Rhoades, Harsdorf: Two Republicans in a now Democrat state capitol
Like the country, the state of Wisconsin is now solidly under the leadership of Democrats, who control the governorship, the State Senate and -- now -- the State Assembly.
The Hudson area is represented in Madison by two Republicans who withstood the Democrat onslaught. Both incumbent 10th District Sen. Sheila Harsdorf and incumbent 30th District Assembly Rep. Kitty Rhoades won re-election by fairly comfortable margins.
The last time the Democrats controlled both houses of the Legislature and the Executive branch was in the early to mid-1980s.
So what will Democrat control of the state mean? Outspoken Republican State Sen. Neal Kedzie, R-Elkhorn, said, "Big changes are afoot, many of which could lead to a massive increase of state government and tremendous decrease of your personal wealth and freedom.
"Over the next two years, the legislative Democrat majority and the governor will have the ability to adopt and enact policies at whim, as the new Republican minority could be little more than a speed bump along the way."
Our local representatives also expect to see changes.
Of the two, Rhoades will face the biggest change. The Assembly went from a 51-47 Republican majority to a 52-46 Democrat majority (there is also one independent).
"Everything is up in the air right now," Rhoades said. "The governor (James Doyle) was quoted as saying that 'I don't need or want any GOP help.'"
In the Assembly structure, things up for grabs including important items like committee assignments -- right down to details like the physical location of office space.
Rhoades, who was first elected in 1999, serves on numerous Assembly committees and is co-chair of the Joint (Assembly and Senate) Committee on Finance -- considered among the most powerful in the state structure.
"In the 10 years that I've been involved on the Finance Committee, there have always been two members of the minority party from each house," Rhoades said. "There could be a situation where none are appointed, although I don't think that would sell well to the public.
"But everything is being determined in the next few days and weeks," Rhoades said.
The Republicans were meeting Monday afternoon and night, while Democrats were expecting to meet Wednesday to determine their leadership package. The new legislators will be sworn in Jan. 5, 2009. She called the Democrat control "a challenge for the people of Wisconsin."
Of course, the Democrats will also face some big challenges of their own. Gov. Doyle's budget is expected to come in with a $3 billion deficit -- by law, state budgets must be balanced.
"I think most analysts expect that taxes will go up," Rhoades said.
She said two bills that appear to be on the front-burner of Democrats is the partner benefits package for gay and lesbian couples and, what Rhoades calls the "sick tax."
It is a proposed tax on the gross revenues of hospitals.
"The problem is that under the Democrats' proposals, millions of those hospital dollars will be funneled into the general fund," Rhoades said.
Many other issues are also expected to be addressed, and could include a Democrat twist.
Among them, according to Sen. Kedzie, are increases corporate taxes, decrease in business incentives, elimination of sales tax exemptions, new spending projects, changes to the state school aid funding formula and possible elimination of the education Qualified Economic Offer, which limits the size of teacher pay increases.
Harsdorf has been a Republican in the already Democrat State Senate, but she also sees challenging times ahead.
"I'm hopeful that the majority party will see the need to grow the economy and jobs," Harsdorf said. "Raising taxes is not necessarily the answer to everything, but there is no doubt that the Democrats generally support increased taxes.
"But with the governor's budget expected to be $3 billion in the red, it remains to be seen how the Democrats will address the issue."
Harsdorf said the governor is already telling departments to reduce expenses by 10 percent. She said the projected deficit from the Fiscal Bureau is still coming, so she is not sure how close that estimate will be to the governor's estimate.
"With the economic slowdown, however, there is no reason to believe that the numbers will be any better," Harsdorf said. "The slow economy will no doubt affect the state's revenue."
Harsdorf's role will also be determined by the Democrat majority, but she is hopeful that her service will be somewhat similar to the last term because Democrats also were the Senate majority then.
"I don't anticipate major changes in the Senate structure, but change is possible," Harsdorf said. "But there shouldn't be as much change as we'll probably see in the Assembly."
During her recent campaign for office, Harsdorf said the big issue was the economy.
"We need to strengthen the local economies."
Health care was also a concern, but she said some of the efforts may shift from the state level.
"With a Democrat administration, Congress and Senate, many feel that health care may be addressed at the federal level," Harsdorf said. "At the state level, I will try to work together on issues and help as much as I can."
Harsdorf said people should continue to be active in working with legislators.
"People play a big role in the direction of government," Harsdorf said. "I appreciate it when people take time to contact me and it does have an impact."