Today Secretary of State, Tomorrow the World!
Some surprisingly serious candidates for a much-maligned office.
The race to become Wisconsin's next secretary of state has heated up to a deliberate simmer. As with the position of state treasurer, secretary of state persists as a largely ceremonial position that attracts a merry band of political moonlighters. Their dean, patron saint and long-serving opponent, Doug La Follette, who's in more Blue Books than the Ford Motor Company, has occupied the office off and on since the 1970s and has watched it erode from underneath him. According to the 1999-2000 Blue Book, Secretary of State was once a fine and auspicious position responsible for discharging "program responsibilities set forth in approximately 100 sections of the Wisconsin Statutes," including such duties as registering trademarks and filing charter ordinances for villages and cities. The Bible of state government also notes that "in the early days of statehood, the secretary of state personally performed a broad range of duties that are now delegated to the specialized departments of the executive branch," which you only have to glance at the book's lengthy index to confirm. Fun fact: the secretary of state was originally known as the secretary of the territory (prior to Wisconsin's admission to the Union in 1848), a job appointed by the president.
In more modern times, the secretary of state has become little more than a rubber stamper. The 2011-2012 Blue Book reassures us that "Wisconsin's Constitution requires the secretary of state to maintain the official acts of the legislature and governor and to keep the Great Seal of the State of Wisconsin and affix it to all official acts of the governor." That's the long and short of the job, though La Follette would like to re-elevate its stature. Secretaries of state elsewhere in the country get to oversee their states' elections, a duty handled by the Government Accountability Board in Wisconsin.
La Follette's challengers this fall include Julian Bradley, 33, a La Crosse County Republican who believes that the "three-decade incumbent has squandered the respect the secretary of state once had," and promises to "reform the office with active and transparent leadership, restore lost duties and trust and rebuild bridges burned by the current occupant." Ouch. But it's not all slings and arrows from Bradley, who won Right Wisconsin's Grassroots Activist of the Year award in 2013. His website notes that he launched a "Shattering Stereotypes" speaking tour last year to share his story "of being a black Republican and former Democrat rising through the ranks in Wisconsin politics."
Gary Bies, a Republican state representative from Door County, is also running and told the Associated Press that he'd go along with whatever the state Legislature wanted. The leader of Bies' caucus, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, supports a proposal that would eliminate the secretary of state, though keeping it around could become part of another Republican recipe, one that would insert some sort of elected official into oversight of elections in Wisconsin.
"If they wanted to expand," Bies said of lawmakers, "we could do that. If they want to eliminate," he could also accommodate.
(image by Bradley campaign)