The 18th Senate District and the Fight for Control of the Senate


Late in 2015 State Senator Rick Gudex announced he would not be seeking another term as a state senator. This was disappointing news because Rick Gudex is a unique politician. Coming from a blue collar private sector manufacturing background, Gudex understood the plight of regular middle class Wisconsites, unlike much of the political class who float through life looking for ways to enhance their government pension.

Gudex was also unique in another way, he wasn’t a bull sh**er. It takes a special kind of ‘profile in courage,’ to represent what has become an evenly divided district, and tell people the truth, instead of what they want to hear.

Gudex would speak to a room and explain to people that the transportation budget is a mess, and that we have transportation projects that are important to complete, both for our economy and the safety of our drivers, but to pay for it we need to raise the gas tax and the registration fee. Not exactly a popular position.

He had to tell both union guys, and some of the area’s largest employers (and Republican Party donors) both of whom strongly opposed ‘Right to Work’ legislation, that he was voting for ‘Right to Work’ because he believes in the freedom to choose, while at the same time explaining to conservative activists being whipped up by Charlie Sykes that he opposed repealing ‘Prevailing Wage,’ because those same union guys and area employers depended on the wage to earn a good living.

Most importantly, Gudex was a strong advocate for the unborn, and our Second Amendment Rights, while at the same time he would also be a strong supporter of Governor Walker and defender of ACT 10; while representing the senate district with the second most government workers living within it.

Not an easy task.

Facing a tough, but likely re-election bid in 2016, and a leadership team he believes threw him under the ‘Prevailing Wage’ bus, Gudex decided to accept an offer, and return to the private sector.

Seeing that Rick Gudex was the only senator who’d ever show up on time for events, he’s probably more suited for the private sector anyway.

Now What?

Once Assembly Representatives Michael Schraa and Jeremy Thiesfeldt made it clear they had no interest in running, the Republican Party is wisely turning to another blue collar private sector guy to succeed Gudex, Republican Party of Fond du Lac County Chairman Dan Feyen.

Much like Gudex four years ago, Feyen starts a campaign with low name ID, little money, and is not the preferred candidate of the ‘Madison establishment.’ However, after close to a decade of behind-the-scenes grassroots work in the conservative Republican movement, Feyen is very well connected and is off to a good fundraising start.

Feyen, 47, has a connect-ability to the working class district that is the 18th. With one of his children attending UW-Madison and another in public high school, it’s an “everyman” story that many can relate to, and in a year of crabby voters looking for outsiders to run, it might be a perfect fit. (Full disclosure: I serve as Treasure for the FDL GOP and am a volunteer on Feyen’s campaign.)
In what is likely to be an expensive race that could determine control of the state senate, it’s likely to be a hard fought and contentious race. The 18th senate district was once a Republican safe seat, with Scott McCallum and Carol Roessler holding onto the seat for many years, easily winning re-election, but since 2008 it’s become something of toss-up.

That said, I think this seat still leans Republican. In 2008, with no incumbent in the race, Randy Hopper was elected over Jessica King by 163 votes, in a terrible year to be a Republican and when Obama was winning Wisconsin by 14 points. Hopper would lose a post ACT-10 recall election in 2011, but only by 1,874 votes, at the height of the ACT-10 backlash, and during his messy divorce. A year and a half later, in 2012, another bad year for Republicans, Rick Gudex would reclaim the seat for the GOP with a 601 vote victory over King.

I also contend the 2016 electorate won’t be as Democratic as it was in 08 and 12, when people, especially young people, were jazzed up to vote for America’s first black president. Hillary Clinton, the Obama of 2016, just doesn’t excite people as much as did the Obama of 2008.

In 2000 and 2004 George W. Bush lost Wisconsin by very close margins, both years in which Carol Roessler easily won re-election. Assuming an electorate more matching of historical norms, and no major screw-ups by the Republicans, (like nominating Trump) this is a seat the GOP should be able to hold onto.

What will be interesting to watch in the battle for control of the chamber is, will there be other retirements on the GOP side? Can Dave Hansen survive his “tweet-gate” scandal? Will former Packer Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila challenge Hansen? Will the GOP find a credible challenger to Jennifer Schilling?

2016. It should be an interesting year!

Rohn W. Bishop is a monthly contributor to Scene Newspapers.
Follow Rohn on Twitter: @RohnWBishop

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