By Collin Roth
On Tuesday night, Democratic Senator Tim Carpenter lost a very tight race to Democratic Senator Spencer Coggs for City Treasurer in Milwaukee. The two longtime Democratic lawmakers, a combined 54 years in state government between them, waited for final results into the early hours of Wednesday morning before the unofficial tally gave Sen. Coggs an 803 vote victory. Given the closeness of the citywide election between two longtime Democrats, the question must be asked if the controversial mining bill played a role in the defeat of Senator Carpenter.
On March 6, the Wisconsin State Senate rejected a highly touted mining bill that would have attracted a $1.5 billion investment from mining company Gogebic Taconite who planned to create several hundreds of jobs in northern Wisconsin. In addition to the economic development in northern Wisconsin, the mining bill was expected to be a boon for Southeast Wisconsin and Carpenter’s district in particular where mining equipment is manufactured.
When the mining bill came to the Senate floor for a vote, all 16 Democrats and 1 Republican voted the measure down much to the surprise of Republican leadership who apparently expected Senator Carpenter to vote for the bill. According to John Mercure of Milwaukee’s TMJ4, the vote went like this:
On Tuesday, Republican Senate leadership decided to call the vote, believing they have the numbers for passage. Then in the afternoon, the Democrats caucus, John was told by an inside source, they felt good about the fact that they had all their members and Republican Dale Schultz set to vote against the bill. They believed defeat of the governor’s mining bill was at hand. At that point, Carpenter spoke up and indicated he might bolt, and vote for the measure. As you can imagine, chaos emerged.
About 5 p.m the vote was called. Nervously, Democrats and Republicans filed into the chamber. Both sides though they had the votes to win. Both sides were also very nervous. State Sen. Tim Carpenter is the first one in the roll call. All eyes were on him as the roll was called. Almost immediately there was confusion. John reports there was a murmur and he looked confused. Senate President Mike Ellis asked Carpenter if that was how he intended to vote and he abruptly changed his vote and cast the vote that would ultimately defeat the measure.
Republicans were stunned. The labor unions that had negotiated the Milwaukee based training deal were angry — and confused. One union guy John spoke with Wednesday said he feels that Carpenter betrayed them. 95% of the thousands of jobs created would have been family supporting union jobs.
After the Senate rejected the bill, the mining company Gogebic Taconite announced they would be pulling out of Wisconsin and the state lost billions of dollars in investment, the addition of hundreds of jobs in northern Wisconsin, and the loss of potentially thousands of manufacturing jobs in southeast Wisconsin.
Given the close margin of victory that Coggs won by, voters may have soured on the longtime Democratic lawmaker who balked at the chance to vote for jobs in his own district. And beyond losing out on the City Treasurer job, Carpenter is losing out on a pay raise. The City Treasurer in Milwaukee currently earns $141,815 while the base salary for State Senators is $49,943.