Democrat Steve Doyle on Tuesday wrested away the 94th District Assembly seat that has been in Republican control for 17 years. The 52-year-old attorney has been chairman of the La Crosse County Board since 2002 and a county supervisor for a quarter-century.
But he twice had fallen short in bids for the 94th seat in the mid-1980s, when he was finishing law school and establishing a new practice in La Crosse.
The third time — and time in office — proved to be the charm, lifting Doyle over an opponent making his first run for public office.
“I think people have a lot of respect for La Crosse County government,” Doyle said late Tuesday while celebrating the 8,369 to 7,219 victory at the Seven Bridges restaurant in Onalaska.
John Lautz, 59, had tried to turn his lack of experience into a positive in the race, saying it would bring a new perspective to Madison, while painting Doyle as a career politician.
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The owner of a West Salem construction company, Lautz also sought to portray himself as a businessman who could help improve the economic and job climate in the state.
He had no regrets about running despite the loss.
“I made friends that will be friends for the rest of my life,” Lautz said. “It’s been a real learning experience ... it was really fun going to doors and talking to people.”
The win flips an Assembly seat Republican Mike Huebsch held since 1994 until he stepped down in January to become Gov. Scott Walker’s secretary of administration.
But two other vacant Assembly seats in the state remained in GOP control Tuesday, leaving the Republicans with a 59-38-1 majority.
Joe Heim, a University of Wisconsin-La Crosse political science professor, said while the results could be interpreted as a rejection of Walker’s policies after a contentious winter that saw protests in Madison, that seems too simplistic for the 94th district, which has a history of being fairly nonpartisan.
“I think probably for more people it would be the experience issue,” Heim said.
Doyle also weathered a barrage of television and radio attacks by third-party groups, along with mailings from the Jobs First Coalition, a Brookfield, Wis.-based group tied to Scott Jensen, the former Republican state Assembly speaker who left office in 2002 amid misconduct allegations.
Doyle thinks the move actually sparked a backlash that benefited his campaign. “I look at it as a rejection of attack ads,” he said.
The Democrat’s victory could foreshadow problems for Republican state Sen. Dan Kapanke, who looks to face a recall election later this summer. Already announcing as an opponent is 95th District state Rep. Jennifer Shilling of La Crosse.
But Doyle said he’d prefer to focus on bridging the partisan divide in the state Capitol.
“I’m going to Madison to ask what I can do to help heal the wounds, what I can do to help bring the parties together.”