Elections chair calls Senate GOP leader a bully

January 9, 2018

FILE - In this June 28, 2017 file photo, Wisconsin Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald walks into his office at the State Capitol in Madison. Fitzgerald is rejecting calls to hold a public hearing on the confirmation of Ethics and Elections commission leaders. Fitzgerald's spokesman Dan Romportl said Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018, that the plan remains for the Senate to vote Jan. 23 on rejecting the confirmation of Michael Haas as Elections Commission administrator and Brian Bell as Ethics Commission head. (AP Photo/Scott Bauer, File)

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — The chairman of the Wisconsin Elections Commission called Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald a bully and a coward Tuesday for blocking confirmation of the agency’s administrator.

Elections Commission chairman Mark Thomsen called on senators to stand up to Fitzgerald and vote to confirm Michael Haas as administrator of the agency. And even if they don’t, Thomsen asserted Haas would remain in the position unless a majority of the bipartisan commission voted to remove him.

Preferably, the fight will end in the Senate with confirmation of Haas, said Thomsen, a Democratic attorney who leads the commission equally composed of Republicans and Democrats. It voted unanimously Tuesday to call on Fitzgerald to hold a public hearing on the confirmation where testimony could be taken in support of Haas.

“I would like to see the state Senate stand up to Mr. Fitzgerald, who is a bully, and say enough of this witch hunt,” Thomsen said. “Independent Republicans and Democrats are tired of this game playing.”

Fitzgerald’s spokesman Dan Romportl said Fitzgerald was aware of Thomsen’s comments but he wasn’t going to respond. Romportl did say that Fitzgerald would not hold a hearing and planned to move ahead with a Jan. 23 vote to reject confirmation of both Haas and Ethics Commission administrator Brian Bell.

Fitzgerald and other Republicans argue lawmakers have lost confidence in their ability to lead the agencies because of what they say are partisan influences leftover from when Haas and Bell worked for the former Government Accountability Board.

The Republican-controlled Legislature disbanded the nonpartisan GAB in 2015 and created the separate bipartisan commissions to run elections and oversee the state’s ethics laws for politicians, lobbyists and others.

Attorney General Brad Schimel in December released a report that faulted the GAB’s handling of secret John Doe investigations into alleged wrongdoing by Gov. Scott Walker and other Republicans.

While Schimel recommended disciplinary action against five former GAB employees related to the leaking of secret information, he did not single out Haas or Bell. But Fitzgerald and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos called for their resignations.

Both Haas and Bell have been serving as interim administrators of the respective agencies, awaiting Senate confirmation. Fitzgerald has said a vote to reject confirmation would force Bell and Haas to resign. But Thomsen said the law is clear that only the commission can hire and fire Haas.

David Halbrooks, a Democratic attorney who chairs the Ethics Commission, said that board was focused on convincing the Senate to confirm Bell and not exploring its legal options.

“We’re not considering the legal options and I don’t anticipate we will consider the legal options because we are hoping to convince the Senate to change their mind,” Halbrooks said.

Thomsen said he hopes the Senate has the “courage to do what is right” and confirm Haas. He called on Republican state senators to oppose Fitzgerald, saying he wants to see “if they have the guts to stand up to the bully.”

Fitzgerald joined with two other Republican senators last month in voting to approve the state Justice Department launch a broader investigation into the former GAB for possible criminal conduct. Haas has accused both Fitzgerald and Vos of slander for suggesting he may have acted criminally. Haas called for them to “stop trashing my name and reputation.”

Republicans hold an 18-13 majority in the Senate, with two vacancies.


Follow Scott Bauer on Twitter: https://twitter.com/sbauerAP


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