Members of the Legislature would no longer be allowed to serve concurrently as a county executive under legislation that cleared the Senate 19-14.
Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, introduced the bill two weeks ago and has acknowledged it is aimed at Winnebago County Exec Mark Harris. He announced last year he plans to run as a Dem for the 18th SD, which is expected to be the most competitive race this fall.
The bill also could impact Sen. Chris Larson, D-Milwaukee, who is running for Milwaukee County exec. Larson joined Republicans in voting for the bill, while Sen. Rob Cowles, R-Green Bay, was the only GOP member to vote no.
Dems slammed the legislation as a partisan attempt by Republicans, who control the chamber 19-14, to hold onto power. Members pointed out Fitzgerald did not raise the issue when fellow Republican Paul Farrow of Pewaukee ran this spring for Waukesha County exec and held both jobs for almost three months before resigning his Senate seat. Dem-turned-independent state Rep. Bob Ziegelbauer also served simultaneously as Manitowoc County exec while in the Assembly.
Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling, D-LaCrosse, said Republicans also had no problem with Gov. Scott Walker being absent from the state last year for long stretches as he ran for president. She also lumped in the bill with past GOP efforts to redraw legislative boundaries, do away with the Government Accountability Board and impose new restrictions on voting, saying they are all desperate attempts to keep their majorities.
“People see this as petty, vindictive and wrong,” she said.
Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, said politics were a part of the bill. But he said politics are part of everything that happens in the Capitol. That aside, he said the policy question was one he found troubling. County governments are arms of the state under the Wisconsin Constitution and are often charged with carrying out state policy. Fitzgerald said he was troubled by the idea a county exec could vote on a bill one day and then go home the next and have huge influence over how the policy is carried out.
He also said it was “immoral” for someone to draw a $100,000 salary as county exec and another $50,000 as a member of the state Legislature. It’s a slap in the face to members of the Senate to think someone could do both jobs, and Fitzgerald said he was sure there were enough qualified people in Winnebago County to have one person serve as county exec and another to represent the area in the Senate.
“It’s just mind boggling to me that they wouldn’t have two good people with the skills to do that,” Fitzgerald said.
The Senate amended the bill to provide 60 days following the certification of the election for either office before the ban would kick in.