If you’ve been driving in Door County or the Green Bay area recently, you may have noticed a lot of yard signs. It’s because voters are gearing up to cast ballots later this month in a special election for state Senate, after Republican Frank Lasee resigned in December for a job in Gov. Walker’s administration.
Walker tried to delay the election, but a court ordered him to schedule it promptly, after a group led by former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder sued. The race pits Republican state Rep. Andre Jacque of De Pere against Democrat Caleb Frostman of Sturgeon Bay.
It’s a sunny Tuesday evening in Sturgeon Bay in Door County, and about 50 people are mingling in the dining room of a local bed-and-breakfast. The volunteers are here for a campaign training session, to learn how to staff phone banks and knock on doors for the Democrat in the race, Caleb Frostman.
Frostman was head of the Door County Economic Development Corporation for two years. But, he resigned in April to focus on his campaign for the special election for state Senate. He says he’s been knocking on hundreds of doors throughout the district and hearing voters’ concerns. Some are telling him that they’re struggling financially.
“Wages have stagnated and I’m amazed at the number of folks I’ve talked to that have a full time 40 hour a week job plus employment on top of that in order to make ends meet,” Frostman says.
Frostman says if elected, he’ll work to cut taxes for the middle class, make higher education more affordable and protect the area’s natural resources. David Hayes is the owner of the bed-and-breakfast. He supports Frostman and notes that Republicans have held the Senate seat for many years. He says as a result, middle class voters in the district haven’t had much of a voice in Madison. If Frostman is elected, that would change.
“I think Caleb can do that, provide a good choice and an informed choice so that the electorate can say gosh, it’s great to come back and be a voter again,” Hayes says.
After I left the gathering for the Democratic candidate in the race, I walked down the street to the home of Hayes’ neighbor Jim Murphy, and knocked on his door. Murphy answered and let me in. He says he’s conservative and plans on voting for the Republican in the race -- state Rep. Andre Jacque of De Pere. Murphy says the one item on his mind is abortion restrictions.
“It’s a big issue with me. I don’t believe in Planned Parenthood, I just don’t believe in it and I won’t support them at all,” Murphy says.
Murphy says he’s pleased with Jacque’s record on abortion, including legislation that bans the procedure after the 20th week of pregnancy. Jacque says he would continue to push measures to restrict abortions, if elected to the Senate. I caught up with him at an event near Green Bay. He told me that he would try again to pass a bill that would prohibit UW doctors in residence from training at Planned Parenthood.
“That raised some very real questions and that’s legislation that passed a Senate committee and as a Senator I would like to help move that forward,” Jacque says.
Jacque says like his Democratic opponent, he’s also been knocking on hundreds of doors in the district and says besides abortion restrictions, voters are concerned about worker training and affordable health care. The contest is getting attention, including from out-of-state groups. So is the race for an open Assembly seat in Lodi. A new report shows more than a quarter-million dollars is being spent on the contests. UW-Green Bay Professor Emeritus Michael Kraft says he’s not surprised that outside interests are getting involved.
“This year, nobody is taking anything for granted so Democrats are mobilized, they have canvassers who’ve come in from across the state working locally to make sure that they get out the vote. Republicans I think similarly, given Gov. Walker’s concerns that this year and especially come fall, we might have a national blue wave and in the state a strong blue wave as well. So, that motivates both sides to raise more money, spend more money,” Kraft says.
Kraft thinks the reason the race is so hard-fought, is because Republicans control the Senate by a smaller margin than in the Assembly. A Democratic victory would narrow the gap to three.