With 7 incumbents left or on their way out, fall elections will reshape state Senate

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MADISON – No matter the outcome of this fall’s election, the state Senate will be a very different place next year.

Seven of the state’s 33 senators have either recently stepped down or announced they will not seek re-election. And the Senate’s Republican majority leader, Scott Fitzgerald of Juneau, is making a bid for Congress that, if successful, will create yet another opening in the Legislature’s upper chamber.

Republicans are expected to keep their hold on the Senate this year. But while the partisan makeup may remain the same, many of the personalities will be new.

Republicans control the Senate 18-13, with two vacancies. Democrats hope to narrow that gap but have few opportunities to play offense.

Just a few races are considered competitive, but others are being watched because the incumbents have recently stepped down or plan to retire.

Senate District 6

Democratic Sen. LaTonya Johnson of Milwaukee is facing a primary challenge from Michelle Bryant, a longtime aide to another Milwaukee Democrat, Sen. Lena Taylor.

Senate District 8

Democrat Neal Plotkin of Glendale, a substitute teacher and owner of a sales agency, is challenging Republican Sen. Alberta Darling of River Hills, who has longe served as the co-chairwoman of the budget-writing Joint Finance Committee.

Senate District 10

Democrat Patty Schachtner wrested this district in northwest Wisconsin from Republicans for the first time in years in a January 2018 special election.

Two Republicans are running to try to unseat her — Rep. Rob Stafsholt of New Richmond and Cherie Link of Somerset, the sales manager of a family auto glass business.

Senate District 12

Republican Rep. Mary Felzkowski of Irma and Democrat Ed Vocke of Minocqua, a hospitality worker, are running to replace Tom Tiffany, a Republican who gave up the Senate seat last week after winning a special election for Congress.

Senate District 14

Rep. Joan Ballweg of Markesan and Ken Van Dyke Sr. of Scandinavia are running in the Republican primary to replace retiring Republican Sen. Luther Olsen of Ripon. The primary winner will face Democrat Joni Anderson of Adams.

Senate District 16

Rep. Melissa Sargent of Madison and Monona Grove School Board President Andrew McKinney of Cottage Grove are squaring off in the Democratic primary to replace retiring Democratic Sen. Mark Miller of Monona. Republican Scott Barker, a firefighter in Sun Prairie, is also running.

Senate District 24

GOP Sen. Patrick Testin of Stevens Point is being challenged by Democrat Paul Piotrowski, a retired Stevens Point police officer. 

Senate District 26

There is a seven-way Democratic primary to replace retiring Democratic Sen. Fred Risser of Madison, the longest-serving state lawmaker in the country’s history.

Seeking the job are Democratic organizer Aisha Moe, political organizer Nada Elmikashfi, 2018 write-in candidate for lieutenant governor William Henry Davis III, Amani Latimer Burris, former Rep. Kelda Helen Roys, former Madison Ald. Brian Benford and Wisconsin Environmental Initiative executive director John Imes.

FOR SUBSCRIBERS: Fred Risser’s 64 years in state Legislature saw 13 governors, countless historic events and political shifts

Senate District 28

There is also a large field trying to replace outgoing GOP Sen. Dave Craig of Big Bend.

In the Republican primary are Jim Engstrand of Milwaukee, attorney Dan Griffin of Greendale, former La Crosse County Republican Party chairman Julian Bradley of Franklin, sales and leadership trainer Steve Bobowski of Franklin and Marina Croft of Franklin. Democrat Adam Murphy of Franklin, the owner of a software development company, is also in the race.

Senate District 30

Three candidates are trying to replace outgoing Democratic Sen. Dave Hansen of Green Bay.

In the Democratic primary are De Pere Ald. Jonathon Hansen, the senator’s nephew, and accountant Sandra Ewald of Green Bay. The winner will face attorney Eric Wimberger, a Republican from Green Bay.

Senate District 32

Democrat Jennifer Shilling stepped down as minority leader this spring and resigned from the Senate last month.

Three Democrats are running in the primary for the seat — nurse Jayne Swiggum of Gays Mills, Paul Michael Weber of La Crosse and former state Agriculture Secretary Brad Pfaff of Onalaska. (Republicans in the Senate fired Pfaff from his post as agriculture secretary last year in a dispute over farmer mental health.)

The winner will face former Sen. Dan Kapanke of La Crosse.

Contact Patrick Marley at patrick.marley@jrn.com. Follow him on Twitter at @patrickdmarley.

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