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Wisconsin Secretary of State Doug La Follette to seek reelection in 2022

Longtime state official was first elected in 1974

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Doug La Follette speaks at the Wisconsin Capitol on March 17, 2022.
Doug La Follette speaks at the Wisconsin Capitol on March 17, 2022. Diane Bezucha / WPR

Longtime Wisconsin Secretary of State Doug La Follette has announced that he will seek reelection this year, saying he wants to fight efforts to give his office the power to run elections.

The Secretary of State’s office is largely powerless in Wisconsin, where its duties have been carved off by legislatures and governors over the years and handed to other state agencies. These days, La Follette works from an office in the state Capitol basement, where his job is mostly administrative.

In other states, the secretary of state has broad control over elections and over the years, La Follette’s opponents have pushed for that in Wisconsin. This year, Republicans running for secretary of state want to give the office duties that are currently handled by the Wisconsin Elections Commission.

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During a Capitol press conference Thursday that lasted fewer than 5 minutes, La Follette said that push factored into his decision to run again.

“Two years ago, I might have made a different decision,” La Follette said. “But now, with the integrity of this office at risk, many people have urged me to consider running for reelection.”

La Follette made his announcement in front of the bust of Robert M. La Follette, the progressive icon known as “Fighting Bob” who is Doug La Follette’s distant relative.

While he keeps a low profile and has few official responsibilities, Doug La Follette, 81, has a long track record of winning statewide elections.

He was first elected secretary of state in 1974. He left office for an unsuccessful bid for lieutenant governor in 1978 before running again for secretary of state in 1982. La Follette won that year and has won reelection ever since. La Follette was the only Democrat to win statewide in the Republican wave of 2010, a year that otherwise saw his party suffer losses up and down the ballot in Wisconsin.

While this won’t be the first time La Follette has run against getting the secretary of state’s office involved in elections, the issue has been front and center this election cycle, especially among Republicans. That’s partly because former President Donald Trump has continued to falsely assert that he won battleground states like Wisconsin.

La Follette said it would be a mistake to follow the lead of other states that put elections in the hands of an elected office.

“Recently, think of all the secretary of states from Georgia to Arizona to Michigan who had people putting pressure on them to change elections,” La Follette said.

The Republicans running for secretary of state are state Rep. Amy Loudenbeck of Clinton, Justin D. Schmidtka of Green Bay, Jay Schroeder of Neenah and Dmitry Stefan Becker of New Berlin.

Loudenbeck, who wants the secretary of state to manage elections, issued a statement Thursday criticizing La Follette for protecting the status quo.

“Regardless of how one feels about the results of the 2020 elections, enough questions have been raised about the process and gridlock at the Wisconsin Elections Commission (WEC) to justify a hard look at including the Secretary of State in election oversight as this Constitutional office is directly accountable to the voters,” Loudenbeck said.

Republicans will choose their nominee for secretary of state in August. La Follette does not currently face a Democratic primary opponent.

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