Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said the Senate vote to oust Elections Commission Administrator Michael Haas and Ethics Commission Administrator Brian Bell was a “storm that’s been brewing” for a long time.
Haas and Bell failed to win confirmation in a Senate vote last week that broke down along party lines. Republican senators said they no longer had confidence in Haas and Bell to lead the commissions, since both previously worked for the now-defunct Government Accountability Board, which was involved with investigations of Gov. Scott Walker’s campaign and conservative groups.
Fitzgerald said it was clear in a Republican Senate caucus meeting in December that there would not be enough votes to confirm Haas and Bell, who were serving on an interim basis.
“This is a storm that’s been brewing for over a year, and it finally came to a conclusion with a vote on the Senate floor,” the Juneau Republican said on “UpFront with Mike Gousha,” produced in partnership with WisPolitics.com.
Fitzgerald said the confirmation vote should have come sooner.
“We should have taken (Haas and Bell) up right away and voted them down, instead of allowing them to serve in that capacity as long as they did,” Fitzgerald said.
Bell has returned to a previous state job, but the Elections Commission voted to re-appoint Haas, at least through the April 30. Fitzgerald insisted that Haas is not running the commission.
Gousha asked if it was wise to replace Haas with elections coming up in February, April, August and November. Fitzgerald said there are other competent people working for the Elections Commission who can oversee elections, and that it’s the clerks around the state who run elections.
“You’re never going to be in a non-election cycle,” Fitzgerald said. “We’re going to be fine.”
He also said it was “laughable” that Ethics Commission Chairman David Halbrooks likened him to disgraced U.S. Sen. Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin.
“It’s laughable. It’s kind of ridiculous. You know, there’s no reason for any name calling,” Fitzgerald said.
“I think it actually underscores what’s wrong with Ethics and Elections right now. The way that they have handled themselves and acted since this all came up, I think, just proves once again we just don’t have the level of professionalism that we need in those agencies, and I think they can get there, and I think the Legislature can help do that,” he said.
In another segment, Sen. Kathleen Vinehout, D-Alma, a candidate for governor, said there’s “a disconnect between what’s happening in Wisconsin and the rosy picture the governor gave in his State of the State address.”
“People are hurting,” she said. “People don’t have money in their pockets. They’re worried about health care. They’re worried about whether or not their kids are going to have a better life than they did.”
Vinehout said Republican Gov. Scott Walker is “trying to remake himself” with new proposals on health care, and funding for rural schools and rural economic development.
“He’s a bit like a leopard trying to scrub off his spots and paint some new ones,” she said. “I don’t know that people are going to be buying it.”
Gousha also asked Vinehout about the status of her gubernatorial campaign, after recent financial reports showed her with only about $17,000 cash on hand.
“You know 90 percent of people agree that we’ve got to get money out of politics. The way to get money out of politics, at least in the short run, is to beat it,” she said. “That’s what our campaign is all about. We’re focused on organizing; we’re focused on the power of the people.”
“I’m out to beat the system,” she said.
Dan Kohl, Democratic candidate in the 6th Congressional District, also appeared on the program to discuss his bid to challenge incumbent U.S. Rep. Glenn Grothman, R-Glenbeulah.
Kohl said he’s hearing that people are concerned about the “state of our democracy.”
“There’s just a prevailing sense out there that the big problems we face as a country aren’t being addressed,” he said.
Kohl said the voters he talks to feel “their concerns aren’t being listened to and that they’re being left behind.”
“I think there is a thirst out there for problem solvers,” he said. “We need to bring people together. We need more people in Washington who are going to look for common ground.”
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