Michael Haas to step down as Wisconsin Elections Commission leader

MADISON — Embattled Wisconsin Elections Commission administrator Michael Haas said Tuesday that he will step down and not pursue legal options to challenge the state Senate's rejection of his confirmation last month, saying "it is time for this foolishness to end."

Haas also issued a warning, saying Wisconsin risks falling "dangerously behind" in preparing for the fall election in the face of risks and threats to the country's election systems. He urged the Legislature to approve the hiring of three more staffers at the Elections Commission and said he hopes his resignation will remove any obstacle to that happening.

The Republican-controlled Senate last month voted along party lines to reject confirmation of Haas and Ethics Commission director Brian Bell. Republican senators said they had lost trust in both Haas and Bell because of their work for the prior Government Accountability Board, which investigated whether Gov. Scott Walker and conservative groups had violated state campaign laws.

In his resignation letter, Haas said he was a casualty of those obsessed with "settling scores with imaginary ghosts of the Government Accountability Board."

Bell did not fight the action and stepped down two days after the Senate vote, returning to his old job at the state Department of Safety and Professional Services. The Ethics Commission was meeting Tuesday to name an interim director.

Haas called on the Elections Commission to name an interim director at its Friday meeting. He said he supports promoting assistant administrator Meagan Wolfe to be the interim leader, as commission member Dean Knudson proposed. Haas said he will return to his old job as a staff attorney at the commission, a pay cut of $30,000, but will eventually leave the agency to pursue other opportunities.

"The Senate's action has created a major distraction and an untenable situation for the Commission," Haas wrote to commissioners. "It is time for this foolishness to end."

Board chairman Mark Thomsen, a Democratic attorney, said he supported hiring Wolfe for the job, both as interim and then permanently, and that he hopes the Senate will confirm her this year. He said Haas's departure was a loss for the state after he was treated with "disrespect and arbitrary capriciousness" by the Senate.

Haas had been serving as interim director for 19 months before the Senate voted to reject his confirmation. A divided commission voted 4-2 in January to keep Haas as interim director through April 30, providing a transition through last week's spring primary election and the April 3 general election.

Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, who led the charge to remove Haas and Bell, refused to recognize Haas' hiring as interim director. He said if the commission did fill the post by mid-March, the Legislature would appoint a new administrator.

Fitzgerald's spokesman did not immediately reply to a message seeking comment Tuesday.

Haas said he considered pursuing legal action to fight the Senate's action and to try to keep his job, but he didn't want his situation to hurt the agency's chances for more funding from the Legislature.