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US Sen. Ron Johnson voiced concerns over outgoing elections commissioner before he resigned

Johnson told Assembly Speaker Robin Vos that Dean Knudson 'had lost the confidence of the grassroots Republicans'

Ron Johnson
Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., attends a news conference Feb., 2, 2022, on Capitol Hill in Washington. Jacquelyn Martin/AP Photo

A spokesperson for U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson said the senator raised concerns about Republican Dean Knudson before Knudson announced he would resign from the Wisconsin Elections Commission.

Knudson announced his resignation Wednesday, shortly before the six-member panel was scheduled to vote on a new chair of the body. Under the rules of the commission, the chair of the bipartisan panel switches between Democrats and Republicans every two years. Knudson and Republican Bob Spindell were the only candidates eligible for the position.

In the speech announcing his decision, Knudson said it had been made clear to him “from the highest levels of the Republican Party” that there was a “deep desire” that he not chair the panel.

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Johnson spokesperson Alexa Henning said the senator voiced concerns about Knudson to Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, who appointed Knudson.

“As the senator has traveled around the state, election integrity continues to be a primary concern of the grassroots,” read a statement from Henning. “He did convey that truth to Robin Vos and express his belief that Dean Knudson had lost the confidence of the grassroots Republicans in representing their interests on the Wisconsin Elections Commission. He never suggested that Dean Knudsen resign.”

Had Knudson remained on the Wisconsin Elections Commission, chances were good that he would have been elected chair, even though he did not campaign for it.

While Spindell made it clear he wanted the job, he’d need the support of at least one Democratic member of the commission. That could be difficult given Spindell’s reputation as a vocal critic of the agency, not to mention his decision in December 2020 to join nine other Republicans in posing as “alternate” presidential electors.

Knudson’s resignation means Vos will get to appoint his replacement. Vos told the Associated Press he wanted someone with a long track record who hasn’t bought into the idea that the Legislature could decertify the presidential election, a move election law experts have said is not possible. It also means Knudson’s replacement could be the next chair of the panel.

While Johnson’s comments about Knudson were forceful, he wasn’t the only high-profile Republican to root against Knudson in the vote for chair.

Rebecca Kleefisch, the front-runner in the Republican primary for governor, issued a statement Wednesday morning ahead of the WEC meeting endorsing Spindell’s bid to chair the commission.

“Election integrity is crucial for our state’s democracy,” the statement read. “To ensure that our laws are followed this election cycle, I fully support Bob Spindell to be the next Wisconsin Elections Commission chairman.”