- Associated Press - Sunday, May 4, 2014
Open seats likely not enough to help Democrats

MADISON, Wis. (AP) - Wisconsin Republicans should maintain a comfortable hold on the state Assembly in this fall’s elections, but a spate of retirements have given Democrats hope - however faint - of seizing control of the Senate, political observers say.

The stakes are enormous. If Democrats manage to gain Senate control, they can create gridlock and for the first time in four years stop GOP initiatives from passing.

Republicans go into this campaign season with a 60-39 majority in the Assembly, an 18-15 edge in the Senate and two big advantages in trying to keep their majorities. GOP lawmakers redrew legislative district boundaries in 2011 to consolidate support and help their incumbents hold their seats for the next decade. Legislative boundaries are redrawn every 10 years to reflect population changes. And it’s a non-presidential year. Elections in those years typically see reduced turnout and tend to skew Republican because voters who do show up tend to be older and wealthier, said Mordecai Lee, a University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee political scientist.

The game shifted a bit, though, after 27 lawmakers, including 14 Republican representatives and three Republican senators, announced they won’t seek re-election - the highest number of retirees since 2000. But Democrats have acknowledged Republicans did such a thorough job with redistricting that they can’t take the chamber even with 14 openings; all they can hope for is to make enough gains to put them within striking distance come 2016.

The Senate could be a different story. If Democratic incumbents win and the party takes the three open seats, they would have control of that chamber. Democratic leaders have promised an all-out offensive to grab the seats, but the odds are against them, said former Democratic state representative Mordecai Lee.

“Open seats change the calculus,” Lee said. “That said, the conventional wisdom has not changed. Republicans will likely retain the majority in both the Assembly and Senate.”

The three open Republican seats belong to Senate President Mike Ellis of Neenah; Joe Leibham of Sheboygan; and Dale Schultz of Richland Center. Ellis, who represents the Fox Valley, decided to quit after a secret recording surfaced of him discussing setting up an illegal political action committee. Leibham, who represents the Sheboygan and Manitowoc areas, has decided to run for retiring U.S. Rep. Tom Petri’s seat in Washington. Schultz, a moderate, decided to retire after facing a primary challenge from conservative Republican Rep. Howard Marklein, of Spring Green.

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Ho-Chunk may change how they dole out trust funds

BLACK RIVER FALLS, Wis. (AP) - When enrolled members of the Ho-Chunk Nation turn 18 and earn a high school diploma, they receive trust funds in a lump sum that can exceed $200,000. But too many burn through their cash recklessly, ending up with little to show.

Tribal leaders are trying to change that. They’ve begun considering proposals to dole out the money in smaller amounts or to tie payments to college, military service and employment, the Wisconsin State Journal reported (http://bit.ly/1s7qGfmhttp://bit.ly/1s7qGfm ). The Ho Chunk Nation’s legislature set a 90-day public comment period, which ends this week.

The money comes from gaming profits. Ho-Chunk adults get $12,000 per year in four installments, but children have to wait for the money until they’re 18.

When the program started in the mid-1990s, the payout was about $17,000 per teen. That figure has skyrocketed along with the tribe’s profits: This year’s qualified graduates will receive more than $200,000 before taxes.

When Troy Wallace got $110,000 from the Children’s Trust Fund in 2006, it was like winning the lottery, he said. He immediately bought a muscle car for $34,000 in cash, and he also traveled to Disney World and Cancun.

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