Despite trailing in polls for most of year, the Oshkosh business executive got a second six-year term after winning a rematch with Democratic former U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold. Johnson got 74,187 more votes than Trump.
Johnson closed in the final days of the campaign, helped by third-party spending by groups who had written him off and late-deciding voters who went with Trump. The Feingold campaign couldn’t blunt Johnson’s closing momentum.
• NO. 3: Bigger GOP majorities in the Legislature.
Nov. 8 elections give Republicans their largest Assembly (64-35) and Senate (20-13) majorities in decades.
Assembly Republican leaders had privately expected to lose a few seats, but the GOP gained one seat by ousting four-term Democrat Rep. Chris Danou.
Senate Republicans kept the open 18th District and also knocked off Democratic incumbent Sen. Julie Lassa. Holding the 18th District, and replacing Lassa with Republican Pat Testin, gave them a 20-13 margin when the Legislature convenes Jan. 3.
• NO. 4: April presidential primaries.
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz crushed Trump in Wisconsin’s April primary, called it a turning point in the national “stop Trump” movement and then flamed out in other states. Wisconsin was last call for “never Trumpers.”
Like President Obama, populist Bernie Sanders fired up young voters to win Wisconsin’s primary and claim “momentum” in his bid to beat Clinton. He hung around longer than Cruz, but lost primaries in larger states.
• NO. 5: Conservatives keep state Supreme Court majority.
Justice David Prosser resigned, leaving an ethics complaint against him unresolved and ending 39 years of public service as a district attorney, Assembly member and speaker, Tax Appeals Commission member and Supreme Court justice. The governor replaced Prosser with Milwaukee lawyer Daniel Kelly.
In April, Supreme Court Justice Rebecca Bradley won a full 10-year term when she defeated Court of Appeals Judge Joanne Kloppenburg.
• NO 6: Photo ID to vote.
The push to require a photo ID to vote began in 2011. It triggered years of lawsuits, court orders and new state Department of Transportation (DOT) procedures to issue free IDs. Although one of the lawsuits is still pending, history was made on Nov. 8 when voters had to show a photo ID to vote for President.
One result of years of legal wrangling: DOT was collateral damage, being drawn into the photo ID controversy in a costly way that diverted it from its core missions.
• NO. 7: Abuse, injuries and mismanagement at Lincoln Hills juvenile prison.
One year after state and federal investigators raided Lincoln Hills, charges have not been filed against guards or others who may have abused and injured juveniles in their care. Instead, there was a steady stream of news stories documenting violence and dysfunction at the juvenile prison.
• No. 8: John Doe II probe dies.
A second criminal investigation of Walker and his supporters finally died when the U.S. Supreme Court refused to allow three Wisconsin district attorneys to reopen secret probes of how groups worked together to help Walker survive the 2012 recall election.
• NO. 9: Fight over long-term highway funding.
Walker is refusing to raise either the 30.9-cent gas tax or the $75 annual vehicle registration fee. That puts him at odds with Assembly Republicans, who say having 22% of all transportation revenues going to pay off debt and delaying major road repairs for decades is unacceptable.
• No. 10: Redistricting ruling.
In the first victory for Democratic legislators in years, U.S. Court of Appeals judges ruled legislative district lines Republicans drew in 2011 unconstitutional. The decision will be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, however.
Steven Walters is a senior producer for the nonprofit public affairs channel WisconsinEye. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org