Thursday, March 16, 2006

Waukesha Mayoral Race a Potential GOP Litmus Test for Revenue Amendment

The race for the job of mayor in Waukesha is heating up. Yesterday the two contenders, Larry Nelson and Ann Nitschke, faced off in a debate at UW-Waukesha.

A growing issue in the race appears to be the proposed constitutional amendment to restrict public revenue in Wisconsin. Nelson adamantly opposes the amendment while Nitschke supports it. This is not a big surprise considering Nelson's background is in local government where opposition to the amendment is nearly universal, while Nitschke is currently a Republican member of the state legislature that proposed the amendment (although Republican legislative support for the amendment is hardly universal).

What is interesting with this race is that it's taking place in a conservative stronghold and Nelson seems to be more than holding his own despite his staunch opposition to the amendment. We are often told by many conservative bloggers that this amendment is a core issue among the Republican base, but that assertion certainly becomes more in doubt if Nelson were to either win or even make a strong showing in the election on April 4.

The Journal-Sentinel article on the debate yesterday doesn't mention the crowd response either of the candidates received, but the fact that Nelson came out swinging on the amendment issue suggests his campaign detects at least a significant hesitation about it among Waukesha voters. I imagine this is particularly true for those who would turn out at a UW-Waukesha debate considering the overwhelmingly negative reaction the amendment elicited from the UW Board of Regents earlier this week.

And not only will the outcome of this race be intriguing to watch, but if Nitschke does win it'll be interesting to see if her views on the amendment change. As mentioned above, every single local government group to speak out on the issue has opposed the amendment and nearly all local government officials to state a position on the amendment have rejected it (with the two exceptions of gubernatorial candidate Scott Walker and former state legislator Dan Vrakas). Nitschke would be the first municipal official on record supporting the amendment if she wins next month and maintains her current position.

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