Steven Walters

Who Threw Deininger Off the GAB?

The rumor is that Walker or Republican legislators are punishing him for his decisions on recall elections.

By - Nov 11th, 2013 10:00 am
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“E tu, fellow Republicans?”

The actual phrase – “E tu, Brute” – is uttered by Julius Caeser as he recognizes a friend, Brutus, as one of those stabbing him to death in Shakespeare’s play.

Former lawmaker and Court of Appeals judge David Deininger can now utter the modified phrase, since some of his fellow Republicans mysteriously ended his long tenure as a member, and former chairman, of the Government Accountability Board (GAB).

GAB oversees elections – including the historical 13 recall elections for state officials held in 2011-12 – and enforces ethics codes.

It is made up of six retired judges appointed by the governor, who can accept or reject potential candidates recommended by four Court of Appeals judges. GAB members must be confirmed by the Senate.

Before going deeper into this Capitol drama, let’s say this: We would all love to have Deininger’s resume.

U.S. Naval Academy graduate (1969), which got him assigned to submarines. UW-Madison Law School degree (1978). Republican member of Assembly, 1987-1994. Elected a Green County Circuit Court judge in 1994. Named a Court of Appeals judge by former Gov. Tommy Thompson in 1996. Elected to full terms on that court in 1997 and 2003. Retired in 2007.

Appointed to GAB by former Gov. Jim Doyle in 2008; first GAB chairman. Reappointed to GAB in 2010 by Doyle, and, in January 2011, by Republican Gov. Scott Walker for a term ending in 2016.

Deininger, of Monroe, and other GAB members served for years without being confirmed by the Senate.

But, on Oct. 24, Walker sent the Senate a letter withdrawing his 2011 appointment of Deininger.

The letter gave no reason for throwing Deininger, a GAB veteran who chaired it twice, off GAB. When asked by reporters, Walker said Deininger would not have been confirmed by the Republican-led state Senate.

“The Senate wasn’t going to approve him,” Walker told reporters last week. “We thought it was appropriate to put someone on with the full support and confirmation of the Senate.”

Now, the mystery: Capitol reporters last week could find no one who would say they had a problem with Deininger and wanted him off GAB.

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, for example, told a  Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reporter he wasn’t aware of any deal that included dumping Deininger to get four others confirmed to the GAB.

The four are: Former judge, Assembly Speaker and U.S. Rep. Harold Froehlich, who would replace Deininger; former Milwaukee County Circuit Court Judge Elsa Lamelas, who would be the first woman to serve on GAB, and current GAB members Timothy Vocke and Gerald Nichol.

Froehlich, who is also a Republican, didn’t ask for Deininger’s GAB seat.

Republican Sen. Mary Lazich also told a Journal Sentinel reporter she “thought highly” of Deininger and didn’t know any senator who opposed him. Lazich, however, chairs the committee that never acted on Walker’s January 2011 reappointment of Deininger.

Another Republican leader, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, told reporters he didn’t know the “background” of the controversy. Deininger is a “good, decent person,” Vos added.

With pals like that, why won’t Deininger continue to serve on GAB?

Ah, the rumors: It was payback for being GAB chairman when it scheduled 2012 recall elections for both Walker and Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch. Deininger had too bluntly responded to what he felt was unfair criticism of GAB by Republican legislators. He was one of three judges that decided an ethics complaint against a conservative Supreme Court justice, Michael Gableman.

“I’m obviously disappointed,” Deininger said in an interview. “I’ve enjoyed being part of the board. It has done the job we were created to do.”

But, he added, “The law is the law.” If Walker had to rescind his appointment to get four of the six GAB board members confirmed, so be it.

Deininger, of Monroe, also said no Republican senator had ever shared their concerns with him.

Numbers may have also doomed Deininger. GAB members must be confirmed by two-thirds – or 22 – of the 33 senators.

Conservative Republicans and a handful of Senate Democrats could have blocked his confirmation. Senate Democrats never confirmed his 2010 appointment by Doyle.

Unlike Caesar, Deininger didn’t get stabbed. He got the Capitol equivalent; he was mugged.

Steven Walters is a senior producer for the nonprofit public affairs channel WisconsinEye. Email stevenscwalters@gmail.com

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