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GOP lawmakers formally introduce resolution to impeach state elections head following ad campaign targeting Vos

The ads threaten to remove Assembly Speaker Robin Vos from office if he stands in the way of impeaching Meagan Wolfe

Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Robin Vos speaks at a press conference on June 8, 2023.
Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, speaks during a Republican press conference on June 8, 2023, in the Wisconsin State Capitol building to announce a tentative agreement between legislative Republicans and Gov. Tony Evers on a shared revenue bill. Drake White-Bergey/Wisconsin Watch

Republican lawmakers formally introduced a resolution to impeach Wisconsin’s top election administrator Thursday, a move that came shortly after the start of a new ad campaign threatening to remove Assembly Speaker Robin Vos from office if he stands in the way of impeachment.

The resolution was sponsored by five lawmakers including Rep. Janel Brandtjen, R-Menomonee Falls, a vocal supporter of former President Donald Trump and a frequent adversary of Vos.

The resolution alleges Wisconsin Elections Commission Administrator Meagan Wolfe encouraged local election clerks to ignore state laws on things like absentee ballot application procedures and ballot drop boxes. It also alleges Wolfe’s actions promoted out-of-state actors whose objective was “to administer Wisconsin’s elections in 2020 and aid in the defeat of President Donald Trump,” echoing an unsubstantiated claim often floated by Trump himself.

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Wolfe has repeatedly denied that she took any actions as administrator with the aim of favoring either party, calling those suggestions conspiracy theories.

Brandtjen first circulated the impeachment resolution for cosponsors on Sept. 21. After it was officially introduced Thursday, Vos assigned the resolution to the Assembly Committee on Government Accountability and Oversight, a step his office described as a simple procedural move, telling WisPolitics it was “referred like any other bill.”

The decision to do so comes days after a group calling itself the Wisconsin Election Commission, Inc. began running TV ads claiming Vos was standing in the way of Wolfe’s impeachment. It urged residents to tell the speaker he would face a primary challenge or a recall election if he didn’t act.

The group was created by Racine political activist Harry Wait and Adam Steen, who lost a 2022 primary race to Vos by less than 300 votes. Wait faced criminal charges last year for fraudulently obtaining absentee ballots using the names and addresses of Vos and Racine Mayor Cory Mason.

Wait told Wisconsin Public Radio the ad campaign was a success, but he’s still not sure whether Vos will “slow walk” impeachment.

“If Vos wanted Meagan Wolfe gone, she’d be gone,” Wait said. “If Vos wanted the Election Commission gone, they’d be gone. And, Vos doesn’t want either.”

Wait also said that even if Vos does launch an impeachment probe of Wolfe, the group will work to primary him, or recall him from office.

Wait’s group has spent $80,000 on television advertisements in the Milwaukee TV market, according to FCC records. They claim Vos is standing in the way of Republican lawmakers who want to impeach Wisconsin Elections Administrator Meagan Wolfe. A narrator in one of the commercials tells viewers she’s “very worried about the fairness and security of our elections if Meagan Wolfe remains in charge of them.”

The ad ends by urging residents to call Vos “and let him know he needs to listen to the Assembly and allow for the impeachment process to happen or he will be replaced, whether through a recall process or a primary challenger.”

In a statement, Vos said the ads are misleading and called those behind them “uninformed.” He said a recent court ruling blocked Republicans from removing Wolfe from office.

“Whether we like the result or not, a Dane County judge has issued a ruling saying we cannot remove Meagan Wolfe at least until the court issues a final ruling,” Vos said. “I think she should be replaced, but we now have to wait for the court process to work.”

The speaker said money going toward the ads “could be better spent attacking the real obstacle to election reforms and that’s (Governor) Tony Evers.”

Late last month, Dane County Circuit Court Judge Ann Peacock ruled that the state Senate’s vote to remove Wolfe in September had no legal effect. Peacock also ruled that any further attempts to remove Wolfe would not be legal, though she did not specifically mention potential impeachment proceedings in her ruling.

Wolfe stayed on as administrator after the panel of Republican and Democratic commissioners on the bipartisan WEC deadlocked on her reappointment. Had Wolfe been reappointed by the Commission, the Senate would have been able to fire her. But Peacock held that a recent Wisconsin Supreme Court ruling, used by Republicans to maintain control of the state Natural Resources Board last year, meant Wolfe could stay in her job.

For Vos, the latest attacks on TV are reminiscent of his tumultuous 2022, when he was hounded by Trump supporters who wanted him to decertify the results of the 2020 election, a step that the Legislature’s nonpartisan attorneys say is impossible. Trump even visited Wisconsin to campaign against Vos, who nearly lost his primary campaign against Steen.

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