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Sen. Alberta Darling to retire after 32 years in Wisconsin Legislature

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State Sen. Alberta Darling announced Wednesday she is retiring after 32 years in the Wisconsin Legislature.

Darling, R-River Hills, will retire on Dec. 1. She spent more than two decades on the Legislature’s powerful budget committee and said her nearly 10 years as the committee’s co-chair makes her the longest-serving woman to hold the position. Darling was also one of the original authors of the state’s school choice program — the first of its kind in the nation.

“For the past thirty-two years, it has been my honor and privilege to represent the great people of Wisconsin,” Darling wrote in a Wednesday letter to Senate President Chris Kapenga, R-Delafield. “I am especially fortunate to have been surrounded by a supporting family and staff. I thank them for their patience and dedication to the state of Wisconsin.”

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Darling was first elected to the state Assembly in a May 1990 special election. She was reelected in November 1990 before being elected to the Senate in 1992. Darling said she authored more than 200 bills that eventually became law.

Darling served as co-chair of the Joint Finance Committee from 2011 through the end of 2020, when she was replaced by Sen. Howard Marklein, R-Spring Green. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, announced Wednesday that Rep. Mark Born, R-Beaver Dam, will return as co-chair to the committee next session. Born has served on the committee since 2017.

“I look forward to staying active in the community and spending more time with my grandchildren, family, and friends,” Darling said in a statement. “It is time for someone else to take up the mantle, build on these successes, and continue moving Wisconsin forward.”

Rep. Barbara Dittrich, R-Oconomowoc, described Darling as “nothing but supportive,” adding her “exemplary public service has made her a role model to women of every political persuasion.”

“I stand on the shoulders of great women like Senator Alberta Darling who paved the way for me to improve our children’s education, preserve fiscal responsibility, and pursue policy on a whole host of issues like mental health and child welfare,” Dittrich said. “I wish her nothing but happiness in the days ahead.”

Democratic Gov. Tony Evers tweeted Wednesday that 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.”

Darling survived a 2011 recall election launched by Democrats following the GOP-controlled Legislature’s passage of former Gov. Scott Walker’s Act 10 proposal, which drastically restricts collective bargaining rights in the state. Darling’s nearly 10-point win that year over Democratic state Rep. Sandy Pasch helped Republicans hold on to their narrow majority in the Senate.

She won her latest reelection bid in 2020 by more than 8 points.

Republicans secured 22 of the state Senate’s 33 seats in this year’s general election, giving the party a veto-proof majority in the chamber, though Darling’s departure will put Republicans below the two-thirds majority threshold. Republicans also won 64 of the state’s 99 Assembly seats, falling two districts short of a two-thirds majority.

Under the state Constitution, it takes a vote of two-thirds of the members present in both houses to override a governor’s veto.

Darling’s term in the 8th Senate District concludes in 2024, meaning the remainder of her four-year term will be filled by a special election next year. The 8th Senate District is located north of Milwaukee and includes portions of Whitefish Bay, Brown Deer, Cedarburg, Grafton, Menomonee Falls and Germantown.

It’s unclear who may run for Darling’s seat, but state Reps. Janel Brandtjen, R-Menomonee Falls, Dan Knodl, R-Germantown, and Deb Andraca, D-Whitefish Bay, all reside within her Senate district.

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