Walker calls for dismantling of state elections board

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SCOTT BAUER, Associated Press
July 21, 2015

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker on Monday called for the dismantling of an independent state agency that oversees elections and authorized an investigation into his 2012 recall campaign.

Walker, who launched his campaign for the Republican presidential nomination last week, told reporters following a bill-signing ceremony in Oshkosh that he wanted to scrap the Government Accountability Board and replace it with "something completely new that is truly accountable to the people of the state of Wisconsin."

Walker also called for an investigation into the board's activities. He did not say who should lead the investigation.

Walker's comments come just four days after the state Supreme Court halted a board-approved investigation into whether conservative groups illegally coordinated with Walker's 2012 recall campaign, saying the groups broke no laws.

Republican state lawmakers have been talking for months about reshaping the board, and the Supreme Court's ruling and an audit detailing problems with how the board works has only bolstered the calls for change. But Democratic supporters of the board have said Republicans want to replace it with a partisan lap dog.

The board, which replaced the partisan Ethics and Elections boards in 2008, oversees elections as well as campaign finance, lobbying and ethics laws. It is comprised of six former judges appointed by the governor and confirmed by the state Senate. Four of the six judges currently on the board were appointed by Walker and one was re-appointed by him. The sixth was appointed by Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle, but his term ended in May and Walker can appoint his replacement.

Walker said in December that he was open changing the board, but didn't call for its complete replacement then. The governor didn't say Monday whether he wants to replace the nonpartisan judges on the board with partisan appointees.

"You want something that can stand the test of time, so it's got to be fair," Walker said. "It's got to be accountable, it's got to be transparent."

The board has drawn criticism of its handling of recall elections in 2011 and 2012 that targeted both Republicans and Democrats, the secret John Doe investigation that the Supreme Court ended last week, as well as designs of ballots in the 2014 election.

No specific proposal for changing the board has been made public, but Assembly Speaker Robin Vos has called for director Kevin Kennedy to be replaced.

Kennedy called the GAB it a "Wisconsin success story" that achieved what the Legislature intended. He also said policymakers and elected officials should be "bragging about and taking credit for the structure and accomplishments" of the board, the creation of which garnered only 2 "no" votes in the entire Wisconsin Legislature in 2007.

"Unfortunately, it has become more expedient to use the GAB as a political target than to honestly assess its performance," Kennedy said.

Jay Heck, director of the government watchdog group Common Cause Wisconsin that was involved in the creation of the GAB, said Walker's call to dismantle it is "completely misguided, self-serving and counter to the interests of all Wisconsinites who value a fair and independent state agency overseeing our elections, campaign finance laws, lobbying and ethics."

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