Wisconsin’s Republican-controlled State Senate on Thursday rejected Wisconsin Elections Commission Administrator Meagan Wolfe’s nomination to serve another four-year term, a move that normally would end the controversial regulator’s tenure in office.
But liberals are already challenging the Senate’s overwhelming vote to fire Wolfe, and the bureaucrat has defiantly said she’s not going anywhere.
All 22 Republican state senators voted to fire Wolfe; all 11 Democrats voted against her removal. Republicans hold a supermajority in Wisconsin’s upper house.
“Wisconsinites have concerns with election integrity, and Meagan Wolfe has lost the trust of many Wisconsinites due to her efforts to skirt the rule of law,” said State Senator Duey Stroebel (R-Saukville), a long-time Wolfe critic. “Meagan Wolfe had the opportunity to defend her position as WEC Administrator, but could not even take the time to show up to her hearing. I called for Meagan Wolfe’s resignation back in 2021, and it still holds true today.”
Far-left Attorney General Josh Kaul quickly filed a pre-packaged lawsuit following the vote, arguing the Senate’s action has “no legal effect.” That’s an interesting interpretation of the state Constitution, which, like the U.S. Constitution, vests in the Senate the exclusive authority in “advice and consent” on nominees serving in the executive branch.
“Any individual nominated by the governor or another state officer or agency, and with the advice and consent of the senate appointed, to any office or position may not hold the office or position, be nominated again for the office or position, or perform any duties of the office or position during the legislative session biennium if the individual’s confirmation for the office or position is rejected by the senate,” state law declares.
Kaul and his fellow Democrats believe the Senate’s confirmation vote is invalid because the Wisconsin Elections Commission earlier this summer did not produce a majority (at least 4-2) in bringing Wolfe’s re-nomination to the Senate. The six-member commission’s three Republicans instead approved a motion to do so 3-0, while the Democrats abstained.
It was clearly a procedural game played by the Democrats, believing they could keep Wolfe in the administrator post after her term expired in June.
But Republicans asserted the 3-0 vote is the majority needed, and the Senate called the confirmation vote.
It’s the latest constitutional crisis at a state agency known for them. In late 2017, the Republican-controlled Senate denied the nomination of then WEC Administrator Michael Haas, who had been involved in the illegal John Doe investigations while at the Government Accountability Board, the Elections Commission’s predecessor. Haas, like Wolfe, attempted to stay on with the backing of the liberals on the commission. He ultimately resigned.
Wolfe, a long-time state elections bureaucrat, was later unanimously confirmed to succeed Haas.
She has followed Haas in her refusal to leave a post she has been fired from.
“The Senate’s vote today to remove me is not a referendum on the job I do but rather a reaction to not achieving the political outcome they desire,” Wolfe said in a highly partisan statement. “The political outcome they desired is to have someone in this position of their own choosing that would bend to those political pressures.”
Many in the mainstream media, as they repeatedly have done over Wolfe’s controversial tenure, sprang to the embattled administrator’s defense.
An Associated Press story on the Senate vote asserts the “fight over who will lead the elections agency stems from persistent lies about the 2020 election and creates instability ahead of the 2024 presidential race for the state’s more than 1,800 local clerks who actually run elections.”
The local elections clerks act on guidance and rules drawn up by Wolfe and her staff. As The AP story fails to note, several of the Wisconsin Elections Commission guidance documents and rules have been found to be in violation of state election laws. Among them, WEC staff’s guidance that told those elections officials they could widely use absentee ballot drop boxes during the hotly contested 2020 presidential election. The Wisconsin Supreme Court found the use of such drop boxes was a violation of state election law.
Commissioners generally follow the counsel of the election “experts” on staff in voting on guidance.
Wolfe also referred a long-time Democratic Party operative to local elections officials, according to emails uncovered through open records requests. The operative, records show, had access to absentee ballot boxes on the night of the election and worked closely with the Green Bay and Milwaukee election offices — thanks to millions of dollars in so-called “safe elections” grants funded by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.
Kaul insists that the state Senate has “blatantly ignored Wisconsin law in order to put its stamp of approval on baseless attacks against elections.” Wolfe, he added at a press conference, “remains administrator.”
“The court, I’m very confident, will confirm that,” he said.
The attorney general seems to suggest in his lawsuit that the deadlocked Elections Commission could mean Wolfe has a lifetime appointment as administrator, a position that does not appear to be supported by law.
Republicans say Kaul is making “apples to oranges” comparisons in citing a recent state Supreme Court ruling in which a Department of Natural Resources Board member was allowed to hold his position after his term expired because a confirmation vote was not called. In the case of Wolfe, Republicans argue her nomination was established by the 3-0 vote, and the Senate did its job.
Republican senators also introduced a resolution calling on the Elections Commission to name an interim administrator.
If the WEC commissioners fail to appoint a new administrator within the next 45 days, the Joint Legislative Committee on Organization will be in the position to vote to appoint an interim administrator on Oct. 29, according to the controlling statute. The interim administrator would serve a one-year term.
State Rep. Tim Ranthum (R-Campbellsport), a passionate election integrity advocate the left and their allies in the media love to hate, has co-sponsored a bill demanding Wolfe be impeached “for corrupt conduct in office.”
Also this week … the Republican-controlled Senate used its supermajority to override what they see as some of Governor Tony Evers’ more egregious vetoes. Among them, the Democrat’s partial budget veto in July that gutted the GOP’s $3.5 billion income tax cut and reduced the number of state tax brackets.
At the same time, Evers used Wisconsin’s powerful line-item veto pen to sneak in an audacious 400-year property tax increase to fund schools.
The governor insists the Republican tax plan gives too much relief to wealthier taxpayers.
“Evers’ partial budget vetoes made it abundantly clear that he will do everything in his power to keep your money so he can spend it as he sees fit. That’s just wrong,” Stroebel said. “Unsurprisingly, not a single Democrat voted to give their constituents meaningful tax relief as Wisconsinites continue to face inflationary pressures.”
The Senate’s veto overrides now head to the Assembly, where Republicans are two representatives shy of a supermajority. A vote there may very well be academic but demonstrative, sending a message that Democrats aren’t interested in bringing across-the-bard tax relief to Wisconsin taxpayers.
Meanwhile, the GOP-led Assembly passed a nearly $3 billion income tax cut. Evers has vowed to veto that bill, too.
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M.D. Kittle is the National Political Editor for The Star News Network.
Photo “Meagan Wolfe” by Wisconsin Elections Commission. Background Photo “Wisconsin State Capitol” by Vijay Kumar Koulampet. CC BY-SA 3.0.