- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 29, 2016

MADISON, Wis. (AP) - Democratic legislative leaders promised Wednesday to do away with new partisan commissions that oversee Wisconsin elections and ethics laws if they gain majority control of the Legislature.

Their news conference marked the final day of the nonpartisan Government Accountability Board. The eight-year-old board comprised of retired judges oversees elections, ethics, campaign finance and lobbying laws, but will be replaced Thursday by two new partisan commissions.

While Democrats said they’d try to reinstate some form of the nonpartisan board if they got a chance, they’re unlikely to have that opportunity any time soon. Republicans currently hold a 19-14 majority in the Senate and a much larger 63-36 majority in the Assembly.

Democrats are hopeful to make gains in both chambers this November, but they aren’t expected to come close to a full majority. Even if they did, any proposals they pass would be subject to veto by Republican Gov. Scott Walker, who signed the bill doing away with the GAB. Democrats’ stated strategy is to work toward hold a majority by 2020.

Still, Democratic Sen. Jon Erpenbach, of Middleton, said Wednesday he would “absolutely” reinstate the GAB, calling it a “model for the nation.” And Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca said he would “certainly want to go back to independent judges being on the commissions.”

Republicans moved to eliminate the board after it voted to investigate Walker and conservative groups involved in recall elections in 2011 and 2012. That investigation was ultimately found to be unconstitutional by the state Supreme Court.

The Republican-controlled Legislature, with support from Walker, voted to replace the board with two new commissions with an equal number of Democratic and Republican appointees.

Republican supporters of the new approach say it’s preferable because the partisan backgrounds of the members are known. They had argued that the staff of the GAB had too much influence over the judges on the board and had become overzealous in their mission.

Still, Democrats’ anger over the dissolution of the Government Accountability Board runs deep and was on full display Wednesday. Three current lawmakers and former Democratic Senate Majority Leader Judy Robson - all of whom joined with Republicans in the bipartisan push to create the GAB - blasted the decision to reverse course.

“This is not a day to be Wisconsin proud,” Robson said.

Erpenbach and Barca said Republicans didn’t want the new commissions to have any real power or independence to investigate law violations.

“The era of clean, open and transparent government in Wisconsin is over,” Barca said.


Follow Scott Bauer on Twitter at https://twitter.com/sbauerAP and find more of his work at https://bigstory.ap.org/content/scott-bauer

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