MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Incoming state Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, a conservative Republican known for his adherence to the party platform, promised Tuesday to set a new more bipartisan tone even as he later joked about who Democrats elected to lead them in the Senate.
Republicans took back control of the Senate in last week's election and widened their majority in the Assembly heading into 2013. Together with Republican Gov. Scott Walker in office, the GOP has full control over state government just as it did in 2011.
Vos was uncontested as speaker, while Assembly Democrats chose to keep Rep. Peter Barca of Kenosha as their leader over Rep. Brett Hulsey of Madison.
In the Senate, Republicans last week stuck with Sen. Scott Fitzgerald as majority leader. Democrats on Tuesday chose 32-year-old Milwaukee Sen. Chris Larson, who was just elected in 2010, over 14-year veteran Sen. Jon Erpenbach as minority leader.
The selection of Larson, who has emerged as one of Walker's fiercest critics during the past two years, led Republicans to erupt in cheers when word leaked in their caucus.
"Sometimes, God gives you a gift," Vos said to the news.
Larson declined to comment on Vos's apparent dig.
"I do believe we can find a way to work together," Larson said.
Leaders in both parties have been talking a lot publicly about working together, as they often do in the days and weeks following elections before the partisan battles begin in earnest.
Vos urged his Republican colleagues to focus on the future as Wisconsin emerges from a tumultuous two years that saw Walker, his lieutenant governor and 13 state senators targeted for recall. Those stemmed from the fight over Walker's proposal last year effectively ending collective bargaining rights for most workers, which led Larson and 13 other Senate Democrats to flee the state for three weeks and sparked massive protests in and around the Capitol.
"We have two choices as elected officials," Vos said. "We can choose to wallow in the past or focus on the future and let the past be just that."
He promised to pursue an aggressive agenda focused on cutting income taxes, reforming education, balancing the budget and passing a mining bill.
Vos, 44, joined the Assembly in 2005 and spent the past two years as co-chair of the powerful budget committee, which held tense hearings on Walker's union proposal that were frequently interrupted by protesters. Vos became a target for protesters, one of whom dumped a beer on his head last year at a bar near the Capitol.
And while Vos made his reputation in the Assembly as an articulate and effective messenger of the Republican's agenda, he also befriended liberal Democratic Rep. Mark Pocan and stressed the importance of getting to know political adversaries.
Vos reiterated that message to Assembly Republicans on Tuesday.
"I promise that as we work together we will set a new tone," he said. "We will try to do everything we can to listen to all of Wisconsin. ... Not one party, not one chamber has a monopoly on good ideas."
Larson, too, said Democrats were willing to work with Republicans to avoid going down the "warpath of ideological pursuits."
Larson replaces Sen. Mark Miller of Monona, who chose not to seek the leadership position again. Vos replaces Rep. Jeff Fitzgerald, the brother of the Senate majority leader. Fitzgerald ran for the U.S. Senate instead of seeking re-election. He lost in the Republican primary to Tommy Thompson.
Barca, who is returning as Assembly Democratic minority leader, also stressed bipartisanship.
"It is clear this fall that people elected candidates who pledged to work together in a bipartisan way to solve problems facing our state, rather than governing as extreme partisans out to punish their adversaries," he said in a statement. "Now we must all be true to what we said in the course of this campaign and govern by putting aside our differences and working together to represent all of Wisconsin."
Republicans hold an 18-15 majority in the Senate and a 60-39 lead in the Assembly, based on unofficial results from last week's election.
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