Kessler Column: Don't Let Partisans Run Our Elections
By Rep. Fred Kessler (D-Milwaukee)
In today’s highly polarized political environment, the last thing that Wisconsin needs is to have our elections governed by partisan officials. Unfortunately, Gov. Walker’s fellow Republicans are proposing changes that would undo the progress our state has made in removing partisan politics from establishing and enforcing election rules.
The nonpartisan Government Accountability Board, which oversees elections and ethics issues in our state, has come under fire in recent months and weeks from Republicans who are unhappy with recent rulings over recall elections from the board’s panel of six non-partisan judges.
Republican legislators such as Sen. Scott Fitzgerald, Sen. Leah Vukmir and Rep. Jim Ott have issued statements that allege partisan bias in the board’s rulings. These comments are interesting, to say the least, when one considers the fact that the legislation creating the Government Accountability Board passed both houses with overwhelming bipartisan support. In fact, every single Republican in 2007, including Sen. Fitzgerald, Sen. Vukmir and Rep. Ott, voted for it. Additionally, the current board contains two former Republican elected officials as members and Judge Thomas Barland, former Republican Representative from Eau Claire, as chairman.
The creation of the Government Accountability Board passed with overwhelming support from Republicans and Democrats precisely because the law set up a sophisticated process to shield the board from partisanship. Under the law, the governor must select a former judge from a list of at least two nominees named by a committee of state appeals court judges, a committee on which my wife, Judge Joan Kessler, does not serve. The nominee must then be confirmed by a two-thirds vote of the Senate.
In 2007, Gov. Doyle and legislative Democrats worked with Republicans to institute a special process to ensure that the Republican-controlled Assembly could also have a say in the confirmation process and remove any possibility of Democrats only nominating and confirming Democratic judges. The first six nominees were unanimously confirmed by Republicans and Democrats in both houses.
Republicans that blast the board as being partisan are not only ignoring their own vote history, they are also ignoring recent rulings from the board that have angered Democrats, such as the finding that there was no criminal misconduct in Waukesha County Clerk Kathy Nickolaus’s handling of the election results this past spring.
So the board has issued rulings that have angered both Republicans and Democrats.
With the very real possibility of Gov. Walker facing a recall election soon, Wisconsin voters need to be able to trust that elections themselves are not being hijacked by the very partisan officials that may be recalled by concerned citizens.