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The Frugal Three: Wisconsin Legislators Reject Annual Pay Increase

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In a year that has seen rising unemployment, a volatile stock market, and increasing state and federal budget deficits, the backlash on talk radio and in print against legislators in D.C. and at state capitols for receiving pay raises has been pronounced. The idea that the nation’s legislators who are presiding over failed policies should be rewarded with a pay raise is a difficult pill for many Americans to swallow.

While the pay raises amount to only the smallest fraction of governmental expenditures, some legislators have taken this opportunity to reject their raise, and return that portion back to the government.

In Wisconsin, three of the state’s 132 members of the Assembly and Senate have done so thus far: Democratic Representative Bob Ziegelbauer of Manitowoc (Assembly District 25), Democratic Senator Jon Erpenbach of Waunakee (Senate District 27), and Republican Dan Kapanke of La Crosse (Senate District 32).

Wisconsin, like its neighbor to the West, faces a two-year budget deficit in excess of 5 billion dollars, and its legislators received a pay raise of 5.3 percent to put their annual salary just $57 shy of $50,000 per year – the ninth highest in the nation.

Are the actions of these three legislators meant to raise a serious policy point about governmental accountability, or are they making a shrewd political move (or both)?

Smart Politics cannot assign motive to the Frugal 3, but we can look at the competitiveness of these legislators’ seats, and determine whether this gesture may be of some political use to them the next time they are up for reelection.

Rep. Ziegelbauer has been elected to the Assembly nine times dating back to 1992, but has faced Republican challengers only two times during that span – in 1992, when he won Democrat Vernon W. Hoschbach’s open seat by 22.4 points, and in 2006 when he defeated Paul Tittl by 12.4 points. Ziegelbauer ran unopposed in 1994, 1996, 2000, 2002, 2004, and 2008. In 1998 he defeated a candidate from the U.S. Taxpayers party by 93.6 points. In short, Ziegelbauer represents a safe Democratic district.

Three-term Democratic Senator Jon Erpenbach first won election to the 27th Senate District in 1998 by 13.2 points, filling the open seat left by Democrat Joseph S. Wineke. Since then Erpenbach has not faced a challenger in his reelection victories in 2002 and 2006. His seat would appear to be extremely safe, should he run for a fourth term in 2010.

Republican Senator Dan Kapanke, however, has been involved in three extremely tight Senate races in the 32nd District. In 2000, Kapanke lost by just 2.1 points to Democrat Mark Meyer. In 2004, Kapanke won an open seat race by 5.1 points against Democrat Brad Pfaff, and then won an even narrower 2.9-point victory in 2008 against Democrat Tara Johnson. The counties (or portions thereof) that comprise the bulk of the 32nd District voted overwhelmingly for Barack Obama in 2008: La Crosse County (60.9 percent), Crawford County (62.5 percent), Vernon County (60.1 percent), and Monroe County (53.2 percent). Kapanke's decline of the pay increase may thus gain him some favor with political independents - a key component of his constituency for the reelection of a Republican in a bluish district.

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Remains of the Data

Plurality-Winning Governors Elected At Century-Long High Water Mark

The rate of gubernatorial candidates elected without the support of a majority of voters is at its highest level since the 1910s.

Political Crumbs

Seeing Red

Congressman Nick Rahall's failed bid for a 20th term in West Virginia this cycle, combined with a narrow loss by Nick Casey to Alex Mooney in Shelley Moore Capito's open seat, means that West Virginia Democrats will be shut out of the state's U.S. House delegation for the first time in over 90 years. The Republican sweep by two-term incumbent David McKinley in the 1st CD, Mooney in the 2nd, and Evan Jenkins over Rahall in the 3rd marks the first time the GOP has held all seats in the chamber from West Virginia since the Election of 1920. During the 67th Congress (1921-1923) all six seats from the state were controlled by the GOP. Since the Election of 1922, Democrats have won 76 percent of all U.S. House elections in the Mountain State - capturing 172 seats compared to 54 for the GOP.


Home Field Advantage?

When the 114th Congress convenes in a few days, Maine will be represented by one home-grown U.S. Representative: Waterville-born Republican Bruce Poliquin. With the departure of Millinocket-born Mike Michaud, who launched a failed gubernatorial bid, the Pine Tree State was poised to send a House delegation to D.C. without any Maine-born members for the first time since 1821. Three-term U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree (born in Minnesota) coasted to reelection as expected, however Poliquin edged Kentucky-born Emily Cain by 5.3 points to keep the streak alive. Since 1876, a total of 208 of the 222 candidates elected to the nation's lower legislative chamber from the state have been born in Maine, or 94 percent.


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