December 6, 2022

State Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills, who helped oversee budgets and pushed to bring school choice to Wisconsin, announced Wednesday that she’ll end her 32-year political career and retire Dec. 1.
In a letter to Senate President Chris Kapenga, Darling said it “has been my honor and privilege to represent the great people of Wisconsin. 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.
“Serving requires many sacrifices and I look forward to giving family and friends my full attention,” Darling said.
First elected to the state Assembly in 1990, Darling has served in the state Senate since 1992 and authored more than 200 bills that became law.
As co-chair of the powerful joint finance committee, Darling’s office said she helped deliver “more than $20 billion in tax relief since 2011.”
In a statement, Darling said, “as the longest-serving woman to co-chair the Joint Committee on Finance, I made sure each and every dollar was spent prudently knowing this money comes from the hardworking people of our state. Our state finances went from massive projected deficits to real surpluses. This was not by chance or accident. I followed the same principles my parents taught me and the same ones Wisconsin families follow every day.”
Darling added she was “proud to be one of the original authors of the first school choice program in the nation. I fought to make sure every child in the state has access to a quality education.”
Republicans praised Darling for her longtime work in helping guide key policy in the state.
Kapenga, the Senate president, said he accepted Darling’s resignation “with sadness and gratitude for her many years of service.”
Sen. Howard Marklein, R-Spring Green, said as co-chair of joint finance Darling “fought tough battles, remained strong and put the people of Wisconsin first throughout her career.”
Sen. Van Wanggaard, R-Racine, said Darling is “the definition of a public servant and a champion for Wisconsin.”
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, called Darling his “dear friend,” and said she “is a kind and caring woman who could crack up a whole room with her sense of humor. She was a role model to many and her legacy will be defined by helping turn the state’s massive fiscal deficit into surpluses used for transformational tax reform.”
A former high school English teacher and then a stay-at-home mom, Darling entered public life through community volunteering. She held several high-profile leadership positions.
She ran for her first political seat in 1990 in a special election for an Assembly seat. She won a three-way GOP primary with a shade more than 50% of the vote and ran unopposed in the general election.
A cancer survivor, she battled breast cancer in 2000 and skin cancer in 2011. In 2019, she had a health incident in Washington, D.C., where she fell.
She also continued her political career after the death of her husband, Bill Darling, in 2015. Even as she mourned, she expressed her determination to continue in politics to press for education reform.
Darling, 78, was last re-elected in 2020. A special election will have to be called by Gov. Tony Evers to fill out the remainder of her four-year term.
In a tweet, Evers said 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. I’ve always appreciated her thoughtfulness in our conversations over the years.”
The competitive seat in the 8th Senate District could emerge as a key political battleground with the Republican supermajority in the upper chamber potentially in play.
Through the years, Darling was a formidable candidate, fending off Democrats, including a robust challenge by Sheldon Wasserman in 2008 and a recall effort by Sandy Pasch in 2011.
In 2020, she defeated Democrat Neil Plotkin by nearly 10 points.
It’s a little early to assess who might run for the seat. Among the Republican legislators who live in the district are state Reps. Janel Brandtjen and Dan Knodl.
Knodl told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: “I thank those that have already reached out encouraging me to run. I am seriously considering it. Like the rest, I’m spending time with family over the holiday weekend and we will have a healthy conversation.”
For Democrats, attention may focus on state Rep. Deb Andraca, who said: “I think it’s important to show gratitude for the race I just won before jumping into anything new. I will be spending the holiday focusing on things like cranberries, not campaigns.”

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