MADISON — The state Senate has passed a bill that would dissolve the state elections board.
The GOP measure would dismantle the Government Accountability Board, which oversees elections and enforces ethics law. The agency is led by six nonpartisan judges.
Republicans are upset with the board's role in an investigation into whether Gov. Scott Walker's campaign illegally coordinated with outside groups. The state Supreme Court halted the probe this summer; Republicans say the investigation was a political witch-hunt.
The bill would replace the GAB with two commissions made up of partisan appointees. One commission would administer elections. The other would enforce ethics laws.
The Senate approved the measure 18-14 early Saturday morning, capping a brutal all-night debate. The bill now goes to the state Assembly for final passage.
The following are statements issued by senators in the wake of this vote:
Sen. Jon Erpenbach (D)
“Republicans have dismantled a transparent and accountable Legislature. In a week when thousands of people have lost their jobs in Wisconsin, did Republicans call us in to find creative ways to stop the bleeding of jobs in Wisconsin? Or to provide retraining to those workers? No. The State Senate was called into “extraordinary” session on Friday not to help anyone find a job, but rather help Republicans keep their jobs.”
“Wisconsin is on pace to lose nearly double the manufacturing jobs that we lost in 2014, but we didn’t do anything about that. What the State Senate did, on a party-line vote was to protect Republicans, protect their donors, help their friends with illegal collusion, and retaliated against the GAB. All of this done in an “extraordinary” session and in the dark of the night.”
Sen. Leah Vukmir (R)
"My goal has always been to have the largest pool of qualified candidates considered to sit on these commissions. However, this compromise still accomplishes what we set out to do from the start by creating a bipartisan watchdog. As an elected official, you don’t always get what you want, but we are getting what we need with the final version of this bill -- reform to a broken agency.
"Wisconsin’s so-called ‘nonpartisan’ watchdog was nothing more than an attack dog for the board’s liberal agenda. Wisconsinites deserve a governmental watchdog that doesn’t discriminate or chase after them merely because they exercise their First Amendment rights."
Sen. Chris Larson (D)
“Late on an unusual Friday night session, Republican leaders were able to strong-arm enough votes to pass bills to politicize the Government Accountability Board and allow an avalanche of special interest money to flow to political parties; burying Wisconsin’s principles and values under a mountain of dark money.
“Families across Wisconsin are facing another sleepless night, consumed with worries that their jobs may be the next ones to be shipped out of the state, that they are not going to be able to pay their mortgages next month because of their stagnant paychecks, and that their children aren’t getting the education they deserve because their schools are intentionally underfunded by state leaders that have given up on them. At the same time, Republicans controlling our state are hastily passing bills that do nothing to help end their sleepless nights.
“At a time when our state has the fastest shrinking middle class in the nation; where the economic recovery still hasn't reached our neighbors who need it most, and where our education has been severely underfunded at every level, the priority of Wisconsin leaders should be on tackling these problems head-on. Unfortunately, instead of fixing the job crisis in our state that is truly worthy of an extraordinary session, the Republicans in power chose to force through bills that shred the fabric of Wisconsin’s nationally recognized model of good, clean government.
“It is unconscionable that Republicans would want to further suppress the voice of Wisconsinites by allowing the wealthiest 1% and special interest influences to poison our political system. It defies logic to replace a diligent and respected group of nonpartisan judges with a partisan group who will be focused on political gain rather than faithfully enforcing state law and regulating ethical standards in public office. Passing these bills is a betrayal of our longstanding Wisconsin values and retreats back to a failed system that was plagued with corruption and scandal. It’s like giving the fox the key to the hen house along with a recipe for chicken soup.
“As the dark cloud of corruption that looms over our current administration continues to grow bigger and get darker, Wisconsin ought to be shedding light on this culture of corruption and collusion, rather than making it harder for public transparency and scrutiny.
“Republicans are quick to bend over backwards for themselves and their billionaire buddies. However, they won’t lift a finger for the families in Wisconsin that continue to struggle due to Governor Walker and Republican boss’s misguided haste to make Wisconsin ‘Open for Corruption.’”