Ruminations On The 2022 Wisconsin Elections

There is good news and bad news about this year’s upcoming Wisconsin elections. On the positive side, the 7th Congressional district in N.W. Wisconsin finally has a declared Democratic candidate. In the U.S Senate race four good Democratic candidates are pulling ahead in the crowded field. All of them are a breath of fresh air in comparison to the Republican incumbent. Governor Evers should have a good chance at being re-elected given the economy is pretty good and Biden’s infrastructure and COVID relief money are helping many people in the state.

On the negative side the widely supported effort to end undemocratic gerrymandering of state and Congressional districts failed. This is not because gerrymandering is good or has public support. It is because the “non-partisan” state and federal Supreme Courts have ruled against fairness, democracy and the will of the majority of Wisconsin voters. They ruled in favor of the extremely gerrymandered Republican electoral maps.

This means it will be very difficult for a Democrat to win in the 7th district. Democrats have lost by roughly the same percentage (40-60%) in every election since the 2011 Republican gerrymandering. To overcome this Democrats would need an extraordinarily large voter turnout, with a large numbers of non-voters deciding to vote and/or a large number of typical Republican voters defecting. In other words, it will take a miracle or a massive change in many people’s attitudes.

This is bad news because Rep. Tom Tiffany is very bad news for northern Wisconsin. He has voted “no“ on everything good for people of the district. Tiffany voted against the pubic infrastructure repair funding. The protection of northern Wisconsin’s water and forests is critical to the local tourism based economy. Government services and the jobs they create are the backbone of our economy but Tiffany has one of the worst voting records on environmental issues and adequate funding for important government activities.

Voters also need to pay attention to the “down ballot” statewide offices. In Wisconsin, the Attorney General, State Treasurer and Secretary or State are independently elected offices. The Attorney General is obviously an important office and gets some voter attention. But most people know nothing about the other two. This year ignoring these obscure offices could have serious ramifications. Republicans have spent years weakening and underfunding all three of the these elected offices. This has included trying to abolish both the Treasurer and Secretary of State positions.

Recently, Republicans have flip-flopped on the Secretary of State. Since the “big lie” about the 2020 elections and all the false claims of non-existent election fraud, suddenly the Secretary of State office is important. Currently there are three Republicans seeking this office and all are running on the newly invented issue of “election integrity.”

The irony that Republicans are avidly engaged in doing all they can to “rig” elections in their favor is completely lost on these candidates. Clearly Republican gerrymandering, eliminating campaign finance limits, purging of voter registration lists and opposition to making it easier to vote (mail in ballots, early voting, ballot drop boxes, etc.) are blatant efforts to maintain their political control. This is the opposite of  “election integrity.”

The history of Republican actions regarding oversight of Wisconsin’s elections show their perfidy and hypocrisy. Unlike many states, in Wisconsin the Secretary of State has no role in overseeing elections. Wisconsin used to have one of the best non-partisan oversight systems in the country. This was the Government Accountability Board (GAB) which had authority over elections, campaign financing, lobbying and public official ethics. The Board consisted of six former state judges, appointed by the governor from a roster of candidates selected by a panel of Court of Appeals judges and confirmed by the Senate. The GAB had a unique, strong, nonpartisan structure and a good record for fair administration of elections.

The GAB, however, began investigating campaign finance skulduggery under Gov. Walker. So the Republican controlled legislature abolished the GAB and created the partisan Wisconsin Elections Commission. WEC has six members, two appointed by the governor and 4 appointed by the top political leaders of legislature. This placed control of elections firmly in the hands of political players. Currently it has three members from each party – a recipe for partisan gridlock and inaction.

Now Republicans want or abolish WEC – their own partisan creation — and give the Secretary of State control over elections. This is clearly preparation to controlling the outcome of the 2024 elections. Remember, it is Republicans who sued to overturn the 2020 election results, introduced legislation to illegally decertify those election results, and sent a fraudulent slate of presidential electors to Congress. Republicans have no “integrity” when it comes to elections.

The State Treasurer is another office Republicans wanted to abolish. Established in the Wisconsin Constitution, the original purpose was to be the state’s chief financial officer. The Treasurer signs the checks and is suppose to be a fiscal watchdog over state expenditures. Other responsibilities include oversight of state investments, several trust funds and financial management of public properties and lands. But since 1990, the office has had many duties and responsibilities transferred to other departments (especially the Department of Administration controlled by the Governor). Wisconsin’s Treasurer is the weakest of any state and consists of the Treasurer and one staff person!

One wonders why? Effective oversight of the finances is essential to every organization. Given recent examples of wasted public spending like the phony, politically motivated Gableman election investigation or the Foxconn fiasco, it is obvious we need stronger fiscal oversight not less.

The Treasurer’s office obviously should be a non-partisan position and the Treasurer should have strong financial, accounting and money management skills. But the Republican candidate has no financial background and is running on a platform of “family, God, and guns.” I am not making this up! It is a quote from his campaign website. Why can’t even Republican voters see the obvious folly of an unqualified candidate?

The answer to these undemocratic outrages is more democracy. People have to participate in the process and hold elected officials accountable for their actions or lack of action. It is about electing representatives that are of, by, and for the people.