When U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson paid a rare visit to the Wisconsin State Capitol last fall to meet with legislative leaders, the expected agenda was to discuss dismantling the state elections commission, newly released text messages between top legislative staff members suggest.
Johnson met privately for an hour with GOP legislative leaders in the state Capitol in early November, weeks before he launched a re-election campaign and as the state’s Republican base called for more and more scrutiny of how the 2020 election was administered.
He arrived in Madison after telling the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that state lawmakers should take over federal elections and ignore the Wisconsin Elections Commission.
A day after the meeting, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos told reporters he and Johnson “never got into all those details” of Johnson’s proposal on elections and that most of their discussion centered on the economy, inflation and their opposition to President Joe Biden’s policies.
But Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu’s chief of staff told the chief of staff to Joint Finance Committee co-chairman Sen. Howard Marklein in a text message sent the day before Johnson’s Nov. 10 visit that her boss was meeting with Johnson the next day because “he wants us to dismantle (WEC).”
The messages were obtained by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel under the state’s public records law.
In a statement, Johnson reiterated his position that the state Legislature should “reclaim its constitutional authority over federal elections” and said they also should “act to defend its oversight authority over state agencies, like WEC, that they have created.”
“Without legislative oversight, agency accountability to the public would be dramatically diminished and confidence in government and election integrity further reduced.”
When asked if Johnson’s statement referred to specifically dismantling the WEC as the text message suggested, a spokeswoman said “It should be taken as how he wrote it, not what the text messages say.”
Since the meeting with Johnson, Vos and LeMahieu have both said they don’t support the idea and have not said Johnson once proposed it.
Aides to both leaders did not respond to questions about the meeting.
Both houses of the state Legislature are taking up a slate of election-related bills in the coming weeks as the legislative session winds down.
None of them dissolve the state elections commission but Republican candidates for governor, Rebecca Kleefisch and Kevin Nicholson, have said they would sign a bill that would do so.
Meagan Wolfe, Wisconsin Elections Commission administrator, declined to be interviewed.