Wisconsin Senate is officially in the hands of Democrats

RACINE -- The Wisconsin state Senate is officially in the hands of the Democratic Party. It's the result of the final recall race -- and nearly two years of partisan fighting.

State Senator John Lehman took the oath of office on Monday, July 16th, and with that swearing in, the control in the state Senate went to the Democrats for the first time since November 2010.

"Balanced government -- that's why you have two houses where they are controlled by two different parties, really should push people toward the middle," Lehman said.

The middle is a distant memory in the state Senate. For the last year-and-a-half, it has been the symbol of a polarized state. It is the venue that hosted the most bitter partisan disputes, beginning when all 14 Democrats left the state to delay a vote on Gov. Scott Walker's budget repair bill.

Many went to the Clock Tower Resort in Rockford, Illinois, leaving their Senate seats empty for a month. When they did return, the atmosphere was toxic. There were daily disputes and disruptions.

Then the contentious recall elections of nine senators in summer 2011 gave the Democrats two seats, but the control remained in Republican hands.

This summer, four senators faced recall -- and Racine Republican Van Wanggaard lost his seat to Lehman -- and the Senate to the Democrats.

However, it may be too little too late. The Legislature won't be in session until 2013.

"The Democrats will have the majority by one until November," Republican State Senator Alberta Darling said.

The new majority leader, Senator Mark Miller, says he wants Gov. Walker to call lawmakers into a special session.

"Because our job creation record is one of the worst in the country. We're the eighth worst in the country, so we think it's time to start moving," Sen. Miller said.

The Senate will convene Tuesday, July 17th in Madison. It's largely a ceremonial day. The Republicans will formally hand over power -- including the Senate presidency and control of the organizational committees, but no substantive business will take place. That can only happen if the Governor calls the Legislature into a special session -- or the Assembly and Senate agree to call themselves into an extraordinary session. Republicans say that will not happen.