Chris Rickert: Secretary of state job needs some work

2013-02-05T07:00:00Z Chris Rickert: Secretary of state job needs some workCHRIS RICKERT | Wisconsin State Journal | | 608-252-6198

This is what I get for paying attention to perhaps Wisconsin's most-ignored state officeholder.

Last week, I wrote about Republican state Sen. Glenn Grothman's bill to strip more duties from the secretary of state's office — all because two years ago, longtime Democratic Secretary of State Doug La Follette delayed implementation of Gov. Scott Walker collective bargaining bill for a few days.

Since then, La Follette's been bending my ear about how lawmakers interested in creating jobs and luring businesses here should be giving him his old duties back, not taking them away.

La Follette points out that the vast majority of other states' secretaries of state continue to perform the kinds of administrative functions helpful to business — from registering corporations to commissioning notaries to administering the uniform commercial code.

As a result, his office regularly fields inquiries — some 180 a week, according to his staff — from people who assume his office does the same kinds of things, only to find out those functions are located in the state Department of Financial Institutions.

In effect, the first thing many of these potential job creators hear from our state is: "Next window, please" — or exactly the kind of government response that drives people nuts, La Follette said.

In my native state of Illinois, the secretary of state's office not only handles business-service-related functions but runs the state's department of motor vehicles, too. And it's been home to some of the state's most effective politicians, including former Gov. George Ryan.

OK, Ryan's wrapping up a federal prison sentence for corruption that began when he was secretary of state, so he may not the best example. But under his successor, Jesse White, who has held the position for 14 years, the office has gotten positive reviews.

Granted, not everyone believes giving Wisconsin's secretary of state more responsibility is a good idea — including Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce vice president Jim Morgan, who said that in the old days, WMC heard complaints from businesses that the office was "less than accommodating."

And Mordecai Lee, a UW-Milwaukee governmental affairs professor and former Democratic state lawmaker, said a more powerful secretary of state could stymie a governor's attempts to get the state pulling for the same economic development strategy while giving him someone to blame if the strategy fails.

"So, in my opinion, Doug's idea would undermine good government in those two ways: degrade the effectiveness of public administration and reduce the electoral accountability of the governor," he said.

Still, it's not as if other, recent ideas from the Republicans who control state government are paying dividends.

We're a long way from the 250,000 jobs Walker promised; the state's new economic development agency has been mired in mismanagement; and a resurgence in mining is a long way off.

But a secretary of state in name only sure isn't "open for business" either.

Contact Chris Rickert at 608-252-6198 or, as well as on Facebook and Twitter (@ChrisRickertWSJ). His column appears Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday.

Copyright 2015 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(4) Comments

  1. Thurston Howell III
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    Thurston Howell III - February 07, 2013 8:14 pm
    Let's see now, we have an absolute butt-fool as Secretary of we should give him MORE to do? How about we give him severance pay, and move on to something and someone more productive? A sock puppet would be an improvement over this clown.
  2. MagnusP
    Report Abuse
    MagnusP - February 05, 2013 9:50 am
    The functions SS office has been one that have been questioned for the last 40 years. It is a constitutional office which makes it difficult to get rid of, but, that may be the best for both the Republicans and the Democrats.
  3. IAD
    Report Abuse
    IAD - February 05, 2013 8:32 am
    The problem here is the SS has been elected the last 50 years or so solely because of his last name. While DF seems to be a nice person, no one takes him or the office very seriously. Consequently the time has passed for the office to be useful.
  4. epic
    Report Abuse
    epic - February 05, 2013 8:04 am
    "But a secretary of state in name only sure isn't "open for business" either."

    Exactly. That's why this anachronism needs to be abolished. An office with a few minor functions and a HUGE staff of 7 or 8 people isn't ready for anything but a funeral. At the same time, the office of state treasurer needs to get the boot as well.

    If you look in the dictionary under "gadfly" you will see Doug's picture.
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