Wisconsin Republican leader derides idea to impeach top elections official

Wisconsin Assembly Majority Leader Tyler August says an attempt by some Republicans to impeach the state's nonpartisan top elections official is "a big show for the cameras" and will be ignored.

Associated Press

January 18, 2024

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Tyler August gestures with his right hand while standing behind a wood podium and speaking into a microphone, with one person standing behind a podium on a wood dais with the backs of several computer monitors visible on its surface in the background.

Wisconsin Assembly Majority Leader Tyler August, R-Lake Geneva, speaks during a session of the chamber on Sept. 12, 2023, at the Wisconsin State Capitol in Madison. On Jan. 18, 2024, August said a proposal to impeach Wisconsin Elections Commission Administrator Meagan Wolfe would not be voted on because it doesn't have enough support to get out of committee or be approved by a majority of the Assembly. (Credit: PBS Wisconsin)

By Scott Bauer, AP

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — A Republican attempt to impeach Wisconsin’s nonpartisan top elections official is nothing more than “a big show for the cameras” and will be ignored, the Assembly’s GOP majority leader said Jan. 18.

Several Republican lawmakers, including the state Senate president, have called for Wisconsin Elections Commission Administrator Meagan Wolfe to be impeached over her handling of the 2020 election won by President Joe Biden. The Senate voted in October to fire Wolfe but later admitted that the vote was symbolic and had no legal effect.

In the Assembly, state Rep. Janel Brandtjen has introduced a resolution to impeach Wolfe. As of Jan. 18, it had just five co-sponsors in addition to Brandtjen. It would require 50 votes to pass.

Brandtjen tried in vain on Jan. 16 to be recognized to speak in an attempt to get a vote on her proposal. Brandtjen, who has endorsed discredited conspiracy theories about the 2020 election, accused Republican leaders of being “Administrator Wolfe’s PR team.”

During a news conference before the Jan. 18 session, Assembly Majority Leader Tyler August said Brandtjen’s proposal would not be voted on because it doesn’t have enough support to get out of committee or be approved by a majority of the Assembly.

“We have a process that has been utilized in this building for decades of how to bring a bill or a resolution to the floor,” August said. “And that’s the process that we’ll continue to use.”

August said if Brandtjen has enough support to bring the measure forward for a vote, she can.

“But the fact is she doesn’t,” August said. “Our caucus is focused on real things, not grifting and not making a big show for the cameras. And that’s all she’s interested in doing.”

The most recent co-sponsor of the measure, Republican Rep. David Steffen, chairs the committee where the resolution is languishing. He signed onto it on Jan. 17, a potential sign that the proposal could be scheduled for a public hearing. Steffen did not immediately return messages seeking comment.

The spat spilled into a floor debate on Jan. 18.

Republican state Rep. Scott Allen accused fellow Republican state Rep. Kevin Petersen, who was presiding over the session when Brandtjen was ignored, of abusing his power by not recognizing Brandtjen. Allen, one of the co-signers of the impeachment resolution, called for Petersen to apologize or resign.

Petersen did not apologize, and he said that as long as he is presiding over debate, he won’t allow disrespect.

Even as the impeachment effort stalls, Republicans have called for Wolfe to be replaced. But she has said she will remain in her post at least through the November election.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos is being targeted for recall by supporters of former President Donald Trump, in part over his opposition to the Wolfe impeachment. Trump in November posted a news release on his social media platform Truth Social from Brandtjen criticizing Vos for not doing more to remove Wolfe.

The 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.

Although Wolfe is the administrator of elections, it is the more than 1,800 local clerks who actually run elections in the presidential battleground state. The commission she oversees is run by a bipartisan board with an equal number of Republicans and Democrats.

Brandtjen and others who support impeaching Wolfe had pushed for decertification of Biden’s 2020 win. Biden defeated Trump 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.

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