It wasn’t all bad news for conservatives in Tuesday’s election. While the right lost control of the Wisconsin Supreme Court, Republicans gained two-thirds — or supermajority power— in the state Senate.
State Representative Dan Knodl (R-Germantown) narrowly defeated environmental lawyer Jodi Habush Sinykin in the race for Wisconsin’s 8th Senate District Seat. The district’s long-serving Republican senator, Alberta Darling, retired at the end of last year.
Knodl’s victory gives Republicans the strength to override Democrat Governor Tony Evers vetos in the Senate, a nominal power given that the Republicans remain two votes shy of a supermajority in the Assembly. They also can expedite legislation without much in the way of interference from the minority party.
The real power, though, comes in the Senate’s ability to remove constitutional officers, including the governor.
During the campaign, Knodl said he would “certainly consider” voting to remove Milwaukee County Judge Janet Protasiewicz and other judges who he said have failed through liberal bench activism to keep victims and communities safe.
Protasiewicz defeated conservative attorney Daniel Kelly in Tuesday’s Wisconsin Supreme Court election, giving liberals control of the high court for the first time in 15 years.
Knold told WISN-TV that a supermajority would give the Senate “more authority in the areas of oversight and accountability of elected officials and appointed officials.”
“If there are some that are out there that are corrupt, that are failing at their tasks, then we have the opportunity to hold them accountable … up to impeachment,” Knodl said.
“Janet Protasiewicz is a Circuit Court judge right now in Milwaukee, and she has failed,” he added.
Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu, R-Oostburg, told WISN-TV the Republican-controlled Senate would not use its expanded power as a political weapon.
“To impeach someone they would need to do something very serious, so no we are not looking to start the impeachment process as a regular occurring event in Wisconsin,” he said.
But Republicans have called for removing Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm from office. The highly partisan Democrat has pushed low bail/no bail and other progressive prison diversion policies. In 2021, his office freed a career violent criminal on just $1,000 bail days before the man mowed down scores of people with his truck during the annual Waukesha Christmas parade, killing six and injuring dozens. Chisholm also helped lead the unconstitutional and secret John Doe investigations into Wisconsin conservatives, including then-Republican Governor Scott Walker.
Some, too, have called for the impeachment of Evers, whose administration on several occasions, has broken state law in pursuit of power during the pandemic.
The Assembly only needs a simple majority to impeach a state government official “for corrupt conduct in office, or for crimes and misdemeanors.” Then a two-thirds vote of the Senate can remove the official from office. Knodl’s victory brings to 22 the number of Republicans in the 33-member Senate.
Rick Champagne, director and general counsel of the nonpartisan Legislative Reference Bureau, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel the state constitution bars judicial officers from exercising his or her office once the judge is impeached and until the judge is acquitted by the state Senate. He said it’s unclear how a scenario involving Protasiewicz’s impeachment for one office would affect her election to another, he said.
“This scenario is novel and Wisconsin courts have not provided a clear answer. One factor that could tip the scales is that the two offices are both judicial offices exercising judicial powers,” Champagne told the publication.
“What is clear is that if the judicial officer is convicted by the Senate, the individual could be disqualified from serving in any other judicial office, including one to which the judicial officer was elected.”
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M.D. Kittle is the National Political Editor for The Star News Network.