Sen. Frank Lasee, R-DePere

Sen. Frank Lasee, R-DePere

JOHN HART — State Journal

Two Republican state lawmakers, Sen. Frank Lasee and Rep. Keith Ripp, are resigning to take posts in the administration of Gov. Scott Walker.

Lasee, R-De Pere, is taking a job at the Department of Workforce Development, while Ripp, R-Lodi, will join the state Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection, or DATCP.

Lasee and Ripp said their resignations would be effective Friday and they’ll start the new jobs next week.

A spokesman for Walker said special elections will not be held for the seats, meaning they’ll be vacant for more than a year and filled after the November 2018 election — at which time they already were set to be on the ballot.

State law says if a legislative vacancy occurs before “the second Tuesday in May in a year in which a regular election is held to fill that seat,” it “shall be filled as promptly as possible by special election.”

But Walker spokesman Tom Evenson said the governor’s decision not to hold special elections for the seats “is consistent with the statute.”

“The statute requiring a special applies if a vacancy occurs in the year of the regularly scheduled election. Since Sen. Lasee and Rep. Ripp resigned in 2017, special elections are not required,” Evenson wrote in an email.

Evenson added that staffers for Lasee and Ripp would continue to work throughout 2018 to handle constituent service.

Elections Commission administrator Michael Haas said he’s not aware of any past legal challenges to a governor’s handling of this requirement.

“Somebody would have to force the issue legally” if they objected to a governor’s interpretation of when the requirement applies and how quickly the vacancies would need to be filled, Haas said.

Even if Walker did call a special election, the soonest it could be held would be April 3, with a primary, if needed, on Feb. 20, according to Haas.

In a typical session, state lawmakers conduct little, if any, business after April in even-numbered years.

Ripp will make $105,000 as Assistant Deputy Secretary at DATCP, serving under Secretary Sheila Harsdorf, a fellow Republican who recently left the state Senate to take that job. Lasee will make $101,000 in his new role as Division Administrator for Worker’s Compensation.

The annual salary for a state legislator is $50,950.

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Ripp represents a rural district north of Madison that includes Fox Lake, Lodi, Poynette and Randolph. In office since 2009, Ripp is chairman of the Assembly Transportation Committee.

Lasee, who has served since 2011, represents a far northeastern corner of the state including Door and Kewaunee counties, Two Rivers and parts of the Green Bay and Appleton areas. He is chairman of the Senate Insurance, Housing and Trade committee.

Democrats, riding high from electoral successes in elections in other states this year, may view the open seats as pickup opportunities in 2018.

“Democrats are ready to fight to take back seats in every corner of the state, including Senate District 1, whether Gov. Walker decides to call a special election or to leave thousands of voters without representation for months,” said Jenni Dye, who directs the campaign arm of state Senate Democrats.

But neither district would be an easy get for Democrats. Both districts voted solidly for GOP President Donald Trump in 2016: Assembly District 42 by a 54-40 percent margin, and Senate District 1, 56-38.

The departures of Ripp and Lasee bring the number of vacant legislative seats to five, with four of them having been held by Republicans.

Three of the seats are set to be filled by special elections on Jan. 16. They are for Senate District 10, the seat vacated by Harsdorf, R-River Falls; Assembly District 58, vacated as a result of the death of Rep. Bob Gannon, R-West Bend; and Assembly District 66, vacated by Democratic Rep. Cory Mason, who was elected mayor of Racine.

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