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Friday, December 08, 2023
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Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester), Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu (R-Oostburg), Sen. Howard Marklein (R-Spring Green) and other Republicans on the Legislature's Joint Finance Committee gathered in the Capitol's Senate Parlor Room for a press conference after Gov. Tony Evers' budget address on Feb. 15, 2022. Republicans decried Evers' budget as a "liberal wishlist."

Wisconsin is not a functioning democracy.

For five years, Wisconsin Republicans have pushed our institutional integrity, showing there’s no bar too low.

Even for Robin Vos and Wisconsin Republicans, this might be a new low.

After months of campaigning in a fraught election for ideological control of the state Supreme Court, liberal Janet Protasiewicz — who campaigned on abortion rights and fair representation — won handily. Her election was a referendum on the abortion issue and 12 years of Republican control, and voters loudly spoke for change. In the most divided state in America, Protasiewicz cruised to a double-digit victory last spring.

In a healthy democracy, the losing party would be reflecting. “How could our views have been so out of touch with the electorate?” they would ask. “Was supporting an abortion statute written over 170 years ago a winning issue?” “Should we really be campaigning with Jan. 6 insurrectionists?”

Of course, healthy democracy and the Wisconsin Republican Party do not go hand in hand.

Instead, they charted another course: to keep Protasiewicz from attaining real power and enacting the changes the people of Wisconsin want to see made. Party leaders, including U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, have said the $9 million she received from the Democratic Party and “rigged” Wisconsin legislative maps make her unable to serve as an impartial judge.

They have called on her to recuse herself. Now, they want to impeach her.

Let’s be clear. This is undemocratic, unprecedented and unwarranted.

The U.S. Supreme Court held in 2002 that judges have the First Amendment right to express their views on legal and political issues while campaigning. In 2017, the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled judges did not have to recuse themselves from cases involving donors. 

Additionally, Protasiewicz’s views on the maps are backed up by every impartial analysis of the issue. A study done by the Princeton Gerrymandering Project found Wisconsin has “some of the most extreme partisan gerrymanders in the United States.”

Harvard University declared the maps made the state a “democracy desert” with levels of political fairness equivalent to non-democracies such as Bahrain, Jordan and the Congo. In 2018, Republicans lost every statewide race and earned only 45% of the statewide popular vote, yet they walked away with 64% of the assembly seats.

This skew has emboldened them to make blatant power grabs and disregard the will of the voters.

After two-term Republican former governor Scott Walker lost to current Democratic Gov. Tony Evers in 2018, Vos used the lame-duck period to curb the new administration’s powers. He impaired Evers’ ability to protect the Affordable Care Act and expand infrastructure spending — priorities the Democrats campaigned and won on. Vos had been fine expanding the power of the executive while Walker was governor but changed course when a Democrat took control.

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In 2021, he appointed Michael Gableman, who The New York Times called a “ringleader of far-right Republicans’ effort to overturn [Wisconsin’s] presidential results,” to run a 14-month investigation into the 2020 election. The report cited far-right publications such as the Gateway Pundit, spread debunked conspiracy theories and turned up no cases of significant fraud. It will cost taxpayers over $2.5 million.

Just this week, Senate Republicans voted to remove top elections administrator Meagan Wolfe so they could, again, litigate the 2020 election. Election deniers have targeted her with false allegations of widespread fraud for allowing voting in nursing homes during the pandemic and using absentee drop boxes. 

To justify removing her, Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu said Wisconsinites had lost “confidence” in the election process.

“A key component of fair and honest elections is that the electorate have confidence in our elections,” LeMahieu told the Wisconsin Examiner after Wolfe’s failed confirmation vote. “If they don’t have confidence in our elections, we’re disenfranchising voters. They’re not going to go out and vote if they don’t feel that their vote is not going to be stolen or that there’s fraud going on.”

Of course, the only one threatening the election process is his own party. LeMahieu is someone who reappointed a false elector to the Wisconsin Election Board and refused to confirm if Joe Biden won the 2020 election.

All this power and the ability to pull these outlandish stunts, though, rests on the maps. Without them, Republicans might have to engage in the tricky business of appealing to voters and winning on their own merits. 

With his plan for impeachment in trouble, Vos has tossed one more Hail Mary. He is proposing an independent commission to control the redistricting process without offering many specifics as to what it would look like. The plan was organized in 48 hours, without any opportunity for public comment and few concrete details.

It should be rejected because Vos has no credibility on this issue. He has never shown any interest in good-faith behavior, and it is unreasonable to expect him to start now.

Vos is your little cousin who starts changing the rules of the game when he’s losing. He’ll scream and he’ll whine, but eventually he’ll run out of cards to play. The winds of Wisconsin politics are changing and if his reaction is any indication, they’re set to sweep him to the minority.


Graham Brown is an Opinion editor and junior studying Political Science and History. Do you agree Republicans have put Wisconsin’s democracy at risk? Send all comments to

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