Tag: robin vos

Wisconsin Republicans Misuse Tax Dollars To Defend Gerrymander Map

More than half of Wisconsin voters, or 51.2 percent , voted to reelect Gov. Tony Evers in November 2022. Yet Republican lawmakers were still able to win an overwhelming majority in the state Legislature.

That’s because Republicans drew the state’s legislative maps to maximize their party’s power in the state while disenfranchising Democratic and independent voters. This practice is commonly known as gerrymandering.

Now, state Republican leaders have reportedly approved a plan to spend as much as $1.8 million in public funds to pay private lawyers to defend their gerrymandered maps in court.

After the 2020 Census, Wisconsin’s Republican majority in the state Legislature approved new federal and state redistricting plans in 2021 that gave their party the lion’s share of the seats. Democratic Gov. Tony Evers vetoed the maps, explaining, “I promised I’d never sign gerrymandered maps that came to my desk, and I’m delivering on that promise today.”

Though the Republican did not have the votes to override his vetoes, the then-conservative-controlled Wisconsin Supreme Court adopted the Republican legislative leaders’ proposed maps for the state districts and a GOP-leaning congressional map.

After the election of Justice Janet Protasiewicz earlier this year shifted the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s majority, advocates for fair maps filed new legal challenges to the state legislative districts on August 2.

The legal nonprofit Law Forward, one of the plaintiffs challenging the maps, tweeted on August 27, “Every day that the gerrymander continues to distort politics and policy in the state of Wisconsin is an affront to our Constitution, an affront to our democracy, and a violation of the rights of the people of Wisconsin.”

The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reported on August 31 that state Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and state Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu signed contracts in August with three legal firms to defend the maps at taxpayer expense against those challenges. Two of the contracts are capped at a total of $1.8 million in hourly legal fees, plus expenses. The third contract has no spending limit.

“Using a blank check written by Wisconsin taxpayers, Legislative Republicans have entered into contracts with three law firms to defend their gerrymandered maps,” Democratic Senate Minority Leader Melissa Agard told the Journal-Sentinel. “Again we see that they only care about their own special interests rather than the interests of Wisconsinites.”

Republican legislators spent millions to defend a 2011 gerrymander in Wisconsin. “We didn’t pick the fight and all we do is keep trying to defend,” then-Senate Republican Leader Scott Fitzgerald said at the time. “Unfortunately, I think we find ourselves in a position where we’re kind of at the whims of all these attorneys that continue to file these lawsuits.”

Jay Heck, executive director of Common Cause Wisconsin, told the American Independent Foundation that neither expense was an appropriate use of public money.

“The $2 million, it’s outrageous. I’m not even gonna say it’s dismaying, because we’re kind of used to it. But it’s just, it’s so galling, to think that after doing this 10 years ago,” Heck said. “I’d like to say it’s shocking. It’s not shocking, because this has been the norm for the last 12 years, since 2011.”

In 2018, Democrats swept statewide elections for Wisconsin governor, secretary of state, treasurer, and U.S. senator. Due to the 2011 gerrymander, Republicans still won almost two-thirds of the legislative seats.

Under the 2021 maps, Republicans control six of Wisconsin’s eight seats in the U.S. House and the vast majority of legislative seats: 22 of the 33 seats in the state Senate and 64 of the 99 seats in the state Assembly.

Heck noted that while the Wisconsin Legislature has a constitutional role in drawing maps, that does not mean it has the power to spend millions of taxpayer funds to help their future election prospects.

Dan Shafer, who writes the blog The Recombobulation Area, called Wisconsin “the most gerrymandered state in the country” in a March 2023 post.

Reprinted with permission from American Independent .

Wisconsin GOP Leader Fires Election Fraud Investigator He Hired

Wisconsin’s Republican speaker of the State Assembly, Robin Vos, on Friday fired a conservative former state Supreme Court justice he handpicked to investigate fraud in the state’s 2020 elections, ending a 14-month, taxpayer-funded inquiry that yielded no evidence of electoral wrongdoing.

Under pressure from Trump and cronies to overturn his 2020 loss in the state, Vos hired the former state Supreme Court Justice, Michael Gableman, in July 2021 as a special counsel to probe the state’s election results.

However, the relationship soured after Vos refused Gableman’s entreaties to decertify the 2020 election results despite finding no evidence of significant fraud during his inquiry, which cost taxpayers $1.1 million.

Gableman had noted in a report of his findings that decertifying the state’s election results “would not, for example, change who the current president is,” yet he joined Trump in disseminating bogus conspiracy theories about the 2020 elections and backing Vos’ primary challenger.

The weeks-long standoff between Vos and Gableman ended after the speaker narrowly edged out his Trump-backed opponents in the state’s primaries.

"After having many members of our caucus reach out to me over the past several days, it is beyond clear to me that we only have one choice in this matter, and that's to close the Office of Special Counsel," Vos announced in a statement.

Gableman, whose abilities Vos was initially “supremely confident” in, became a bullhorn for Trump’s Big Lie and led Republican efforts to decertify the state’s presidential election results, contradicting the Legislature’s findings in November that no basis in law supported decertification.

Vos called Gableman an “embarrassment” Tuesday night and told WISN-TV that “he had fired Mr. Gableman by letter and that the two had not spoken in recent weeks,” according to the New York Times .

“I really don’t think there’s any need to have a discussion,” Vos said. “[Gableman] did a good job last year, kind of got off the rails this year.”

The Republican-led investigation drew scorn from its inception, as Gableman had — as early as November 7, 2020, just one day after the election — announced his belief that the 2020 election was stolen.

During his investigation, Gableman looked into the background of public employees as part of his investigation and threatened to lock up local officials who refused to answer his questions in private interviews — extreme steps that drew calls for the probe to be shut down .

In one case, part of a document titled “Cross Pollinators” on the special counsel’s website , Gableman labeled a Milwaukee city employee a Democrat because she "has a weird nose ring," plays video games, "loves nature and snakes" and lives with her boyfriend although they are not married,” according to CNN .

Wisconsin Democrats, who had assailed the special counsel and his investigation from the start, celebrated Gableman’s firing and slammed Vos for his hiring.

“Finally,” said Democratic Wisconsin Governor, Tony Evers.

In the days after his narrow victory in the primaries, Vos defended his decision to begin the Gableman probe but promised to end it.

“There were problems with the 2020 election that we need to fix — all of those things are real,” Vos told a conservative talk radio show in Milwaukee . “But somehow, Justice Gableman, as the investigation began to come to an end, decided it was more important to play to Donald Trump and to play to the very extreme of our party who thought we could unconstitutionally overturn the election than it was to be responsive to his client, which was the Legislature.”

Neither Gableman nor his representatives responded to multiple requests for a comment on the firing.

Wisconsin GOP Imploding Over Attempt To 'Decertify' 2020 Vote

Republican lawmakers in Wisconsin are reportedly at an impasse due to their mixed opinions on the efforts to overturn the presidential election. Since the election conspiracy theories have run rampant over the last 15 months, The New York Times reports that Robin Vos, the Assembly speaker, "is now struggling to rein them in."

One example of the big problem centers around the conspiracy campaign being pushed by State Rep. Timothy Ramthun. Although the country is near the 2022 midterm elections, Ramthun is still fighting to have President Joe Biden kicked out of office.

Per the Times :

"'This is a real issue,' said Timothy Ramthun, the Republican state representative who has turned his push to decertify the election into a nascent campaign for governor. Mr. Ramthun has asserted that if the Wisconsin Legislature decertifies the results and rescinds the state’s 10 electoral votes — an action with no basis in state or federal law — it could set off a movement that would oust President Biden from office."

However, Rob Swearingen, a Republican state representative from Wisconsin's conservative Northwoods, stressed the importance of looking at the bigger picture. “This is just not what the Republican Party needs right now,” said Swearingen. “We shouldn’t be fighting among ourselves about what happened, you know, a year and a half ago.”

The difference in opinions underscores the divide between Republicans in Wisconsin; a problem that could have longterm effects with the midterm election right around the corner.

Despite the claims of voter fraud in Wisconsin, there have been multiple testimonies to suggest otherwise. According to Madison.com, Meagan Wolfe, the state's Elections Commission administrator, and its technology director Robert Kehoe testified before the Assembly Committee on Campaigns and Elections. During the hearing, Kehoe addressed the baseless claims of voter fraud.

“A lot of concerns about the November 2020 presidential election are based on assumptions that lack a full understanding of election policies, laws and technologies,” Kehoe said. “Other concerns expressed to this committee have alleged startling claims of fraud without providing adequate evidence.”

Like Wisconsin's election officials, State Senator Kathy Bernier is the only Republican who has admitted that Trump's election loss was legitimate.

“I have no explanation as to why legislators want to pursue voter-fraud conspiracy theories that have not been proven,” Ms. Bernier said in an interview. “They should not do that. It’s dangerous to our democratic republic. They need to step back and only speak about things that they know and understand and can do. And outside of that, they should button it up.”

Reprinted with permission from AlterNet

Wisconsin Is New Front Line In Trump Republicans' War On 2020 Election

As COVID-19 swept the country in March 2020, Wisconsin's Democratic Gov. Tony Evers tried to postpone the April 7 presidential primary. But Republican state legislators aligned with President Trump and, denying the severity of COVID-19, sneered, sued, and won in court hours before the polls were to open. That fray left Wisconsin's 1,850 municipal clerks who administer elections, and the Wisconsin Elections Commission, which guides the clerks, frantically scrambling.

"I was given a cardboard box with a roll of paper towels, six pairs of rubber gloves, a couple of bottles of what looked like Everclear [grain alcohol], and a roll of painter's tape and a half a box of masks—all of which were open," Municipal Clerk Vicki Terpstra of Spring Green, a village in central Wisconsin, recalled at a November 9 state legislative hearing on 2020 election administration. "That's what we received in April, after I had to let go of all of our poll workers.

"What ensued became a national model of how not to conduct in-person voting in a pandemic. Terpstra told the Joint Legislative Audit Committee she tried "to reach out to anybody I can find to figure out how to make this work, and the Elections Commission was there for us; they're doing their best to help us boots on the ground." She said , "I don't know how many people in this room or on these committees have actually worked as a poll worker… But my legislature failed me, as well as it failed all the other clerks, the boots on the ground that are doing the work."

Terpstra's remarks came during the public comment section of a hearing that was not intended to praise the Wisconsin Elections Commission (WEC) for helping 3.3 million people to vote in 2020's presidential election, including a record number who cast mailed-out ballots. Instead, the Republican-majority legislature was using an October report from the body's auditors — one that affirmed Joe Biden defeated Donald Trump — to attack the agency and perpetuate doubts about the election.

"I find it absolutely repugnant that nobody [WEC commissioners] could show up" today, fumed state Rep. John Macco, a Republican eyeing a 2022 run for governor , addressing WEC executive director Meagan Wolfe. Moments before, she said that the Legislative Audit Bureau (LAB) report was filled with errors , in part because it did not allow the WEC to respond to mistaken assumptions and findings — as has been the legislative bureau's practice in every audit since its founding in 1965.

"It's also worth repeating that no major errors were identified that could have changed the outcome of the election," Wolfe said. "Now I plan to take you through some of the key sections of the LAB's report."

Wisconsin has become the new front line in the disinformation campaign by pro-Trump Republicans to delegitimize Biden's presidency by casting doubt on his election and attacking election officials and protocols that assisted voters during 2020's pandemic. The presentation of a flawed report on November 9, which criticized the WEC but did not mention that COVID-19 concerns drove its guidance to clerks like Terpstra, was the latest chapter in a long saga where Wisconsin Republicans have targeted elections for partisan gain.

But what sets the latest episode apart is deliberate amnesia by pro-Trump partisans who know the history and facts — because they were there. It was Wisconsin's GOP that created the WEC in 2015 to replace a bipartisan election oversight board that was composed of retired state judges. The same legislative leadership that did not reconvene after the pandemic struck to adopt emergency measures to respond to COVID-19, unlike many red-run state legislatures. And these legislators are questioning the very election that returned them to their statehouse posts.

"A big lie does not take shape on its own, but must be carefully built upon a scaffold of lies," observed Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) in his new book that details Trump's authoritarian gambits to attack Biden during the 2020 campaign and efforts to overturn Biden's victory, both of which prompted Trump's impeachment.

Smears And Power Grabs

Such a "scaffold of lies" could be seen in one of the most scurrilous attacks on the WEC, an attack that also highlights another aspect of the disinformation campaign underway in Wisconsin and other battleground states. Elected Republicans are abusing their authority by making allegations of illegal voting in forums where there is no requirement to present fact-based evidence, unlike a courtroom with rules of evidence, and there is no penalty for intentionally lying.

In Racine County, Wisconsin's fifth-most populous, Sheriff Christopher Schmaling, an elected Republican, and his deputy, Michael Luell, have gone on social media and held press conferences to claim that at least eight 2020 presidential ballots cast at a nursing home were fraudulent. They cite family members who said that their relatives were incompetent to vote. (Under Wisconsin law, only courts can revoke a voter's registration for mental incompetence.)

The officers have said the ballots are indicative of a wider fraud and demanded a statewide investigation—impugning the 3.3 million ballots cast in the election. And they blamed the WEC for suspending a state law requiring special election deputies to assist voters in nursing homes. (These accusations ignore the fact that the GOP-authored statute that created the WEC allows it to issue such directives. Election officials also conducted routine audits and recounts that affirmed the results, and Trump's campaign didn't seek a statewide recount.)

In normal times, the nursing home incident — if it occurred — would be handled proportionately. Police would press charges, which the sheriff has not pursued. Instead, Schmaling has said that the WEC's commissioners (three Republicans, three Democrats) should be charged with felonies for violating a state law that required election deputies to assist voters in nursing homes. (After COVID-19's outbreak, state health officials ordered all nursing homes closed to visitors.)

Josh Kaul, Wisconsin's attorney general and a Democrat, has ignored the sheriffs' call for prosecutions. But the Wisconsin assembly speaker, Republican Robin Vos, has not. Initially, Vos called for the WEC executive director to resign. Wolfe has not. More recently, Vos said felony charges are warranted . And there's more.

In June, Vos, following the example set by Arizona's pro-Trump Republicans, launched a 2020 election review, and appointed a retired Wisconsin Supreme Court justice, Michael Gableman, to lead it. In October, Gableman told reporters that he " doesn't understand " how elections work. More recently, Gableman told legislators that he would pursue the issues raised by the Racine County sheriffs.

In November, one of Wisconsin's U.S. senators, Ron Johnson, another pro-Trump Republican, cited the audit bureau report and said the legislature should ignore the governor and WEC and take over administering Wisconsin's federal elections. This power-grabbing suggestion, however glib, is following Trump's template for partisan propaganda, disinformation, and anti-democratic authoritarian rule.

"I want to stress this is not normal," said David Becker, founder of the nonprofit, nonpartisan Center for Election Innovation and Research , which organized a letter in support of Wolfe signed by more than 50 bipartisan state election officials. "It is not normal for a sheriff, in a county, in a state, to hold a Facebook press conference about alleged election crimes and not follow up on them."

"If there's a legal law enforcement reason to suggest that there's a crime, what would happen is there would be an arrest, and an arraignment or indictment and a prosecution. That is not happening in this case—and I think it's pretty clear why," said Becker, a former U.S. Justice Department Voting Section attorney. "It's because these claims have no evidence to support them. A taxpayer-funded sheriff [is] doing this. An audit bureau, who, rather than going through its normal process and allowing for a review of procedures, [is] putting things out [that are] roughly timed with some other disinformation about the election in Wisconsin."

Taken together, such history-denying and boundary-breaking behavior is tearing at the institutions and civil servants who try to uphold American democracy, he said.

"I think there's no way to overstate the danger we're in," said Becker, whose nonprofit just conducted a poll finding that about two-thirds of the Republican electorate still believe that the 2020 election was stolen and there were problems with voting. "This is as dangerous a moment for American democracy as the Civil War and perhaps worse. We have a situation where a majority of one of our two major parties believes without any evidence that elections are stolen because they're sincerely unhappy with the results."

"There's no one in the United States that hasn't experienced a bitter electoral disappointment in the last five years or so," Becker continued. "But elections matter, and they have consequences, and there's always a winner and always a loser. And our system has always depended on people putting country over party, country over themselves."

No End in Sight

Wisconsin's 2020 presidential primary was a GOP-fueled disaster . Public health efforts were thwarted. Poll workers vanished. Voter turnout fell. The state's 1,850 municipal clerks faced immense chaos. In cities like Milwaukee and Green Bay, only a handful of polls opened. Voters often waited for hours, including several dozen voters and poll workers who later contracted COVID-19.

The WEC sought to prevent a debacle in the fall by shifting to mailed-out ballots, which Trump's allies also sought to block in court. No Republican legislator at the Joint Legislative Audit Committee's November 9 hearing recited 2020's troubled chronology. Instead, they attacked the WEC. Only Wolfe, several Democratic lawmakers and voter advocates called out the denials and revisionist history.

"What was the Elections Commission to do there—deprive the residents of the right to vote?" asked the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign's Matt Rothschild , after the auditor chastised the WEC for helping nursing home voters without explicit legislative approval. "Not only was this the prudent thing to do, the [WEC] staff was in a legal bind because Gov. Evers and the Department of Health Services had declared a public health emergency prohibiting nonessential individuals from going to nursing homes and long-term care facilities.

But history, facts, and prudence have no place among Wisconsin's pro-Trump Republicans. On Monday, November 15, former Republican Lt. Gov. and 2022 gubernatorial candidate Rebecca Kleefisch sued the WEC to stop it from allowing municipal clerks to use ballot drop boxes, move polling places, and suspend the statute sending special election deputies into nursing homes.

"Wisconsinites are sick and tired of unelected bureaucrats intentionally ignoring the law," Kleefisch said . "The lawsuit forces WEC to clean up their act prior to administering the 2022 election."

On Wednesday, November 17, Timothy S. Ramthun, a Republican assemblyman, proposed a resolution to decertify Wisconsin's presidential election results.

Steven Rosenfeld is the editor and chief correspondent of Voting Booth , a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has reported for National Public Radio, Marketplace, and Christian Science Monitor Radio, as well as a wide range of progressive publications including Salon, AlterNet, the American Prospect, and many others.

This article was produced by Voting Booth , a project of the Independent Media Institute.