MacIver News Service | February 1, 2018
By M.D. Kittle
MADISON, Wis. – Dean Knudson authored the bill that disbanded the state Government Accountability Board and created its successors, the separate Ethics and Elections commissions.
So the former Republican lawmaker from Hudson is a pretty good authority on what the GOP-led Legislature intended when it got rid of the troubled “nonpartisan” GAB and replaced it with the commissions.
In recent days Knudson has been crystal clear on what his bill did not do: Give the state Elections Commission the authority to thumb its nose at the state Senate.
But that’s precisely what the commission did in openly defying the Senate’s vote last week to reject the confirmation of interim administrator Michael Haas.
The party-line vote seemed to end the year-and-a-half tenures of Haas and Ethics Commission interim chief Brian Bell.
But the Elections Commission, on a 4-2 vote (with one Republican joining the panel’s three Democrats) effectively said the Senate can pound sand, that the commission has the authority to name any administrator it wants – and it wants Haas.
The majority GOP doesn’t want Haas, an agent in the unconstitutional John Doe investigation into dozens of conservative groups and Gov. Scott Walker’s campaign. Their vote to reject him made that clear.
Knudson, one of three Republican members of the commission he helped to create believes the message was clear. He supported Haas up until just after the Senate called the vote.
Last week – and again on Wednesday – Knudson implored his fellow commissioners to see the writing on the wall, to move on and appoint a truly new interim administrator while the commission seeks a permanent, qualified Elections chief. The majority failed to heed his warning. They’re staying with Haas, for now, even as the bureaucrat has officially been demoted by the state Department of Administration and as Republicans warn that Haas has no legal standing as administrator.
Knudson addressed those issues and others Wednesday in an interview with MacIver News Service.
M: Your comment last week was pretty clear, that this was no longer a matter of the commission’s confidence in Mr. Haas. It was the Senate’s decision to make. Are you concerned about the potential that Elections decisions signed off on by Mr. Haas, or his involvement in them, may be challenged at the court level?
K: The commission has delegated certain authorities and duties to the administrator. I think during this period while Mr. Haas serves as administrator it will be incumbent on the chairman to make sure that he and the commission have essentially signed off on important decisions that might be subject to challenge. It would be far cleaner and better for us just to move on with a new interim administrator who doesn’t have a cloud hanging over them.
M: That’s what you brought up here, is that there is the “cloud” issue, the concern moving forward you don’t have the backing of the Senate, and the Senate does have the constitutional authority to confirm.
K: There is nothing unusual about that. We are an executive branch agency. Our system of checks and balances and divided government is set up that the executive branch often nominates and there’s a legislative confirmation process. And that’s a check. No one who’s being checked likes it when it happens, but that is what happened here – our nominee wasn’t confirmed. It happens. You can debate the merits of that, but I think it will be a hard case to make that that is somehow inappropriate or that system will never work. That system has worked for a long time in our country and it will continue to work a long time after this is all sorted out. There will be executive branch nominees, not just in Wisconsin but in other states, at the federal level, that need to be confirmed by a legislative branch of political, elected officials with their political view of things. And sometimes that means politics gets involved. It’s natural.
M: And it’s not like it’s a divided base here. Every Republican member of the Senate has concerns about Michael Haas. That said, do you believe the commission’s actions over the past several days, to continue to keep Mr. Haas in the interim position, are a negation of the will of the Senate, the will of the people?
K: The senate has done their job. It’s time for us to do our job. Our job is to appoint a new administrator. We can do that on an interim basis, but it will be far better if we find someone who can actually be confirmed. That’s what is ultimately best for voters in Wisconsin who want to see elections run cleanly, smoothly, fairly.