Longtime State Sen. Alberta Darling announces retirement, special election to be called by Gov. Evers

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MADISON, Wis. (CBS 58) -- After serving 32 years in the state Legislature, Senator Alberta Darling announced she will be retiring on Dec. 1.

Sen. Darling (R-River Hills) was first elected to the state Assembly in 1990, then moved on to serve in the Senate in 1992.

In a statement, Darling said she was "honored the great people of the 8th Senate District have entrusted me to be their representative in Madison for so long."

After serving more than three decades at the state Capitol, Darling said she looks forward to spending more time with her family and friends because "serving requires many sacrifices."

Darling was the longest-serving woman to co-chair the powerful Joint Finance Committee where her office said she helped deliver more than $20 billion in tax relief since 2011.

Darling's constituency includes municipalities north and northwest of Milwaukee and parts of the city of Milwaukee. She was previously reelected in 2020.

The 8th Senate district favors Republicans and under the new legislative maps adopted this year the party has an even larger advantage.
However, Mordecai Lee, political science professor emeritus at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, said don't count Democrats out just yet.

"I think this might end up being a relatively competitive seat," Lee said.

The district represents parts of the WOW counties (Waukesha, Ozaukee and Washington), areas Republicans have lost some momentum with their base over the last few elections. Ozaukee in particular has been trending blue.

"We've seen this soccer moms of the suburb trending Democratic in the WOW counties," said Lee.

The 78-year-old's retirement will trigger a special election that will be called by Gov. Tony Evers to fill her remaining four-year term.

Evers could pick any day to hold the special election. He could also align it with the February primary election and April's general when a state Supreme Court seat is also on the ballot. 

"There's really a lot on the line, although it's one special election that doesn't affect most of the state - it does affect the state Senate and that will in turn affect voters across the state," said UW-Madison Political Science Professor Barry Burden. 

Burden predicts Evers will schedule the special election on the same dates as the upcoming elections, but he said it's too early to tell whether that could help or hurt either party's chances of picking up the open Senate seat. 

"If it's competitive as we expect with a liberal and conservative candidate making it to April general, I'm not sure the state Senate race would have a lot of impact," Burden said. "If it turns out to not be a very competitive race, then the Senate race probably comes more interesting to voters in that district."

Currently, two Republicans in the state Assembly, Rep. Janel Brandtjen and Rep. Dan Knodle, live in Darling's district and could potentially run for the open seat. On the Democratic side, State Rep. Deb Andraca may consider launching a bid as well.

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle praised Darling after learning about her retirement.

“Alberta has worked tirelessly to provide a voice for her district and for Southeastern Wisconsin as she championed school choice, public safety, and economic development," said Senate President Chris Kapenga (R-Delafield). “I want to thank Senator Darling for her years of dedicated public service which has been an example to all of us, and I wish Alberta and her family the very best as she begins a new chapter.”

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos called Darling "arguably the most powerful woman in state government" and served with her as co-chair of the Joint Finance Committee before being elected as Speaker.

"She was a role model to many and her legacy will be defined by helping turn the state’s massive fiscal deficit into surpluses used for transformational tax reform," said Vos. "She was also one of the original authors of the first school choice program in the nation, working to make sure every kid, regardless of their zip code, receives a quality education."

Gov. Evers said in a tweet, Darling "has earned the respect of colleagues on both sides of the aisle because she’s a diligent leader who’s always carried herself with poise, class, and grace. I’ve always appreciated her thoughtfulness in our conversations over the years."

State Sen. Kelda Roys (D-Madison) wrote on Twitter, "although we did not often agree, she has been a very consequential lawmaker for decades. And she has lovely taste in clothing! I wish her well."

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