By JEFF BAENEN
Wisconsin saw the defeat of Gov. Scott Walker, a teenage girl mysteriously missing and a summer of storms in 2018.
A look at the top stories of the year:
Tony Evers narrowly beat Walker in November as the divisive Republican and onetime presidential candidate sought a third term in Wisconsin’s highest office. The 67-year-old Evers emerged from an eight-way Democratic primary to beat Walker, whose 2011 Act 10 eliminated collective bargaining for most public employees.
Thanks to a strong blue turnout, Democrats swept all the statewide offices. U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin easily won re-election over her GOP challenger, Leah Vukmir.
But Republicans still control the Legislature and have approved bills to curtail Evers’ powers and those of the incoming Attorney General, Josh Kaul, in a lame-duck session.
Evers, a former teacher who has been the state schools superintendent since 2009, accused Republicans of trying to cling to power. GOP leaders defended the changes, which they predict will be upheld in court.
Saying he needed to spend more time with his family, House Speaker Paul Ryan decided against seeking re-election to his congressional seat representing parts of southern Wisconsin.
The Janesville Republican was first elected in 1998 and was the GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s running mate in 2012. Ryan pushed through a massive GOP tax cut bill in 2017, and called Washington’s failure to control federal entitlement programs “our greatest unfinished business” in his farewell address .
His protege, Bryan Steil, was elected in November to replace Ryan in the U.S. House, defeating the Democratic ironworker Randy Bryce.
MISSING GIRL MYSTERY
Authorities in western Wisconsin continue to grapple with a mysterious disappearance that occurred in mid-October. Jayme Closs, a 13-year-old girl, went missing from her home in Barron after her parents, James and Denise Closs, were fatally shot. Authorities quickly ruled out Jayme as a suspect and said they believed she was kidnapped, but she remains missing and authorities are baffled by the lack of clues.
Despite ground searches and an outpouring of tips, officials have turned up no evidence. Recently, hundreds of people turned out in Barron to light a “tree of hope” seeking Jayme’s safe return.
This summer, it rained and rained and rained in Wisconsin. The barrage of severe storms caused widespread flooding across throughout Wisconsin and forced evacuations around Madison.
In the capital city, surging waters swept a 70-year-old man away from his rescuers and to his death in August. Gov. Walker declared a statewide emergency and toured the flood damage, tweeting that the devastation was “amazing” and “heartbreaking.” Storms also spawned more than a dozen tornadoes in late August.
SUPERIOR REFINERY EXPLOSION
An explosion in April at a Husky Energy refinery in Superior injured three dozen people, sent up billowing clouds of black smoke into the air and forced the evacuation of a large part of the northwestern Wisconsin city.
Officials were concerned about the presence of hydrogen fluoride at the plant. The chemical is used to process high-octane gasoline and can produce toxic vapor clouds. But the tank containing hydrogen fluoride was not damaged.
The U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board later traced the source of the explosion to a hole in a valve. That hole had allowed air to mix with hydrocarbons. The plant is not expected to resume operations until 2020.
SUN PRAIRIE BLAST
A firefighter was killed, 11 other people injured and a city block leveled by a natural-gas explosion in downtown Sun Prairie on July 10. The firefighter Cory Barr was off duty when he rushed into the restaurant he owned to help rescue people. The blast occurred as he was leaving Barr House, killing him.
Five other firefighters and a police officer were among the injured. Six businesses and a home were destroyed. Police Chief Patrick Anhalt said a subcontractor who was installing fiber-optic communication lines had struck the gas main about 40 minutes before the explosion. Miscommunication and an improperly marked gas main were ultimately blamed for the blast, and authorities said no one will be charged.
Barr’s widow, Abby Barr, has filed a wrongful-death lawsuit, and two injured firefighters also are filing lawsuits.
STERLING BROWN TASED
Police used a stun gun when they arrested the Milwaukee Bucks guard Sterling Brown on Jan. 26. Brown was waiting for a citation for illegally parking in a spot reserved for the disabled when officers arrested him outside a Walgreens after he didn’t immediately remove his hands from his pockets. Brown later sued the city of Milwaukee and its police department, alleging officers had used excessive force and targeted him because he is black.
Police Chief Alfonso Morales apologized to Brown when body-camera video of his arrest was released. Brown was not charged and several officers were disciplined.
One officer who was fired over social-media posts mocking Brown’s arrest lost his appeal.