Assembly Speaker Vos fires back at retired Rhinelander judge's critical resignation from state Ethics CommissionSubmitted: 01/16/2017

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MADISON - At last week's State of the State address in Madison, Republicans and Democrats sat together on the floor, but apart on the issues.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) saw a parallel to the changes he helped usher in last year.

"It's better to reflect what the reality of the world is," Vos said.

In 2015, Vos was key in ending the Government Accountability Board after eight years of the body overseeing elections and politicians.  Republicans replaced the GAB with the state Ethics and Elections commissions last summer.  An equal number of members from both sides of the aisle, appointed by Republicans and Democrats, sit on those boards.

"If you're volunteering to serve on a government board, chances are you have political leanings that we should just be honest about," Vos said. "All we're saying is, tell people that you're Republican or Democrat and act like an adult."

That's why when retired Rhinelander judge Robert Kinney stepped down from the state Ethics Commission in early December 2016, Vos called the decision "unfortunate" and hasty.

"For someone to take the first few meetings and assume they are now an expert on how state law and the constitution and all these things should work really is, for me, pretty arrogant," Vos said during a one-on-one interview last week.

Kinney, a Democratic nominee, wrote a letter criticizing the commission after resigned. He said the board "require[s] too much secrecy and too little transparency." Kinney added that "several of the commissioners [have] an observable lack of commitment to the underlying purposes of the agency."

"Unfortunately, it sounds like maybe that's where Judge Kinney was," Vos said. "He wanted to be much more partisan, much more punitive, and I just don't think that's where the reality of the world is, where not every single elected official is looking to do wrong to the taxpayers."

But former GAB member and fellow retired Rhinelander judge Tim Vocke applauded Kinney's decision to quit. Vocke called it "gusty" in an interview with Newswatch 12's Ben Meyer last week.

"I think [those Republicans are] politicians, and they're looking out for themselves," Vocke said on January 10. "That's not something unique to Republicans. Both parties have been doing that."

Vocke questioned the idea of political appointees supervising politicians themselves, saying the Ethics Commission takes us "back to the bad old days" of partisan caucus scandals in the 2000s. But Vos thinks that mindset is not giving Wisconsin politicians enough credit to do the right thing.

"They're not going to cast [political malfeasance] aside," Vos said. "They don't want to have that stain on Wisconsin's government. So I know the system is going to work."

In his resignation letter, Kinney concluded that "...staff are confronted with overbearing nit-picking. Over time... this disrespectful treatment will erode staff morale and we will lose these talented people."

Vos doesn't expect Kinney's resignation to spark a mass exodus from the commission. Instead, Vos thinks that a largely successful 2016 general election with no apparent violations proved that the new system did and will work.

"We should look at that and high-five each other and say, 'This is exactly what we want in our elections,'" Vos said. "But, if you're a Democrat and the sun is shining, you spend a lot of time looking for clouds in the sky. And that's exactly what [Kinney is] doing."

Gov. Walker will get to choose Kinney's replacement from a list provided by Democrats. Vos says he looks forward to someone stepping in who "understands the Board's mission."

Story By: Lane Kimble

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