January 23, 2018
Wisconsin Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald got his way today. He and his Republican colleagues got rid of the administrator at the Ethics Commission, Brian Bell, and the administrator at the Elections Commission, Michael Haas.
But not without facing intense heat from Democratic Senators.
Senator Fred Risser, the longest serving state elected official in the country, pointed angrily at Fitzgerald. “This is a first-rate hatchet job,” Risser said. Pounding the table, he said, “It’s not fair, and I’m embarrassed at this body.”
Risser said that Fitzgerald was still vindictive about the old Government Accountability Board, which had found evidence that Gov. Scott Walker acted illegally by coordinating with outside groups. “Now you want a fall guy,” Risser said. (Both Bell and Haas had worked for the Government Accountability Board.)
Fitzgerald’s own comments on the floor gave credence to Risser’s charge. “Can I nail down exactly what they did? I have no idea,” Fitzgerald admitted. He said, “It’s not a question of guilt. It’s a question of comfort” on the part of the Senators.
Senator Jon Erpenbach got the Senate clerk to admit that this was the first time in the history of the Wisconsin Senate that an appointee was denied a hearing where he or she could defend their name and where the public could have its say.
“This is a first,” Erpenbach said. “And it’s not the kind of first we want to have.”
Erpenbach called the campaign against Bell and Haas a “witchhunt” and “character assassination” and decried the lack of due process.
He said the Republicans have given the Wisconsin Senate “not one, but two black eyes,” adding: “This should stop today.”
Senator Mark Miller said that not having a public hearing “runs contrary to the history of the Wisconsin Senate.”
Senator Janet Bewley said it was “very frightening” for the Wisconsin Senate to cut the public out of the process. She added: “What a sad moment!”
Senator Lena Taylor said, “It’s absurd that we want to leave the people out. They are the people who pay every one of our salaries. They deserve to be part of the process.”
Senator Dave Hansen said, “You have chosen to put petty politics over our democracy.” Hansen warned that the Russians are still plotting to hack our elections, adding that now is not the time to get rid of the Elections administrator, who is an expert in cyber crimes. “By nursing a political grudge, you are opening the door to continued outside interference.”
Senator Chris Larson said, “You want to fire the firefighter because he dared to show up at the fire.” And he said Fitzgerald would rather “have someone who is more of a lapdog than a watchdog.”
Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling said, “What we are doing here is so wrong. We’re railroading these two public employees.”
She also said, “Don’t give the public another reason to think we’re all crooked.”
And perhaps in an allusion to the surprise Democratic victory last week in northwestern Wisconsin when Patty Schachtner defeated her Republican opponent in a heavily red district, Shilling said: “I don’t know when this body heals, but every time we get a new face it helps.”