Steven Walters: Dumped Deininger wonders why, who did it?

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Steven Walters
Monday, November 11, 2013

“E tu, fellow Republicans?”

The actual phrase—“E tu, Brute”—comes from Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar” play. That’s what Caesar utters as he recognizes a friend, Brutus, as one of those stabbing him to death.

Former lawmaker and Court of Appeals Judge David Deininger can now utter the modified phrase because some of his fellow Republicans mysteriously ended his long tenure as a member, and two-time former chairman, of the Government Accountability Board.

The 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. The Senate confirms GAB members.

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

He’s a U.S. Naval Academy graduate (1969). That got him assigned to submarines. He has a UW-Madison Law School degree (1978), was a Republican member of the Assembly from 1987-1994 and was elected a Green County judge in 1994. Former Gov. Tommy Thompson named him a Court of Appeals judge in 1996. Deininger was elected to full terms on that court in 1997 and 2003, and retired in 2007.

Former Gov. Jim Doyle appointed Deininger to the GAB in 2008, and Deininger served as the first chairman. Doyle reappointed him to the GAB in 2010, and Republican Gov. Scott Walker reappointed him in January 2011 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 off the board. When asked by reporters, Walker said the Republican-led Senate would not have confirmed Deininger.

“The Senate wasn’t going to approve him,” Walker said 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 expressed a problem with Deininger and wanted him off the 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 Judge Elsa Lamelas, who would be the first woman to serve on the 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 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 the GAB?

Ah, the rumors: It was payback for chairing the GAB when it scheduled the 2012 recall elections for Walker and Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch. Deininger had too bluntly responded to what he thought was unfair criticism of the GAB by Republican legislators. He was one of three judges who decided an ethics complaint against 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 also said no Republican senator ever shared concerns with him.

Numbers may have also doomed Deininger. Two-thirds, or 22, of the senators must confirm GAB members. 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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