ADVERTISEMENT

Republican wants to empower Wisconsin secretary of state

December 1, 2021 GMT

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — A Republican state lawmaker announced Wednesday that she’s running to be Wisconsin’s next secretary of state, saying she wants to turn the mostly powerless office into a check on the bipartisan Wisconsin Elections Commission.

State Rep. Amy Loudenbeck’s announcement is the Republicans’ latest effort to weaken the agency that oversees the state’s elections.

The 81-year-old Democratic incumbent, Doug La Follette, has held the office since 1983 but said Wednesday that he was “still thinking about” whether to run again.

“I see no reason not to,” he said.

The secretary of state has not been in charge of running elections in Wisconsin since 1974. Since then, the Legislature has gradually reduced the office’s powers, budget and staff to the point where it has few duties and there have been Republican-backed pushes to eliminate or weaken it even further.

ADVERTISEMENT

Doing away with the office would require voter approval to amend the state constitution. Giving the office more duties related to elections would require legal changes approved by the Republican-controlled Legislature and governor. Democratic Gov. Tony Evers is unlikely to give a Republican secretary of state new powers, but he is also on the ballot next year.

La Follette said he supports keeping control of elections with a nonpartisan commission, not returning it to the secretary of state.

Loudenbeck said she wants the Legislature to empower the office to serve as a check on the elections commission. The Republican-controlled Legislature created the commission in 2015, but GOP lawmakers have been increasingly critical of how it operates since President Joe Biden defeated Republican Donald Trump last year.

Loudenbeck, who has been in the Assembly since 2011, said restoring some election-related duties to the secretary of state’s office would “help restore voter confidence in our election process.”

“A majority of states in the US have Secretaries of State who administer elections,” Loudenbeck said on her campaign website. “Wisconsin should look at ways to utilize this constitutional office that is directly accountable to the voters of Wisconsin to ensure election integrity at all levels.”

The elections commission is headed by a nonpartisan administrator, Meagan Wolfe, who was confirmed by the GOP-controlled Senate in 2019 for a four-year term that ends in 2023. There are an equal number of Democratic and Republican commissioners, which often leads to deadlocked votes on significant issues.

ADVERTISEMENT

Loudenbeck is the highest profile Republican to announce a bid for the office. Three other Republicans have filed paperwork to run: Jay Schroeder, who lost to LaFollette in 2018; Justin Schmidtka, a former Marine from Green Bay; and Dmitry Becker, a National Guard member from New Berlin.

The primary is Aug. 9 and the general election is on Nov. 8.

LaFollette first won the office in 1974 but left to run unsuccessfully for lieutenant governor in 1978. He won the office back in 1982, defeating Democrat Vel Phillips. He also ran for governor in a special recall election in 2012 but was defeated in the primary by Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett.

The secretary of state’s office is in charge of processing annual requests to authenticate documents required for trade, travel, adoptions and education. In 2013, the Legislature stripped the secretary of his power to publish bills after La Follette lagged in publishing then-Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s signature collective bargaining law in 2011.

___

This story was updated to correct that La Follette has held the secretary of state office since 1983, not 1978.

___ Associated Press writer Todd Richmond contributed to this report.