MacIver News Service | January 31, 2018
By M.D. Kittle
MADISON, Wis. – The state Elections Commission resistance movement continues.
Despite warnings by fellow commissioner Dean Knudson that the defiant elections law agency is quickly losing its “window” to name a new interim administrator, the commission on Wednesday voted 4-2 to table Knudson’s motion to move on.
“I think the Senate has voted. I think the administrator position is vacant,” Knudson, one of three Republicans on the six-member bipartisan body, told his fellow commissioners. “I would encourage the commission to move forward, to come together and recognize what is best for the state is for us to begin a thorough, methodical, nationwide search for long-term leadership for this commission.”
Last week, the Republican-controlled Senate, on a party-line vote, rejected confirming Elections interim administrator Michael Haas and Ethics Commission interim administrator Brian Bell to four-year terms.
The bureaucrats are former agents of the state Government Accountability Board, the political speech regulator that partnered with the Democrat-led Milwaukee County District Attorney’s office in the unconstitutional John Doe investigation that illegally targeted dozens of conservative groups. Bell was not involved in the abusive probe, but allegations that he failed to alert officials to millions of John Doe records in the possession of the Ethics Commission drew concerns from Republican Senators. Haas, despite his assertions to the contrary, was a key player in the John Doe, according to emails released in a lawsuit won by some of the conservatives targeted.
Bell left quietly, taking a former position at another state agency. Haas did not.
The Elections Commission a week ago reacted to the Senate vote by moving to keep Haas right where he was, in open defiance of the Senate, its constitutional authority, and in opposition to Knudson and Jodi Jensen, another Republican on the commission.
Haas has continued to report to his leadership post despite the fact that the state Department of Administration no longer recognizes him as administrator. Haas, who under Civil Service protections was bumped into the post of Elections staff attorney (a demotion that included a substantial pay cut), was placed in the uncomfortable position Wednesday of calling the roll on Knudson’s motion to replace him.Knudson and Jensen said their fellow commissioners are putting the commission’s statutory authority in peril by not moving forward and naming a new interim administrator. #wiright #wipolitics Click To Tweet
Knudson’s motion called for the commission to appoint deputy administrator Meagan Wolfe to fill the administrator post until the completion of a six-month national search for a new, permanent administrator – one that could win confirmation from the Republican-controlled Senate.
Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) in pointing to state statute, has said the commission has 45 days from last Tuesday to appoint a new interim administrator, or a legislative committee will do so.
“I am concerned that today’s decision to delay hiring an administrator will force the legislature to act, as is required by state law,” Fitzgerald said Wednesday afternoon in a statement. He added that he will be reaching out to the Joint Committee on Legislative Organization, co-chaired by Sen. Roger Roth (R-Appleton) and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester), as well as Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling (D-La Crosse) to “discuss the issue.”
“In the meantime, I urge the commission to reconsider its position and install a new administrator prior to the March 9th deadline,” Fitzgerald said.
Republican senators have said they would not vote to confirm any former GAB staffer. Wolfe worked at GAB prior, but was not involved in the John Doe investigation.
In tabling Knudson’s motion, the commission (4-2) approved revisiting the motion at a special meeting on March 2.
Knudson and Jensen said their fellow commissioners are putting the commission’s statutory authority in peril by not moving forward and naming a new interim administrator.
There, too, is the very important question of whether anything Haas does as administrator is legitimate.
“I don’t know if any decisions made by Mr. Haas during this period of time will be challenged. I know they could be challenged,” Knudson said, reminding his fellow commissioners that “a dark cloud” will continue to dog the agency as long as Haas remains in the position.
Commission Vice Chairwoman Ann Jacobs said it wasn’t necessary to act immediately. The Democrat said the Senate’s vote to reject Haas will make hiring his replacement challenging.
“I am less than sanguine about the thought of getting some really terrific national candidates out there who are eager to come here and be subject to the sword of Damocles hanging over their head all the time if they veer from one political party’s belief of what that position should be doing,” Jacobs said. She pointed to the Senate’s decision not to hold a confirmation on Haas and Bell for a year and a half.
Fitzgerald has said he told the interim administrators early on they were never going to have the support of the majority, a point clarified in early December, when Attorney General Brad Schimel released a bombshell report on partisan and illegal conduct of GAB agents involved in the John Doe probe.
Jacobs, as Haas’ defenders have insisted, claims the GAB employees were just doing their jobs.
But their job at the nonpartisan Government Accountability Board was not to conduct secret investigations in a highly partisan way – government sponsored spying operations against the left’s political enemies. That’s what myriad internal GAB communications, multiple courts, and the attorney general’s report found occurred inside the “nonpartisan” GAB.
Jacobs asserts the GOP-led Senate’s actions have “eroded the bipartisan nature of the commission,” something that is “really unfortunately shocking.”
Knudson said it’s really not that complicated.
“I just think it’s very simple and straightforward,” Knudson said of the Commission’s responsibility to follow the will of the Senate, the will of the people. “I thought this was going to be rather noncontroversial, and I still think it ought to be noncontroversial.”
For now, the Elections Commission’s resistance movement goes on.