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Republican abruptly withdraws from Wisconsin treasurer race

April 4, 2018

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — A Republican candidate for state treasurer abruptly dropped out of the race Wednesday, a day after Wisconsin voters overwhelmingly rejected a proposed constitutional amendment that would have eliminated the diminished office.

Madison investment manager Tom Hiller registered to run in the race in January. He sounded enthusiastic about the race during a phone interview Wednesday morning, saying that voters clearly want the treasurer to play a bigger role in managing state finances.

Hours later he sent an email to The Associated Press saying that he had withdrawn from the race. That email didn’t offer any explanation, but in a follow-up message he said he was happy in his profession and he’s too busy to campaign full-time.

Hiller’s decision leaves Democratic Eau Claire management consultant Sarah Godlewski as the only treasurer candidate, though the deadline to file nomination papers for the race is June 1. Incumbent Republican Matt Adamczyk is running for the state Assembly.

Godlewski’s campaign didn’t immediately reply to an email seeking comment on Hiller dropping out. Earlier Wednesday, she said she was encouraged by Tuesday’s vote to preserve the treasurer’s office.

“To me, this was a resounding ‘no’ because (voters) want checks and balances. They want that fiscal watchdog that can be their independent advocate,” she said. “What’s next is restoring the power this office has,” said Godlewski, who traveled the state with former Treasurer Jack Voight to urge people to save the office.

The treasurer’s office dates back to Wisconsin’s territorial days. It once had extensive powers, including collecting taxes, depositing checks and withdrawing money.

Republicans began pushing to weaken the office in the late-1990s under then-Gov. Tommy Thompson. Their efforts gained momentum when the GOP seized complete control of state government in 2011.

The office’s cash management functions and control of the EdVest college savings program moved to the Department of Administration and the Department of Revenue took over the treasurer’s unclaimed property division. The office’s budget has shrunk from $4.4 million and 23½ staff in 1995 to $227,000 and one staff member in the current two-year state budget.

The treasurer’s only real remaining duty is serving on the Board of Commissioners of Public Lands, a little known entity that manages trust funds built through fees, fines and land sales.

Republicans pushed a constitutional amendment eliminating the office to a statewide referendum in Tuesday’s elections, but voters overwhelmingly rejected it. Unofficial returns showed that about 61 percent of voters checked “no.”

Adamczyk supported the proposed amendment. He said in a statement that the question of whether the office should be scrapped is now settled and it will be up to future legislators to decide the treasurer’s duties.

State Rep. Michael Schraa and state Sen. Dan Feyen, the two Republican lawmakers who spearheaded the proposed amendment, didn’t immediately respond to phone messages Wednesday.

Schraa has said if voters rejected the amendment, he would work to restore the office’s responsibilities but that he wasn’t sure what duties to bestow on the office.

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Follow Todd Richmond on Twitter at https://twitter.com/trichmond1

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