According to Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald (R – Horicon), the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board (GAB) has “strayed” from its nonpartisan mission and should be replaced. Fitzgerald has stated that he felt the previous highly partisan ethics and elections boards “…worked fairly well,” and he “…liked that system.” Speaker Fitzgerald supported and voted for the formation of the GAB in 2007 to replace the highly partisan elections and ethics boards; both of which were ineffective in light of the Caucus Scandal and other campaign finance controversies. This latest partisan power grab by Fitzgerald is furthur evidence that he is the one who has strayed from good governance, not the GAB.
Created as Act 1 of the 2007 Wisconsin Legislature, the GAB received unprecedented bi-partisan support (only 2 votes against the bill between both the Senate and Assembly). The GAB has received both state and national acclaim for its non-partisan election oversight. In a 2010 article, “The Persistence of Partisan Election Administration”, Daniel Tokaji (Senior Fellow in Election Law at Moritz College of Law) cites the Wisconsin GAB:
” The best American model is Wisconsin’s Government Accountability Board, which consists of retired judges selected in a way that is designed to promote impartiality.
Speaker Fitzgerald forgets the outcry from Progressives and Democrats (including this writer) to the GAB handling of the Kathy Nickolaus incident during the Kloppenburg/Prosser election and recount. Lest we forget; Ms. Nickolaus is still County Clerk in Waukesha County, David Prosser was certified as the winner of the election, and the investigation found no “criminal misconduct” on behalf of Ms. Nickolaus. In spite of remaining unanswered questions regarding numerous election irregularities in Waukesha County; no one on the left considered dissolving the GAB for a more partisan system as an option.
It is, in fact, Speaker Fitzgerald who has strayed from his purpose as an elected legislator and Speaker; not the GAB. Throughout this turbulent year, the GAB has continued to hold hearings completely open to the public – taking open testimony from opponents and proponents of its decisions. The GAB has also followed the letter of the law in its decisions, even while being under assault from the Walker Administration when their opinions are contrary to the GOP agenda. During a Joint Committee for Review of Administrative Rules (JCRAR) hearing, the GAB faced an overtly partisan threat to its autonomy – by being forced to create “Administrative Rule” which Scott Walker (under Act 21) could overturn. Speaker Fitzgerald supported this action against the GAB.
Speaker Fitzgerald spokesman Jeff Jagler confirmed for Badger Democracy that he was standing by his statements regarding the GAB, though no bill is yet in the works. Fitzgerald is “looking at the situation.” When asked what specific rulings or Board Members Fitzgerald takes issue with, Jagler indicated the Speaker “has not specified that”, but he would ask for clarification. As of this writing, no return call has been received with further detail from Fitzgerald’s office.
Speaker Fitzgerald’s actions in this case are completely contrary to his sworn oath to uphold the Constitution of the State of Wisconsin, and reek of partisanship at its worst. It raises valid questions – who does Fitzgerald serve, and is he fulfilling his obligation to Wisconsin, or to an ideology? Fitzgerald’s campaign contributions reveal a great deal of support from outside his district.
Of the top 100 contributions, only 2 are from his district. 17 of the top 100 are from out-of-state, including Foley and Lardner (Maryland), Gogebic Taconite (Florida), M&I Bank (Illinois), Plum Creek Timber (Washington), AT&T (Virginia), Payday Loan Store (Illinois), and WalMart (Arkansas) – all at the individual maximum $500 level for an Assembly Candidate. While Jagler states that Fitzgerald is getting a large number of emails in support of his proposal, he did not commit to making those emails available outside of an Open Records Request – which would take weeks. Rest assured, Badger Democracy will submit that request today.
In calling for the replacement of the GAB, Fitzgerald is violating his oath to uphold the Wisconsin Constitution. Created by a nearly unanimous, bi-partisan vote, the GAB continues to act in accordance with the law, and outside any partisan agenda. The GAB operates openly, legally, and transparently (can Rep. Fitzgerald say the same?) to uphold existing campaign and election law. Speaker Fitzgerald himself, in calling for an end to the GAB, has strayed from the true obligation of an Assembly Speaker – to represent the greater interest of the people of Wisconsin.
Watch Fitzgerald and the GOP closely. Should Fitzgerald introduce Legislation to eliminate the GAB, the duty of the remaining GOP lawmakers ought to be the removal of Fitzgerald as Speaker. GOP lawmakers who helped form the GAB out of an overtly partisan elections board would have a duty to stand up and vote for Fitzgerald’s removal as Speaker for such an egregious partisan action(are you listening, Mike Ellis).
In this political reality, the GOP would take no such action. Threats inside the GOP to its own caucus to toe the line, or face Tea Party primaries in their next election are keeping Republicans in lock-step. It is this type of politic which makes the recall of Scott Walker a constitutional necessity. As the minions of Scott Walker and the Fitzgeralds continue to stray from the greater good for Wisconsin, are there any more Dale Schultz’s out there…or is he the lone sane Republican left in the Wisconsin Legislature?