There’s something about Marys in the state Senate that has a pro-Taxpayer Bill of Rights group up in arms lately.
First, former Senate Majority Leader Mary Panzer, R-West Bend, drew the ire of CRG Network, an offshoot of Citizens for Responsible Government, by failing to bring TABOR to a vote in the Senate during the summer. CRG proceeded to back Panzer’s primary election opponent, Rep. Glenn Grothman, who defeated Panzer in a landslide behind a strong pro-TABOR message.
More recently, Sen. Mary Lazich, R-New Berlin, has made an enemy in CRG by lying to the group about whom she selected to be Panzer’s successor as majority leader.
Following last week’s vote, Lazich told the group she voted for Sen. Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, a chief proponent of TABOR and the preferred candidate of CRG, when in fact she had cast her ballot for the more moderate Sen. Dale Schultz, R-Richland Center.
Although Fitzgerald, who served as interim leader in the wake of Panzer’s resignation, was widely expected to be named the Republican leader, Schultz emerged as a surprise winner. The vote was conducted by secret ballot.
Perturbed their preferred candidate lost, CRG contacted all 19 Republican Senators in an attempt to identify which legislators voted for Schultz. Their findings were surprising: 10 senators said they voted for Fitzgerald, meaning Schultz could have garnered at most nine votes.
“We got to 10 and we said, ‘Hey, there’s something wrong here,’” CRG Spokesman Chris Kliesmet said.
CRG’s findings were backed up when several of Lazich’s constituents notified CRG of a letter they had received in which the senator claimed to support Fitzgerald.
During an interview on a Milwaukee radio talk show, however, Lazich admitted that she had lied when stating she voted for Fitzgerald. CRG was not amused, calling the legislator “Senator Pinocchio” after her appearance on the show.
“Our position is clear: don’t lie to us,” Kliesmet said. “If you lie to us, you’ve made an enemy. Mary Panzer lied to us, and she paid the penalty. Voters in [Lazich's constituency] will have to decide what Mary Lazich’s penalty is.”
Lazich did not return phone calls.
Schultz is seen as more moderate on the issue of TABOR than Fitzgerald. Although both Schultz and Lazich recently expressed support for a tax and spending limit amendment, Kliesmet points out Lazich told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel earlier this year TABOR would be her “worst nightmare.”
As a response to the Lazich controversy, Sen. Tim Carpenter, D-Milwaukee, plans to introduce a proposal changing the voting process for Senate leadership spots to an open roll call ballot.
“It seems like there is some mischief going on over [at the Republican caucus], and the way to get around that is with regular open roll calls,” Carpenter said, adding that the proposal has nothing to do with his own failed attempt to become Senate minority leader. “The public should be able to know who each senator is voting for.”
If a majority of senators agree to Carpenter’s proposal, Senate rules would be amended to require that all leadership selections be taken by a roll call vote made available to the public.
Kliesmet said Carpenter’s idea would go a long way towards improving the public’s perception of the legislature and preventing a situation like Lazich’s from occurring again.
“The vote for Senate majority leader is something that affects all Wisconsinites,” he said. “It needs to be open.”