ICYMI: Democrats Target Republicans on Budget Committee, Aim for Control of Legislature

May 09, 2024

ICYMI: Democrats Target Republicans on Budget Committee, Aim for Control of Legislature

MADISON, Wis. — On Monday, Wisconsin Democrats launched No More Games, a statewide accountability campaign to hold seven Republican members of the Joint Finance Committee accountable for playing games with Wisconsinites’ health, safety, and futures by obstructing funding for key priorities like clean water and rural health care.

Read more coverage of No More Games below:

Wisconsin ExaminerDemocrats target Republicans on budget committee, aim for control of Legislature
By: Baylor Spears

Wisconsin Democrats, who are hoping to make major gains in the state Legislature this year, are targeting Republicans who sit on the state’s powerful budget committee and working towards running a Democratic candidate in every district.

Democratic Party Chair Ben Wikler, Assembly Minority Assistant Leader Kalan Haywood (D-Milwaukee) and Senate Minority Leader Dianne Hesselbein (D-Middleton) announced a new campaign to target the seven Republicans who sit on the Joint Finance Committee, and spoke about their ongoing work to win majorities in the state Legislature during a press conference in Milwaukee on Monday morning.

Democrats have been criticizing the state’s Joint Finance Committee, which writes the state’s biennial budget and controls outgoing money in the state, for continuing to sit on millions of dollars in unspent funds. The committee is scheduled to meet Tuesday to vote on a 2025 opioid settlement spending plan, while Evers continues to urge them to release many of the funds.

Wikler said the campaign is to “hold Republican politicians to account for refusing to do what most Wisconsinites want on critical issues like hospital closures, the closures of University of Wisconsin campuses and funding from settlements about opioid addiction. Critical issues where most Wisconsinites want the same thing but these Republican politicians are playing political games that affect people’s lives.”

Wikler said the party would invest six figures in its push — titled the “No More Games” campaign. He didn’t provide a total figure. The money will be spent on pushing ads to voters online, including on Facebook and Instagram, about the lawmakers. 

“These are seats where, thanks to new fair maps, Republicans are finally going to be accountable,” Wikler said. 

The legislative maps signed into law this year are providing Democrats with a new opportunity to win this election cycle and the new campaign is likely just the start of Democrats’ investment into legislative races this year. Winkler said the commitment from the state party will likely be in the “millions of dollars” this year.

“I would be stunned if this was not the most expensive state legislative election cycle in Wisconsin history,” Wikler said.

The ad campaign is a step towards Democrats’ goal of gaining power in the state Legislature.

Senate Democrats’ road to a majority is different from their path in the state Assembly since only 16 seats are up for election in the fall, Hesselbein said. However, she said Democrats are “fired up and ready to go” with candidates running in every district. 

“For the first time in over 20 years, Senate Democrats have a Democratic candidate running in every single district this November,” Hesselbein said.

Four senators will be targeted by the campaign. Hesselbein said the campaign would provide accountability, saying that the committee is “at the heart of Republican obstruction and inaction” in the Legislature. 

“Republicans have used their stranglehold on this committee to wield power to the benefit of the ultra wealthy and big corporations and at the expense of everybody else,” Hesselbein said. She pointed to two lawmakers who will be targeted by the campaign: Sen. Joan Ballweg (R-Markesan), who is running for reelection in the 14th Senate district, and Sen. Duey Stroebel (R-Saukville), who is running for reelection in the 8th Senate district.

Hesselbein highlighted the closure of UW-Platteville’s Richland campus, saying that Republicans’ underfunding of the University of Wisconsin system is to blame. 

“The closure of this campus and continued indifference by legislative Republicans is a choice,” Hesselbein said. “It’s a choice made not just in Richland County, but across the state, a choice to underfund higher education, making it harder for young people to get ahead and for our workforce and economy to grow.”  

Hesselbein also named Stroebel while calling out Republicans’ ongoing refusal to release $125 million meant to fight PFAS contamination across the state.

“As parents we expect the kids to drink the water … that tap water is going to be safe,” Hesselbein said. 

For Stroebel, she added, “the highest priority seems to be protecting corporate polluters.”

One of the ads launched as a part of the campaign urges viewers to call Stroebel and “tell him to stop playing games.”

Sen. Eric Wimberger (R-Green Bay), who is running in the 2nd Senate district and Joint Finance Committee co-chair Sen. Howard Marklein (R-Spring Green), who is not up for reelection this year, will also be targeted by the Democrats’ campaign.

In the Assembly, Democrats have more opportunities to flip districts with all 99 seats up for reelection.

“We’re going to tell people how they are using their power to escape accountability for the poor choices they have made over the last decade,” Rep. Haywood said. “In November, for the first time in a very long time, Wisconsinites will have a real choice.” 

The campaign will target three Assembly lawmakers: Reps. Mark Born (R-Beaver Dam), Jessie Rodriguez (R-Oak Creek) and Shannon Zimmerman (R-River Falls).

“There is a very clear path to the majority,” Haywood said. He said Democrats are shooting to compete for all 99 seats, noting that there is still a month left before the candidates’ filing deadline for the fall elections.