A look at the top stories of the year:
Democrat 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, with U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin easily winning re-election over GOP challenger Leah Vukmir. But Republicans still dominate the Legislature and approved bills later signed by Walker to curtail Evers’ powers and those of incoming Democratic Attorney General Josh Kaul in a lame-duck session.
Evers, a former teacher who has been the state’s schools superintendent since 2009, accused Republicans of trying to cling to power. GOP leaders defended the moves and predict they 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 from southern Wisconsin.
The Janesville Republican was first elected in 1998 and was 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 growing federal entitlement programs “our greatest unfinished business” in his farewell address .
Protege Bryan Steil was elected in November to replace Ryan in the U.S. House, defeating Democratic ironworker Randy Bryce.
MISSING GIRL MYSTERY
Authorities in western Wisconsin continue to grapple with a mysterious disappearance that occurred in mid-October. Thirteen-year-old Jayme Closs went missing from her Barron home 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” for Jayme’s safe return.
This summer, it rained and rained and rained in Wisconsin. The barrage of severe storms caused widespread flooding across southern 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 April explosion 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 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. Firefighter Cory Barr was off duty when he rushed into the restaurant he owned to help evacuate 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 struck the gas main about 40 minutes before the explosion. But while miscommunication and an improperly marked gas main were blamed for the blast, authorities said no one will be charged.
Barr’s widow, Abby Barr, has filed a wrongful-death lawsuit, and two injured firefighters also are suing.
STERLING BROWN TASED
Police used a stun gun when they arrested Milwaukee Bucks guard Sterling Brown on Jan. 26. Brown was waiting for a citation for illegally parking in a disabled spot when officers arrested him outside of 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 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.
BREWERS UP, PACKERS DOWN
The Milwaukee Brewers had an up year, while the Green Bay Packers were down — way down.
Outfielder Christian Yelich had a breakout year after the Brewers traded for him before the 2018 season. The popular Serbian-American was named the National League Most Valuable Player after hitting 36 home runs and 110 RBIs. His .326 batting average also gave Milwaukee its first batting title in team history.
The Brewers also made it deep into the playoffs before the Los Angeles Dodgers beat them 5-1 in Game 7 of the NLCS.
But the Packers woes are ongoing as the NFL regular season winds to a close. After the Arizona Cardinals upset the Packers 20-17 at Lambeau Field on Dec. 2, Green Bay fired coach Mike McCarthy — who was in his 13th season — and made offensive coordinator Joe Philbin the interim head coach.
Team president Mark Murphy said the 2018 season “has not lived up to the expectations and standards of the Green Bay Packers.” For the first time since the 2008 season, the Packers are not playoff bound.