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Capitol Punishments: Vos tosses Gableman

Vos tries to sweep the fiasco of Gableman’s sham election investigation under the rug.
Illustration: Ghosts and ghouls are shown swarming about the Wisconsin Capitol. Illustration by Maggie Denman.
Illustration: Ghosts and ghouls are shown swarming about the Wisconsin Capitol. Illustration by Maggie Denman.

Vos tries to sweep the fiasco of Gableman’s sham election investigation under the rug.

Each week in Wisconsin politics brings an abundance of bad policies, bad takes, and bad actors. In our recurring feature, Capitol Punishments, we bring you the week’s highlights (or low-lights) from the state Legislature and beyond.

My fellow Wisconsinites, our long statewide nightmare is over; on Friday, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) finally fired Michael Gableman, who he hired last summer to “investigate” the 2020 election with a $676,000 budget and an October 31, 2021 deadline. 

Fourteen months and over $1 million in taxpayer funds later, Vos finally let the former Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice know that the gravy train made its final stop and it was time for him to get off.

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And what a wild 14-month-long ride it’s been. Gableman showed he was unqualified for the job before he was even hired when he made public statements that he believed the election was stolen. And just before hitting his original October 31 deadline, Gableman stated that “Most people, myself included, do not have a comprehensive understanding or even any understanding of how elections work.” Knowing how elections work should be the bare minimum qualification to investigate an election.  

That statement came back to haunt him last month when Dane County Judge Valerie Bailey-Rihn said that Wisconsin taxpayers had paid Gableman $11,000 a month “to sit in the New Berlin library to learn about election law because he knows nothing about election law.”

Gableman’s team botched subpoenas by asking for documents that don’t exist, shouted at lawmakers questioning his investigation, lied about collaborating with the far-right Thomas More Project, tried to throw elected officials in jail, and sprinkled in some good old fashioned sexism towards an open records attorney (who beat him in court) and Wisconsin Elections Commission administrator Meagan Wolfe (who still has a job).

All this time, money, and headache, for a 136-page report full of allegations and zero evidence. 

If you look forward to Capitol Punishments every week like we do, consider becoming a Tone Madison sustainer. Reader support is what makes it possible for us to be as, er – punishing about politics as we are.

Obviously, I’m skipping over quite a bit in that timeline. There was such an onslaught of weekly, almost daily, updates that it has taken every ounce of self restraint to not devote Capitol Punishments to dragging Gableman and his enablers every week. But I didn’t, both for readers’ sakes and my own.

Now it’s over. But don’t give Vos too much credit. He didn’t see the light or grow a spine. He’s spent the last year with a vice grip on the tiger’s tail, telling himself that everything was under control. Then the tiger turned around and licked its lips. 

After the 2020 election, former President Donald Trump fired several warning shots in Vos’ direction and the investigation was Vos’ way of appeasing Trump. The turning point for Vos was probably when Trump and several Trump enablers—including Gableman—endorsed Vos’ opponent in last week’s primary, Adam Steen.

“You know, Robin Vos never wanted a real investigation into the 2020 election in Wisconsin,” Gableman said in a 30-second audio ad for Steen. “And everything that my office and I have been able to do to expose all the corruption that took place has been in spite of Robin and not because of him.”

Gableman was even supposed to show up at a “Toss Vos” rally in Racine County, where Steen and others flung effigies of Vos with a giant slingshot. (Which is only the second-weirdest rally I’ve seen in Racine County.) For whatever reason, Gableman decided not to go, but it was probably already too late for the Office of Special Counsel by that point.

“Justice Gableman knows overturning the election is both unconstitutional and impossible,” Vos told WISN Channel 12 in a written statement. “His attempts to lie to voters and gain favor with Adam Steen are sad and show how desperate he is to remain relevant.”

Once Vos managed to squeak past his opponent on primary day, he must have felt emboldened enough to speak his mind. At a campaign party with state Sen. Van Wanggaard (R-Racine) and with a caucus meeting planned to discuss the investigation, Vos said Gableman was “an embarrassment to the state.”

“I will not let my joy tonight be focused on a person like Mike Gableman, who isn’t worth the time to talk about,” Vos told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.

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Vos has tried to pull those statements back somewhat, saying that Gableman “did a good job last year, it kind of got off the rails this year and now we’re going to end the investigation.”

By insisting that everything was fine at first, and at some point it became a mess, Vos shows he clearly wants to sweep the affair under the rug. The truth is Gableman’s investigation was a mess from the start. He should never have been hired, and there were plenty of good reasons to fire him long before the primary.

I doubt Gableman is going to go away quietly. Now that he’s connected to all the other grifters and hawkers of election conspiracy, he’ll find another gravy train. And he’ll be happy to speechify in front of any camera or committee that’ll keep that train running.  

The key question now is whether Gableman and Vos will be held accountable for this fiasco.

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