Top Wisconsin Senate Republican calls on Assembly to impeach Wolfe

In a Oct. 4 letter, Wisconsin Senate President Chris Kapenga urged Assembly Speaker Robin Vos to begin the impeachment process of Wisconsin Elections Commission Administrator Meagan Wolfe.

Associated Press

October 4, 2023

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Chris Kapenga sits in a high-backed leather chair, with other people seated  on either side, in a room with marble masonry.

Republican state Sen. Chris Kapenga sits in the Wisconsin Senate chambers on June 28, 2023, at the Wisconsin State Capitol in Madison. On Oct. 4, Kapenga, president of the state Senate, called on the state Assembly to impeach Wisconsin Elections Commission Administrator Meagan Wolfe. (Credit: PBS Wisconsin)

AP News

By Harm Verhuizen, AP/Report for America

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — The Republican president of the Wisconsin Senate on Oct. 4 called on the Assembly to impeach the presidential battleground state’s nonpartisan top elections official, who has remained in office while Democrats fight in court against a Senate vote to fire her.

Wisconsin Elections Commission Administrator Meagan Wolfe’s actions “could rise to the level of corrupt conduct in office,” Senate President Chris Kapenga said in a letter urging Assembly Speaker Robin Vos to pursue impeachment.

The Republican-controlled Senate voted in September to fire Wolfe despite the state’s Democratic attorney general and the Legislature’s nonpartisan attorneys saying they did not have the authority to do so at that time.

Vos, who has been criticized by Democrats for establishing a secret panel to investigate the criteria for impeaching a liberal state Supreme Court justice, did not immediately respond to an Oct. 4 email seeking comment. The GOP-led Assembly can only vote to impeach state officials for corrupt conduct in office or for committing a crime or misdemeanor. If a majority of the Assembly were to vote to impeach, the case would move to a Senate trial in which a two-thirds vote would be required for conviction. Republicans won a two-thirds supermajority in the Senate in April.

“It is unprecedented for an appointee in the state of Wisconsin to refuse to obey the Senate through its advice and consent powers,” Kapenga said in a statement. “Impeachment is not taken lightly, but when we have lost trust in justice to be impartially carried out at all levels, it is time to act and put this embarrassment behind us.”

The bipartisan elections commission, which consists of three Democrats and three Republicans, deadlocked in June on a vote to reappoint Wolfe. Democratic commissioners abstained to prevent the four-vote majority needed to send the nomination to the Senate, where GOP leaders had promised to reject Wolfe. A state Supreme Court decision in June 2022 that Republicans have used to maintain control of key policy boards appears to allow Wolfe to stay in office indefinitely even though her term expired in July, but Senate Republicans proceeded with forcing a vote on her reappointment anyway.

Democratic Attorney General Josh Kaul accused Republicans of attacking the state’s elections and asked a judge to rule that the Senate’s vote has no legal effect and that Wolfe remains in charge of the elections commission. Meanwhile, Senate Republicans are moving towards rejecting confirmation for one of the Democratic elections commissioners who abstained from voting on Wolfe’s reappointment.

Wolfe has been targeted by persistent lies about the 2020 election, and conspiracy theorists falsely claim she was part of a plot to tip the vote in favor of President Joe Biden. Biden defeated Donald Trump in 2020 by nearly 21,000 votes in Wisconsin, an outcome that has withstood two partial recounts, a nonpartisan audit, a conservative law firm’s review, and multiple state and federal lawsuits.

The fight over who will run the battleground state’s elections commission has caused instability ahead of the 2024 presidential race for Wisconsin’s more than 1,800 local clerks who actually run elections.

Wolfe did not immediately respond to a Wednesday email seeking comment, but when Republicans proposed in September to impeach her, she accused them of trying to “willfully distort the truth.” As administrator of the elections commission, she has little power to do more than carry out commissioners’ decisions.

Harm Venhuizen is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.

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