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Big Shoes to Fill: The 19th State Senate District Race

For the first time in 32 years the 19th State District seat is open so who will step in?

GREEN BAY, Wis. (WFRV)-- One of Wisconsin’s longest standing politicians is stepping down.  

 Come January the State Senate will look very different without their outspoken President presiding over the floor. 

Sen. Mike Ellis, R-Neenah, said, "I don't fit in in Madison anymore because I want to listen to both sides.”

The Senate President announced in April he would not seek re-election--ending a 32 year run in the Senate and nearly 44 years in the state legislature.  

This iconic leader leaves at a time when the Republican Party’s ideologies are shifting. 

“We’ve seen the wings of the party take control of the message and moderates being marginalized,” said Political Professor St. Norbert’s College, Charley Jacobs

For a district that’s voted for a moderate Republican time and time again—could this give Democrats a chance to win this seat?

“This is one of those open seats where a Democrat has the possibility of winning," said Jacobs.

With Republicans holding an 18-15 majority lead, even losing one seat could mean a more balanced debate. 

Democratic Rep. Penny Bernard Schaber, D-Appleton, is hoping to do just that.

“My presence in the State Senate as a Democrat will make a big difference and just the fact that I’m able to go into the State Senate with support of a lot of people in my community with the knowledge of the community, and have the ability to work with everybody, will make a big difference in the Senate," said Rep. Bernard Schaber.

She’s running on the promise to see more funding for public transportation, creating more jobs, and most importantly fighting for quality education.

“Our biggest amount of support should be to public education first.  And that if there is going to be any kind of support to private schools, they need to be held to the same standards as the public schools," she said.

As someone who comes from a family of 11 children she says she understands the need to negotiate and that’s something her supporters admire her for.

Professor Jacobs says because of her name recognition Rep. Bernard Schaber has a fighting chance to win, but any Democrat will have a hard time winning a seat that’s been held by the Republicans since the early 80’s.

 “If Republicans can find a candidate and put on the ballot who serves and reflects more moderate to conservative views, isn’t perceived as too extreme.  Schaber is going to have quite a bit of effort to expand to slip that seat to the Democratic Party," he said.

Former Republican State Rep. Roger Roth is running to replace Sen. Ellis. 

"The future of our state is at stake. I want to make sure I can go down there and represent the pro-growth, pro-small business, pro-job creation policies which will help advance out state forward," said Roth.


He considers himself more of a conservative Republican—supporting recent legislation like Act 10, tax cuts, and the Charter School Program. 

He’s received endorsements from Governor Scott Walker and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald. 

"As a small business owner, I know what it takes to create jobs. I know what it takes to have those sustainable jobs and I can take those insights to Madison," he said.

But can this conservative Republican fill the shoes of this moderate leader?

Jacobs said, “What Roth needs to do is make himself visible to the public.  If no one knows they might hesitate. “

As far as backing any candidates, Sen. Ellis is taking a back seat. 

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