The three candidates who could replace Melissa Agard as Senate Democratic Leader

Agard Smith Roys Hesselbein Capitol

State Sen. Melissa Agard (top left) announced Thursday she will step down as Senate Minority Leader as she runs for Dane County Executive in 2024. Three fellow Democrats have announced their intention to seek the leadership post: Sens. Jeff Smith (top right), Kelda Roys (bottom left), and Dianne Hesselbein (bottom right). (Contributed photos)

By Pat Kreitlow

November 30, 2023

State Senators Dianne Hesselbein, Kelda Roys, and Jeff Smith will ask their colleagues for support in an election as early as next week.

First from UpNorthNews – Three state senators have announced their intention to run for Senate Democratic Leader after Thursday morning’s announcement that Sen. Melissa Agard is leaving the leadership post in order to run for Dane County Executive next year.

Sens. Jeff Smith, from the Eau Claire Co. Town of Brunswick; Kelda Roys from Madison; and Dianne Hesselbein from Middleton will face off as early as next Monday seeking the votes of the eight other Democrats in their caucus.

Agard is the second candidate to announce for Dane County Executive, following incumbent Joe Parisi’s decision to retire in May. Madison Alder Regina Vidaver announced her candidacy last month. The general election would take place in November 2024, with an August primary if three or more candidates get into the race.

Smith, a former state Assembly representative, previously owned a small business in Eau Claire. Roys, who also served in the Assembly, is a member of the Joint Finance Committee and has run in past Democratic primaries for governor and US House. She is former executive director of NATAL-Pro Choice Wisconsin. Hesselbein served previously on the Dane County Board and the school board for the Middleton Cross Plains Area School District.

Smith said Agard will be missed, but that the Dane County Executive position would be a good move for her and the residents of Dane County. All three candidates to replace her as Senate Minority Leader are expected to emphasize the need for Democrats to focus on winning elections in districts that would put them back in control of the 33-member Senate for the first time in more than a decade.

The makeup of districts in the Wisconsin Legislature could change dramatically if a legal challenge to the current boundaries is successful. The Wisconsin Supreme Court, now with a 4-3 progressive majority, heard oral arguments last week in a case where plaintiffs want the court to order completely new–and not gerrymandered–maps to be drawn of Senate and Assembly districts. If that happens, every legislator would have to stand for reelection in 2024 if they want to continue serving in one of the new districts, even the senators who would normally be in the middle of a four-year term.

[Editor’s Note: Story has been corrected to reflect Sen. Roys previously ran for US House, not US Senate.]


  • Pat Kreitlow

    The Founding Editor of UpNorthNews, Pat was a familiar presence on radio and TV stations in western Wisconsin before serving in the state Legislature. After a brief stint living in the Caribbean, Pat and wife returned to Chippewa Falls to be closer to their growing group of grandchildren. He now serves as UNN's chief political correspondent and host of UpNorthNews Radio, airing weekday mornings 6 a.m.-8 a.m on the Civic Media radio network and the UpNorthNews Facebook page.



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