The normally low-profile race for Wisconsin’s secretary of state has become a focal point for the upcoming midterm elections. Republican candidates have increased their push for an overhaul of the statewide election administration, which includes abolishing the bipartisan Wisconsin Elections Commission and placing election oversight duties solely in the hands of the secretary of state.
Democratic candidate priorities lie elsewhere. The contest for the Democratic nomination is now a two-way race between incumbent Douglas La Follette and challenger Alexia Sabor. La Follette was first elected as secretary of state in 1974 and has held office since 1982 after launching an unsuccessful bid for lieutenant governor in 1978. As long as he has held his office he has also successfully defeated Republican challengers, even in difficult years for Democrats. He faced criticism from the state GOP after delaying the publication of 2011’s Act 10, which limited the collective bargaining power for most public workers. While initially planning to retire at the beginning of this year, he has since chosen to run for reelection after being encouraged by members of his party. He is a descendent of “Fighting” Bob La Follette, a 20th century progressive who served as the 20th governor of Wisconsin before serving in the U.S. House and Senate.
Alexia Sabor is the Chairwoman of the Democratic Party of Dane County, but considered a newcomer to state-level politics. She has never held an elected office, but believes that the rapidly evolving political landscape is indicative of a need for new leadership. Sabor has stated that her aim is to protect fair elections, citing the Republican candidates’ desire to shift election oversight to the office of secretary of state. She previously worked as a project manager for 15 years at Earthling Interactive, a website development company, before quitting her job last month to focus on her campaign. Sabor is a volunteer board member for the Wisconsin Alliance for Women’s Health and holds a doctorate in forest ecology and management.
The Republican field consists of three candidates: Amy Loudenbeck, Jay Schroeder and Justin Schmidtka. Amy Loudenbeck was first elected to the state Assembly in 2010, and is a member of the Legislature’s powerful state budget committee.. Her main drive during this race has been to increase the power that the secretary of state office holds, particularly to give the office the unofficial title of “election czar.” Loudenbeck also serves as co-chair of the Joint Committee on Information Policy and Technology and is the vice chairwoman of the Joint Committee on Finance.
Jay Schroeder is a real estate and equity investor from Neenah, and is seeking the Republican nomination for a second time after a failed challenge to La Follette in 2018. His campaign highlights that he was the first Republican candidate to gain 1.2 million votes in the general election, before ultimately being defeated. Schroeder is not new to the world of campaigning since he also launched several unsuccessful bids to represent the Assembly’s 55th District. He was recently endorsed by Jim Marchant after his win in the Republican Primary for the state of Nevada, citing that Schroeder seeks to eliminate the use of voting machines, return to paper ballots, end the use of the ERIC voter registration system, reinstitute voter IDs for all ballots, all while claiming elections will be tabulated within one day.
Justin Schmidtka is a marine veteran from Mesa, Arizona. He graduated from the Reinhardt School of Taxidermy in 2009, and has spent his career outside of politics as a truck driver and the host of the Badger State Resistance Podcast. Echoing the Trumpian cries of “America first,” he has made abolishing the WEC a central issue of his campaign, and consolidating election oversight powers onto the office of secretary of state, should he win.