By Dennis A. Shook, Special to OMC   Published Nov 08, 2006 at 5:35 AM
Following a trend that swept the nation, Wisconsin Democrats scored several major victories at the polls on Tuesday, keeping the governor’s mansion and winning a majority in the state Senate. Republican J.B. Van Hollen, however, defeated Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk, who was bidding to succeed incumbent Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager. Falk defeated Lautenschlager in the September primary after being urged to run by Doyle.

The picture was also clear in two controversial referendum issues. The public voted overwhelmingly in favor of a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage and favored an advisory referendum for the reinstatement of the death penalty in Wisconsin for the first time in more than 150 years.

Gov. Jim Doyle easily won reelection over Republican challenger Mark Green, by an unofficial total of 53.8 percent to 44.3 percent.

Doyle led the entire evening, including winning a victory in Green's home of Brown County.

In his victory speech in Madison, Doyle noted that the bellicose campaign "sometimes got a little bit more heated than any of us wanted. But now it's time to come together."

Doyle added, "We have honest differences but w all love Wisconsin. We can do much in this state if we work together."

The governor said that despite inheriting a $3.2 billion deficit when elected, "even in the deepest, darkest days of that fiscal crisis, we never, ever abandoned Wisconsin's values."

Doyle, who is the first Democratic governor to win reelection since former Gov. Pat Lucey 32 years ago, has yet to lose an election of any kind.

In his concession speech in Green Bay, at about 11 p.m., Green said he realized he was "a long shot" against an incumbent Democrat in a year "that we all know was a challenging year for Republicans in many ways."

Green added, "We were taking on a governor with lots of money who spent much more money than we had to spend. And sometimes I felt like I was not only running against the governor but against the very organs of government, including the (state) Elections Board itself, which all too often seemed to be stacked against us."

Green was referring to the board's decision not to allow him to use nearly $500,000 in funds he had raised in his congressional coffers.

Attorney general

While Doyle was winning across most of the state, if by smaller than predicted margins, fellow democrat Falk didn't fare quite as well. She fell short of her bid to become the state's top law enforcement official.

Falk, 55, Madison, has served as the Dane County leader for the past 10 years but was with the state Department of Justice for 14 years as a public intervener, from 1983 to 1997.

Van Hollen, 40, of Wanaukee, most recently served as U.S. attorney for the Western District of Wisconsin, being appointed by President George W. Bush in 2002. Before that, he served as Bayfield County district attorney from 1999-2002 and as Ashland County district attorney from 1993-‘99.

On a secondary level, the attorney general race also pitted long-time rivals Doyle and former Gov. Tommy Thompson. Doyle urged Falk to take on Lautenschlager for the office he held until being elected governor in 2002, defeating Falk among others in the primary.

Thompson favored Van Hollen over primary opponent Paul Bucher and actively campaigned for Van Hollen, including making a recorded phone message for him -- and for Green -- that was sent to voters in the past week.

Perhaps the main theme of the election for both candidates was experience. Each candidate claimed their experience made them better suited for the position.

The 'ayes' have it

Many voters were drawn to the polls because of two controversial ballot referendums.
Those going to the polls overwhelmingly voted for a constitutional amendment to ban same sex marriage and any kind of union relatively similar to it.

The unofficial tally was 58.3 percent for the ban and  41.7 percent against the constitutional change. Wisconsin joined 20 other states in the U.S. who have passed similar bans.

Seven other states had the issue on their ballot Tuesday and both sides claimed voters might have been confused by the ballot wording.

Voters had to check off "yes" if they were for the ban and against same sex unions while opponents had to check off "no" if they favored same sex marriage.

"This is counter to Wisconsin's progressive tradition, so I am disappointed," said U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin, D-Madison, an avowed lesbian. "But maybe some day we can try again."

The proponents of the ban may have also been aided by the decision by a court in New Jersey last week, ordering the state to pass legislation allowing for same sex marriage.

The death penalty referendum issue also passed easily, by a 54.6 percent to 45.4 percent tally. But unlike the same sex marriage amendment, which is binding, the death penalty referendum is merely advisory. It will still take action by the state Legislature and the governor's approval to become law.

That referendum added that the penalty should only be imposed if the person involved "is convicted of first-degree homicide" and "the conviction is supported by DNA evidence."

Another interesting election note is that all 10 of the referendums  to "bring the troops home" from Iraq won.

Legislative votes
It appeared that the Democrats won the majority in the state Senate and cut their deficit in the Assembly.

Republicans held a 19-14 majority in the state Senate and Democrats needed to pick up three of four hotly contested seats in Racine, West Allis, and two in the Eau Claire area. Early this morning, they appeared to have won the races in Racine, with state rep. John Lehman edging Racine County executive Bill McReynolds and in District 5, where Wauwatosa Ald. Jim Sullivan beat state Sen. Tom Reynolds, R-West Allis. Democrats also were strong in Eau Claire, with Democrat Pat Kreitlow beating incumbent state Sen. Dave Zien, R-Eau Claire, and Kathleen Vinehout edging incumbent state Sen. Ron Brown, R-Eau Claire.

Congress is similarly skewed

On the U.S. Congressional side, incumbent republicans Paul Ryan of Janesville, and F. James Sensenbrenner, Menomonee Falls, won reelection while Democrats  Baldwin, Madison, Gwen Moore, Milwaukee, Tom Petri, Fond du Lac, and David Obey all won reelection.

In the Eighth Congressional District vacated by Green, Democrat Steve Kagen defeated John Gard, the Republican state Assembly Speaker.  Kagen's victory came despite Gard benefiting from visits by Laura Bush.

On the national level, Democrats picked up more than the 15 seats they needed to take control of that body. That will mean Obey becomes chair of the House Appropriations Committee, which could help bring more federal funds to Wisconsin, one of the states receiving the least in funds from Washington, D.C.

Democratic U.S Senator Herb Kohl, D-Milwaukee, also won reelection easily.

There are always the possibilities for recounts in tight races and all results are unofficial until certified by the respective boards of canvassers.

- Dennis A. Shook is an award-winning reporter who has covered state and national politics for various print, broadcast, and Internet outlets for more than 30 years. He also is employed as an aide to state Sen. Robert Wirch, D-Kenosha.