Incoming Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald is hoping to change the way in which the members of the Government Accountability Board are chosen. GAB is in charge with overseeing Wisconsin’s elections, specifically in the areas of campaign finance, elections, ethics and lobbying laws.
Currently, the GAB members are six former judges who are chosen by four Wisconsin Appeals Court judges, who are then appointed by the governor and who are finally confirmed by the Wisconsin State Senate. To quote the GAB’s official website,“Both the Board and its staff must be non-partisan.”
The Wisconsin GAB has been revered as an impartial judicial model for the nation by the authority on election law and Ohio State Law Professor, Daniel Tokaji. In his commentary entitled “The Persistence of Partisan Administration,” Tokaji stated that “the best American model is Wisconsin’s Government Accountability Board, which consists of retired judges selected in a way that is designed to promote impartiality.”
Fitzgerald wishes to now change the way that members of the GAB are chosen. He favors taking the retired judges off of the GAB and replacing them with what Fitzgerald calls “Political Appointees.”
This is an affront to one of the most judicious organizations in Wisconsin politics. The criticism of GAB stems mostly from the recall elections that took place over the past two years.
Both Democrats and Republicans have their own personal reasons for disliking GAB. Democrats are upset at GAB for the amount of time it took to review the petitions for the recalls and then to officially declare them. Republicans were frustrated with the board for not scrutinizing the verification of signatures on recall petitions more.
In the end, both Democrats and Republicans are upset with GAB for reasons with which the opposite side of the political spectrum is pleased. Democrats are upset that the GAB took the time to verify and check the legality of the signatures placed on the petitions for the recall, which Republicans were pleased with. While Republicans were upset that the recalls were even allowed to happen, which Democrats were pleased with.
A change in the process of selection for the members of GAB will once again dramatically change the way in which Wisconsin elections are regulated. In 2010, control of both the Legislature chambers and gubernatorial seat were won by Republicans, which ended any possible chance of the minority voice being heard. And once again, this will be the case in January 2013.
Fitzgerald’s actions are a power grab to try and eliminate the few remaining non-partisan institutions left in Wisconsin politics. GAB successfully did its job during the recall elections. This is clearly evident by the fact that both Democrats and Republicans are upset with the board for contradicting reasons.
The judicial organizations of our government are meant to remain impartial; it is for this reason that the Supreme Court Justices are chosen for life. And yes, no institution is going to be perfect, but the fewer partisan politics involved in our judicial processes the better.
The GAB selection process remains to be a model for the national when it comes to non-partisan politics. However, Fitzgerald wants to destroy this non-partisan entity which he voted to create. In Wisconsin, we have seen what an unchecked super-majority can do in the world of politics.
Now that Republicans will once again have control of both legislative chambers and the gubernatorial seat, they are already up to creating new legislation to disenfranchise the political minority, and the 101st session of the Wisconsin State Legislature has not even begun.
Jared Mehre ([email protected]) is a sophomore majoring in political science.