MADISON, Wis. — Republicans still want Gov. Tony Evers to call a special election for Secretary of State after Democrat Doug La Follette, who held the position for more than four decades, abruptly resigned last week.

Just three months into his 11th consecutive term, La Follette stepped down as Secretary of State, at the age of 82, to focus on his personal needs.

The decision also came after decades of the office being stripped of power.

What You Need To Know

  • Longtime Democratic Secretary of State Doug La Follette abruptly resigned last Friday, announcing he was stepping down “to focus on my personal needs”
  • Gov. Tony Evers appointed former Treasurer Sarah Godlewski, who ran unsuccessfully for U.S. Senate last year
  • Republican Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu called on Evers to hold a special election, saying the appointment of Godlewski was “an insult to voters of Wisconsin and our democratic process"

Former Wisconsin Treasurer Sarah Godlewski, who made an unsuccessful bid for U.S. Senate last year, will serve out the remainder of La Follette’s four-year term after an appointment from the governor.

However, the move has drawn a lot of criticism from Republicans in the Legislature, including Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu.

Former State treasurer Sarah Godlewski participates in a televised Wisconsin Democratic U.S. Senate debate, on July 17, 2022, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Morry Gash, File)

“This governor has gone to historic lengths to limit participation in Wisconsin’s elections,” LeMahieu said during a floor speech Wednesday. “In his last term, he moved to cancel in-person voting days before Wisconsinites were set to head to the polls in order to attain a partisan advantage. Now, in this term, he’s made the first appointment to the Secretary of State’s office since 1955.”

Wednesday afternoon, the Republican-controlled Legislature voted to adopt a joint resolution (SJR 21) that called on Gov. Evers to order a special election — a move Democrats opposed.

“It is clear that Gov. Evers and legislative Democrats are opposed to allowing the people’s voice to be heard in the form of a statewide election,” said Assembly Majority Leader Tyler August, R-Lake Geneva, in a statement. “It is shameful that Evers and Democrats chose to cut backroom deals rather than allow democracy to prevail. It is clear that those who have power will do anything they can to keep that power. These [types] of shady actions resemble something out of [a] movie and have no place in our state. With 45 months remaining in the term, we hereby call on Gov. Evers to hold a statewide election for Secretary of State.”

Earlier this week, the governor defended his decision when asked by reporters during a press conference on abortion rights.

“I did appoint, and no one complained about this, oddly enough, when I left the office of State Superintendent, I had an appointment of Carolyn Stanford Taylor — silence,” said Gov. Evers.

Doug La Follette is sworn in as Secretary of State during an inauguration ceremony held at the Capitol in January. (File)

The governor went on to tell reporters Tuesday that he last spoke to La Follette at inauguration earlier this year.

“This is such an odd story that Republicans have put in place here,” explained Gov. Evers. “The idea that somehow I colluded with Godlewski and Mandela, and all these other people, I think the last I talked to Doug La Follette, I think I saw him at the inauguration, and I said 'Good Speech, Doug.’ Three words that I’ve had with him over the last several years. There was no collusion. He brought my office a letter saying ‘I’m sick of this stuff.’ He left. I appointed a completely competent person to do the work.”

The joint resolution adopted Wednesday is nonbinding and functions more as a formal protest of the governor’s decision. It passed the Senate 20-11 and the Assembly 62-35 along party lines.

Even though Republicans disagree with Gov. Evers, state law is clear about the governor’s ability to appoint whoever he wants to serve out the remainder of La Follette’s term. However, calling a special election is also an option.