Every two years, all 99 of Wisconsin’s state representatives and half of the state Senate is up for election.
Some of these elected officials run unopposed, some have primary opponents and only primary opponents, some choose not to run for re-election and others face opponents from another political party.
The deadline for candidates for office to file nominations papers to run for the state assembly or state senate is the first Monday in June. By now, we have a clear picture of who is running and who is not.
As of now, there are 38 unopposed candidates for the 2014 election. There are 21 Democratic primaries, but for four of them, the primary election is all they face. There are 27 Republican primaries, with five races that will be decided at that election. There are six candidates with only a third party opponent.
How does this compare to prior year elections? The Legislative Reference Bureau a looked back at Senate and Assembly elections since the start of World War II to shed some light on patterns of how long elected officials stay in office. They examined tenure, turnover and re-election rates.
Tenure is defined as how long an elected official has served in that office, measured in two-year legislative sessions.
Beginning in 1941, the tenure in both houses has increased. In 1941, the average tenure was just over one session for both the Assembly and the Senate. The average senator stayed in office for four sessions beginning in 1965 while the average state representative’s tenure hit two sessions in the 1950s and has not fallen below two since that time.
Today, the average tenure in the state Senate is almost five sessions. The average tenure in the Assembly is about three sessions.
The report also looked at the turnover of senators and state representatives. They define turnover as the number of elected officials who seek re-election and the number of new members sworn in on inauguration day.
In the senate, there has been a fair amount of consistency in the proportion of members who seek re-election each cycle. Since 1940, between two-thirds and nine-tenths of the number of senators whose terms have expired have run for re-election.There is even more consistency in the Assembly with between 82 percent and 88 percent of members seeking re-election.
The second measurement of turnover that the report uses is the number of new members who are inaugurated each session. Their analysis shows a steady decline in the number of new members each session.
Since 1941, an average of 5.5 new state senators have been inaugurated each session. There were fewer in the 1940s through the 1980s, but there have been more new members since 2000. There were eight new members in in 2011 and with seven open seats this election, there may be more new members than there were in 2011.
The Assembly saw many more new members in the 1940s, but the number of new members has decreased since that time. The number of new members in 1941 was 44, whereas there were 25 new members in 2013. There are 22 open seats in the state assembly this fall, meaning that there is a real chance that the 2015 inauguration will see more new members than there were in 2013.
While there was a steady decline in turnover in both houses since 1940 until 2010, when the turnover began to increase, there has also been a decline in the percentage of incumbents who are re-elected.
In the 1990s and 2000s, the success rate for state representatives seeking re-election was 96 percent. That figure has since declined. The success rate for senators seeking re-election peaked in the 1980s and 1990s at over 90 percent. In the last two election cycles, the success rate has been 79 percent.
It is hard to pinpoint why tenure, turnover and re-election rates have changed over time. Some suggest that changes in election law and redistricting play a big role. The impact of these changes is equally difficult to determine.