Punditry 101: Next year’s political news

HERE IS one set of predictions of Capitol politics in 2017. Remember, please, that pundits — just like polls — can be wrong.

• State Senate Republicans: Serving as majority leader for seven years, massaging senatorial egos and refereeing feuds between Republican Gov. Scott Walker and Assembly Republicans, gets old, and tiring.

That’s one reason why Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald is open to — and likely to get — a job in the Trump Administration. Fitzgerald helped punch a ticket to Washington last summer when, while other Wisconsin Republican leaders sneered at Donald Trump becoming their presidential nominee, Fitzgerald shouted, “Trump Train — all aboard!”

IF FITZGERALD doesn’t go to Washington, he may also be one of several Republicans running against Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin in 2018.

Finally, if Fitzgerald goes to Washington, Assistant Majority Leader Leah Vukmir must choose: Become Senate majority leader, which is a full-time job, or stay as No. 2 leader and travel the state laying the groundwork — and raising money — to challenge Baldwin.

Other Republicans who may challenge Baldwin are Congressman Sean (“communist Madison”) Duffy and Madison business executive Eric Hovde, who finished second in a three-Republican primary in 2012.

Also look for Republican Sen. Frank Lasee, a legislator since 1995, to resign at some point. Lasee, 55, who lost a bid for Congress last year, has openly discussed his desire to “make some real money” — either as a lobbyist or working for a statewide trade association.

• BET ON this: Republican Gov. Scott Walker will announce this summer that he will seek a third term in 2018. What he’ll say in that announcement: Record numbers of state residents working and business startups. Unemployment cut by more than half since he took office in January 2011. Trump Administration policies will make Wisconsin an exciting laboratory of reforms.

• Highway funding deal raises new revenues: There will be some increase in either the 30.9-cent per gallon gas tax and/or the $75 annual vehicle registration fee, although it will require finding a way for Walker to declare victory. Walker, for example, may have to point to another tax cut that offsets the new highway funding revenues.

Assembly Republicans, and some Democrats, won’t agree to a budget deal that simply credit-card borrows huge new amounts of cash for highways.

This is also worth noting: Standing with Assembly Republicans on this issue are county, city, village and town leaders saying: We don’t care how you pols do it, but give us a stable, long-term way to maintain our streets and highways. Chambers of commerce groups have also not ruled out a tax-and-fee increase package, if other demands are met.

• DEMOCRATS for governor: Democrats who will either announce their campaigns, or seriously consider running, include former state Sen. Tim Cullen, of Janesville; Jefferson County District Attorney Susan Happ, who ran for attorney general in 2014, and Eau Claire Rep. Dana Wachs.

Every four years, some Democrats say they wish Congressman Ron Kind would give up his safe 3rd District seat and take a risk for his party by running for U.S. Senate or governor. But why should someone who starts their 20th year in the U.S. House this month, and who didn’t even have a Republican opponent last year, give that up to run for governor?

Democrats also light a candle every four years, praying that a business executive or retired executive willing to spend $5 million or more of their own money will run for governor. But one of them, retired Kehl Foods CEO Katherine Gehl, has said she won’t run in 2018.

• LINCOLN HILLS: Years of abuse, negligence and mismanagement at the state’s juvenile prison will lead to criminal charges being filed by federal officials.

That means Lincoln Hills, and questions about state government’s policy of locking up juvenile criminals more than 200 miles from homes and family members, will become a major issue in the 2018 race for governor. Democrats are already criticizing Walker for saying, in six years as governor, he has never visited any prison — adult or juvenile.

• Redistricting: A deadlocked U.S. Supreme Court will uphold a lower court’s ruling, forcing new legislative districts that are fairer to Democrats to be redrawn before 2018 elections.

Yes, some of these predictions are risky. Good thing they won’t be scored for a year.

Steven Walters is a senior producer for the nonprofit public affairs channel WisconsinEye. Contact him at stevenscwalters@gmail.com

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