Madison, Wis. – Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald has increased pressure on the state’s ethics and elections chiefs to resign, threatening to schedule Senate votes to force them out if they don’t.
But it’s unclear whether he has the authority to remove them. So far the officials, Elections Commission administrators Michael Haas and Brian Bell, haven’t quit.
That’s creating a power struggle between the bipartisan commissions and the GOP lawmakers who created them in 2015 to oversee elections, public officials and those who influence them.
Fitzgerald and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos this week demanded resignations from Haas and Bell. The Republican legislative leaders cited their past employment at the commissions’ predecessor agency, the Government Accountability Board, as grounds to question whether the administrators would be impartial.
Haas and Bell were named last year with unanimous support from the commissions, both made up of three Democrats and three Republicans.
Fitzgerald upped the ante Friday, saying he would hold Senate confirmation votes in January on Haas’ and Bell’s appointments — and that they would not receive enough votes to be confirmed.
There was disagreement Friday about what state law says would happen in that scenario.
Fitzgerald spokesman Dan Romportl maintained, in a statement, that the administrators “are forced out and the commissions begin a search for their replacements.”
Elections Commission Chairman Mark Thomsen, appointed by a Democrat, disagreed. Thomsen argued the law makes clear the commission “has sole power to decide whether Mr. Haas stays on” in an interim role — while making clear Haas has the commission’s support.
Rick Champagne, chief of the nonpartisan Legislative Reference Bureau, emphasized state law says the administrators serve with the Senate’s “advice and consent.”
A Senate “no” vote on confirming the administrators would mean “you do not have their consent. The appointment is no longer valid” and the position vacated, he said.