MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Democratic Gov. Tony Evers said Friday he can't think of anyone worse to fill a vacancy on Wisconsin's bipartisan elections commission than a Republican-hired election investigator and he prays that the former state Supreme Court justice isn't named to the panel.
Evers's comments come a day after the Republican Assembly leader said he wasn't ruling anyone out for the job, including the investigator he hired, former Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman. His work questioning President Joe Biden's win in Wisconsin has received widespread bipartisan criticism.
Evers, speaking at a campaign event outside the Capitol, also praised outgoing Republican elections commissioner Dean Knudson, saying he was disappointed the former lawmaker decided to resign under pressure from fellow Republicans upset that he didn't question Donald Trump's loss in 2020.
Knudson's departure creates a vacancy to be filled by Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos. He refused to rule anyone out for the appointment, including Gableman. When asked what he thought of the possibility of Vos naming Gableman to serve on the commission that oversees elections in Wisconsin, Evers did not hold back.
"I can't think of anybody less capable and less prepared to sit on the Wisconsin Elections Commission than him," Evers said. "I'm hopeful that the speaker just said that because he didn't want to irritate him. But at the end of the day, if that is a choice that he makes, which I pray that he doesn't, it will absolutely be the worst."
Gableman did not return a message seeking comment. He has not said publicly whether he is interested in the appointment.
State law requires the next chair to be a Republican. Republican elections commissioner Bob Spindell wants the job but it's unlikely he would get the required vote from at least one Democratic commissioner.
Knudson announced at the commission's Wednesday meeting that he was resigning once his replacement is named. The commission delayed a vote on who will be chairman until its next meeting on June 10. Knudson said he left under pressure from top Republicans because he wasn't conservative enough and he believed that Trump lost the election fair and square. U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson told Vos that Knudson had lost confidence with grassroots Republicans, the senator's spokeswoman said.
"I've worked with Representative Knudson and obviously we're many times on opposite sides," Evers said. "But at the end of the day, he's right. His sense of what the Republican Party is has left him."
Evers said Knudson would have been a good chair of the commission.
The next chair of the commission will hold the position heading into the November election, when Evers and Johnson are both on the ballot, and in the lead up to the 2024 presidential election in battleground Wisconsin. The chair by state law approves the vote canvass following elections and certifies results. The chair also sets the agenda for the commission and can exert influence over how questions are framed, an important power on the board that is evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats.
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