By SCOTT BAUER
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Gov. Scott Walker wants to replace, without explanation, the former judge who led the nonpartisan elections board during Walker’s recall in 2012, raising questions about his motives for the unusual move.
Walker’s office on Monday provided The Associated Press with a copy of the governor’s Oct. 24 letter withdrawing the nomination for Senate confirmation of Judge David Deininger. Walker spokesman Tom Evenson had no comment on why the governor made the move. A Senate committee was to vote on the nomination Tuesday.
“I feel like I’ve been fired and I don’t know why,” said Deininger, a former Republican lawmaker who was first appointed to the Government Accountability Board in 2008 by then-Gov. Jim Doyle, a Democrat.
The board was established to be a nonpartisan arbiter of the state’s election and ethics laws, but some of its decisions have so angered Republicans they have called for it to be abolished and reconstituted.
The board was in charge of reviewing petitions and setting election dates for the 2011 and 2012 recall elections of Walker, Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch and 13 state senators in the wake of the Legislature approving Walker’s proposal that effectively ended collective bargaining for most public workers. The board also handles ethics violations, campaign finance and lobbying reports and oversees elections across the state.
Deininger told AP that Walker’s attorney told him withdrawing his nomination was part of a deal the governor reached with the Republican-led Senate. But Deininger said he wasn’t given a reason as to why he was targeted.
Walker is asking the Senate to replace Deininger on the board with Harold Froehlich, an 81-year-old former Republican congressman who worked as an Outagamie County circuit judge for 30 years.
Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said that while he’s had issues with the GAB, he had no problem with Deininger personally. However, Fitzgerald said, he thought Froehlich was more qualified.
“Dave’s a good guy,” Fitzgerald said. “I think he did a good job on the GAB.”
Deininger was chairman of the board, comprised of six former judges, last year when it was thrust in the middle of the Walker recall. Six months after the June 2012 recall, Fitzgerald said the board too often favors Democrats and needed to be reconstituted, perhaps with a more partisan model like what previously existed.
Deininger was openly critical of Fitzgerald’s claims of partisanship at the time, saying the board doesn’t approach any decision from a political standpoint.
Deininger said Monday he had no idea if those comments, or anything he did in 2012, affected Walker’s decision. He said no one from the Senate has spoken with him about it, either.
“I’m disappointed,” Deininger said. “I do think that the Government Accountability Board has done the job for which it was created.”
George Dunst, the former lead attorney for the board who worked with Deininger before retiring in 2008, said Deininger may have been singled out because he was chairman during the recall.
“This looks to me like it’s targeting Deininger and trying to send a message to the board that you need to be more cognizant of partisan considerations,” Dunst said.
Kevin Kennedy, director of the board, said he asked Walker’s office why Deininger’s nomination was withdrawn and also wasn’t given an answer. Kennedy said he wasn’t aware of anyone complaining about how Deininger ran the board.
Doyle reappointed Deininger to the board in 2010 for a term that expires in 2016. Walker initially pulled back the appointment after taking office in 2011, but immediately reappointed Deininger. However, he was never confirmed by the state Senate.
Froehlich, Walker’s proposed replacement for Deininger, was one of four former judges recommended by a committee of current appellate court judges for a vacancy on the board.
Froehlich served in the state Assembly from 1963 to 1973, including a stint as speaker, and was elected to Congress in 1972. He served only one term but it was memorable: Froehlich was one of six out of 17 Republican members of the House Judiciary Committee to vote in favor of impeaching fellow Republican President Richard Nixon.