State News

Attorneys selected for new commissions set to replace GAB

State elections will now be managed by two new commissions comprised of bipartisan members. 

State elections will now be managed by two new commissions comprised of bipartisan members. 

Image By: Betsy Osterberger

Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca, D-Kenosha, announced this week his appointments to the new Ethics and Elections commissions, which are set to replace the nonpartisan state election board by early summer.

Barca appointed Milwaukee attorneys David Halbrooks, a former member of the state elections board, to the new state ethics panel and Mark Thomsen to the state election panel.

“I am confident that attorneys David Halbrooks and Mark Thomsen will bring experience and professionalism to the ethics and elections commissions,” Barca said in a press release.

Its predecessor, the Government Accountability Board, was dissolved by Republican lawmakers and Gov. Scott Walker last year to be replaced with a two-commission system, one that oversees elections and the other which reviews ethics and campaign finance issues at the state level. The previous GAB oversaw each of those areas.

Now partisan appointments will determine the makeup of the new commissions. The appointees are chosen by both Democratic and Republican leaders in the Assembly and Senate. Each party leader is allowed one pick per commission. The governor is also entitled to two appointments to each commission with Senate confirmation under the law.

Halbrooks served eight years on the state elections board which preceded the GAB. He says the elections board was based on partisanship but that doesn’t necessarily correspond to a flawed system. In fact, his experience serving on the elections board points to the opposite effect.

In talking about the new commission system, Halbrooks remarked it will be in a bright light and fair to most parties because nobody can take advantage of the other due to equal party power.

“Partisanship is good if everybody knows where everything stands,” Halbrooks said in a phone interview.

He said the new boards will consist of an equal number of members from both parties to try to prevent partisan decisions.

“I think it will be good as opposed to wondering what the biases might be. There won’t be anything hidden anymore,” he said.

The new commissions will have authority to adopt administrative rules and review the ones the GAB adopted. Halbrooks says it will take some time for the new panels to get up to speed with the process.

Thomsen serves as president of the board of Citizen Action of Wisconsin and is the former president of the Wisconsin Association for Justice.

“I look forward to participating in the elections commission and as I understand my role, it is to oversee the election process with the proposition to ensure fair elections and broad participation,” Thomsen said in a phone interview.

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