SENATE (copy)

Sen. Scott Fitzgerald in the Senate chambers at the State Capitol in Madison, on Tuesday, November 7, 2017. PHOTO BY MICHELLE STOCKER


Republican lawmakers may try to reclassify positions within the state's Elections and Ethics Commissions in an effort to remove former employees of the now-defunct Government Accountability Board, Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said Tuesday.

The Juneau Republican told reporters he's focused primarily on a handful of employees who were named in a state Department of Justice investigation of documents leaked from a John Doe investigation into Gov. Scott Walker in his allies. In particular, Fitzgerald is focused on Elections Commission attorney Nathan Judnic and Ethics Commission attorney David Buerger, both former GAB employees.

"I'll never have any confidence in either one of those agencies until that's cleaned up," Fitzgerald said.

Judnic and Buerger did not immediately respond to email messages seeking comment. 

The Senate voted on party lines Tuesday afternoon to remove Elections Commission administrator Mike Haas and Ethics Commission administrator Brian Bell from their posts. Fitzgerald said their employment as state employees had been terminated by Tuesday evening.

Fitzgerald did not say whether he thinks every remaining GAB employee must leave the two new agencies — which were created in 2015 when Republicans dismantled the GAB — in order to regain the confidence of lawmakers in the majority. 

"I think it would be incremental," he said. "You have to make those decisions as you see how things shake out."

However, he said, he wished former GAB employees like Haas and Bell would have resigned to avoid the vote against them. 

Fitzgerald said a request from the Elections Commission for three new positions opens the door for lawmakers to look at reclassifying jobs within the commissions. 

The DOJ report blamed "the systemic and pervasive mishandling of John Doe evidence" at the GAB for the leak to the Guardian U.S. The report argued the GAB was weaponized "by partisans in furtherance of political goals" and collected personal information about Wisconsin Republicans, including private emails and instant messages, without taking steps to secure it.

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Haas and Bell have both defended their conduct.

"It’s disappointing to me to have the Senate make this decision based on unsubstantiated allegations and unsupported claims," Haas told reporters after the Senate votes.

An Ethics Commission opinion released hours before the Senate votes said Bell "there is not a scintilla of evidence that Brian Bell has ever performed any of his governmental duties in a partisan manner."

Fitzgerald called the Ethics Commission report "a joke."

Both commissions are set to meet Wednesday afternoon.

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Jessie Opoien covers state government and politics for the Capital Times. She joined the Cap Times in 2013 and has also covered Madison life, race relations, culture and music. She has also covered education and politics for the Oshkosh Northwestern.