Walker sets special election date after losing court fight

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) will call special elections to fill two vacant legislative seats after two courts ruled against his efforts to delay and eventually cancel those elections.

Walker told an audience at an event Wednesday night hosted by the conservative radio station WTMJ 620 AM that he will call the special elections for June 12.

Walker faced a court-ordered deadline of noon on Thursday to call the special elections. He had asked an appeals court to delay the deadline by eight days to give the legislature time to return to Madison to rewrite state election law and make the initial court order moot.

Both the GOP-controlled state Senate and state Assembly had begun making plans for a special session to change the law, and Walker said he would have signed it.

But on Wednesday, the appeals court refused to give Republicans more time to cancel the elections.

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The two legislative districts — a state Senate district south of Green Bay and a state Assembly district north of Madison — have been vacant for months after the incumbents quit to take jobs in Walker’s administration. Both are heavily Republican districts that favored President TrumpDonald John TrumpSunday shows preview: Trump sells U.N. reorganizing and Kavanaugh allegations dominate Ex-Trump staffer out at CNN amid “false and defamatory accusations” Democrats opposed to Pelosi lack challenger to topple her MORE by 18 points and 14 points, respectively, in 2016.

Walker’s lawyers had argued that holding special elections would amount to a waste of taxpayer money because the legislature will have concluded their sessions for the year by the time new legislators are elected. They also said state law allows Walker to avoid calling special elections to fill vacancies created in non-election years.

A Dane County circuit judge appointed by Walker rejected the latter argument. Both the Dane County judge and an appeals court judge shut down the former argument, ordering Walker to comply by today’s deadline.

Even if Democrats won both seats, Republicans would maintain a firm grip on power in Madison, where the GOP controls 18 of 33 state Senate seats and 63 of 99 state Assembly seats.

But Walker has been reluctant to call the special elections after Democrats won another vacant seat in a heavily Republican district earlier this year. In that district, which covers several counties in northwest Wisconsin, Trump won by 17 points in 2016, raising alarm bells among Republicans. Walker said in a tweet that the election should serve as a “wake-up call” for the GOP.

Democrats have sharply criticized Walker’s decision not to call special elections. The National Democratic Redistricting Committee, the group headed by former Attorney General Eric HolderEric Himpton HolderFBI, Justice Dept plan to redact Russia documents despite Trump order for full declassification: report Dem lawmakers slam Trump’s declassification of Russia documents as ‘brazen abuse of power’ Dem lawmaker jabs Trump call for transparency by asking for his tax returns MORE, sued on behalf of several voters in the open seats to force Walker to call the elections.

"Having lost in court three times, Governor Walker has accepted that he must follow the law and call the special elections,” Marc Elias, the Democratic lawyer whose firm represents the plaintiffs, told The Hill. "The voters of Wisconsin have the right to have full representation in the state house. It’s time for Governor Walker to let citizens vote."

After Wednesday’s ruling, Walker’s attorneys suggested they would appeal to the state Supreme Court. Later in the day, they said they would not seek an injunction.

Updated at 10:15 a.m.