The odd saga of state Sen. Mary Lazich, R-New Berlin, took another turn Wednesday night when the lawmaker stepped down as Senate Assistant Majority Leader.
Lazich informed Senate Majority Leader Dale Schultz, R-Richland Center, of her decision after Republicans caucused late Wednesday. The matter was not addressed in the caucus, according to Schultz spokesman Todd Allbaugh.
The New Berlin senator said it was in the best interests of the Republican Party for her to resign from the position, which she won by a vote of her colleagues Nov. 9.
“We had a very productive caucus … I have a wonderful bunch of colleagues,” Lazich said. “No one brought this up but I decided it was time to put this distraction aside.”
Lazich has been embroiled in controversy in the month since the GOP caucus elected Schultz to succeed interim majority leader Sen. Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau. Fitzgerald had assumed the position in the wake of former state senator from West Bend and majority leader Mary Panzer’s primary election defeat.
Although the vote was taken by secret ballot, Lazich is believed to have cast the decisive vote in Schultz’s upset victory over Fitzgerald. She initially voiced support for Fitzgerald, a strong supporter of the Taxpayer Bill of Rights, but later revealed on a Milwaukee radio show she had cast her ballot for the more moderate Schultz.
The Milwaukee taxpayer watchdog group CRG Network became incensed with Lazich’s vote flip-flop, saying she had previously confided to the group she had voted for Fitzgerald.
Lazich stressed Thursday that she does support TABOR, a constitutional amendment limiting taxes and spending. Still, she said the dispute was distracting from the Republicans’ agenda.
In a statement released Thursday, Schultz commended Lazich as “a person of good character and deep concern for her constituents, her state and this institution.”
“It was with regret and surprise that I learned of her intentions when Senator Lazich approached me after our meeting,” Schultz said.
Some had speculated Lazich would struggle to cope with the heavy workload from being both assistant majority leader and vice-chair of the powerful Joint Committee of Finance. She will remain on the finance committee, which will play a key role in working with Gov. Doyle’s budget proposal early next year.
Lazich admitted the workload from both leadership positions would have been strenuous and did factor into her decision to resign from the assistant majority leader spot.
“I feel I have the energy to rise to do whatever, but this will allow me to stay focused on the budget and other issues,” she said in a phone interview. “The budget will be a daunting task.”
Schultz hopes to hold an election to determine a new assistant majority leader before the end of the year, Allbaugh said.