Republicans are leveling charges of bias and partisanship against a state elections and ethics agency they helped set up just four years ago with the idea of making it completely nonpartisan.
And the pressure on the Government Accountability Board could get even more intense Wednesday, as the election and ethics board decides whether to schedule recall elections for three Democratic state senators, to go along with the six it’s already set for Republicans.
Whichever way the six-member board’s decision goes, it’s likely to draw ire, and perhaps legal action, from whoever loses out.
The board, made up of former judges, and its staff have been busier this year than at any time in its existence, dealing with state Senate recalls, the statewide recount of a Supreme Court race, the implementation of a new voter ID law and complaints about elected officials’ conduct on both sides of the budget debate.
The board’s current makeup consists of Thomas Barland, a former circuit court judge in Eau Claire County; Gerald Nichol, a former Dane County judge; Gordon Myse, a former Outagamie County judge and former appeals court judge; Michael Brennan, a former Clark County judge; Thomas Cane, a former Outagamie County judge and former appeals court judge; and David Deininger, a former Green County judge and appeals court judge.
The party affiliation is known for three of the board members by virtue of partisan offices they served before becoming judges. Barland and Deininger were both Republican members of the Assembly, and Nichol was elected district attorney as a Republican. The other three have not been elected to partisan offices.
The accountability board was created by the Legislature in 2007 – a Legislature split between a Republican-controlled Assembly and a Democrat-controlled Senate – and signed into law by Gov. Jim Doyle, a Democrat. No Republican legislator, and just two Democrats, voted against the bill.
The law set up an elaborate structure to protect the board from partisan politics. Each member is a former judge appointed by the governor, who chooses from at least two nominees named by a committee of state appeals court judges, and is then confirmed by a two-thirds vote of the Senate.