It's a given that lawmakers in the minority party are frozen out of leadership positions on legislative committees, powerful or otherwise. It's the chairperson, after all, who holds the power to advance or kill legislation.
So it's no surprise that Democrats, who have been the minority party in both the state Senate and state Assembly since 2010, when Republican Gov. Scott Walker also took office, chair no committees. But this session is a new low for Dane County Democratic lawmakers, who have no representation at all on the powerful Joint Finance Committee and hold no leadership posts in their own caucus.
"[It] looks like the party has moved away from a Dane-centric point of view," says Barry Burden, political science professor at University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Burden cites the retirement of veteran Madison lawmaker Spencer Black and the departures of former Reps. Joe Parisi and Mark Pocan, now serving as Dane County executive and U.S. representative, respectively, as one reason for the loss of Dane County leadership.
Three Dane Democrats were just elected this fall - Reps. Melissa Sargent, Robb Kahl and Dianne Hesselbein - and Madison Reps. Brett Hulsey and Chris Taylor are in their second terms.
In terms of caucus leadership, Burden says, "Democrats really felt awash" after failing to oust Gov. Scott Walker in the 2012 recall election. Burden says one result was to opt for new blood.
While Peter Barca of Kenosha continued to serve as the Assembly minority leader, Democratic senators elected freshman Sen. Chris Larson (D-Milwaukee) as their new leader in November 2012. Larson beat out Sen. Jon Erpenbach of Middleton, who has served in the Senate since 1999.
Rep. Terese Berceau (D-Madison) says Dane County legislators have always had to fight for leadership positions in the statehouse.
"It's not only right now," says Berceau. "Dane County is considered much more liberal than the rest of the state."
"I've always faced the issue that we're not going to have more than one Dane County representative on a powerful committee," adds Berceau.
Black says Republican domination of state government since 2010 has already had a disproportionately negative influence on Madison and Dane County. Budget cuts for the UW System, the dissolution of regional transit authorities, the rejection of federal money for high-speed rail and the disenfranchisement of public employees after Act 10 have all hurt local residents and the local economy.
But the further marginalization of Dane County Dems might not have much practical effect.
No member of the minority party on the Joint Finance Committee has much chance of inserting pet projects in the budget, for instance, so no big loss there.
Berceau says she's not worried about Dane County because Milwaukee Democrats are well represented. "We have very much agreement with our urban representatives from the Milwaukee area," she says.
Parisi acknowledges that it's usually easier to make progress when one's own party is in power, but says he "can still get things done" as county executive.
He says he recently worked with the Department of Agriculture on a plan to build new barn facilities at the Alliant Energy Center - an important step to keep the World Dairy Expo at the facility. Of the $18 million bill, the state will cover half, he says.
"What's really important," Parisi says, "is people's ability to work with other folks."