Robin Vos is a nightmare for a columnist. The Republican from Burlington and long-time Assembly speaker never does anything that is in the least bit surprising.
What you’d like, as a writer, is a subject that gives you an opening to explore an angle that is unexpected. In Vos’ case that would be an opportunity to write a headline along the lines of, Vos stands up to the crazies.
But, alas, I’m still waiting because Vos never pushes back against the growing number of unhinged members of his caucus. The latest example is the pressure he’s getting to find fraud, where clearly there was virtually none, in last November’s election.
Local election officials reported a total of 27 cases of potential fraud out of 3.3 million votes cast. Joe Biden won Wisconsin by about 20,000 votes. What else do you need to know?
But Republicans are going to keep at this issue until they get the answers they want, even if it means making stuff up. Vos tasked the Assembly elections committee with investigating the election and the Republicans have demanded an audit from the Legislative Audit Bureau. The committee has produced nothing and the Audit Bureau, a reputable nonpartisan agency, will no doubt report what we already know — that the election was clean — when the wild goose chase they’ve been sent on is complete sometime this fall.
So, Vos needed to have at least some hope of finding more than 27 needles in a stack of 3.3 million pieces of hay. His answer was to hire three retired cops to “investigate” the election. What exactly there is left to investigate beyond what we already know, or what the Audit Bureau will find out, was not made clear.
Also not revealed was a little detail like the names of those three intrepid detectives. That’s right. Vos is spending taxpayer money — he won’t even say how much — to do work that is already being done (but almost certainly doesn’t need doing) by an existing and respected state agency. And, to top it all off, he won’t even reveal the names of the detectives. You would hope that one would be Clouseau. At least then we’d get some comic relief out of it.
A name did come out, but more or less inadvertently. Vos was appearing on a right-wing radio talk show and the host happened to know that one of the sleuths was a fellow named Mike Sandvick. Vos admitted that Sandvick, a retired Milwaukee police detective, was basically a Republican operative. According to a story in the Wisconsin State Journal, he has done work for the Wisconsin Republicans’ “election integrity” committee and he has worked for True the Vote, a Texas outfit, affiliated with the tea party movement, that is in business to find voter fraud.
But wait, it gets better. Sandvick’s work is so questionable that a report he wrote on the 2004 election was rejected for use by the U.S. Justice Department, the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the FBI and a federal judge. This guy’s top notch. Maybe we should start calling him Clouseau, after all.
At this point I wish I could throw you a curveball. Something that would suggest that Vos is, say, cleverly using all this to try to diffuse the baseless and ultimately dangerous attacks on the integrity of an election process that is, by all responsible accounts, as sound as ever.
But I’ve got nothing to work with here. As far as I can tell, this is just what it looks like. Vos wants to stay in power, so he’s pandering to the most extreme and unhinged elements of his caucus. He’s a smart enough guy to know better, but he doesn’t have the confidence or the courage to just tell his own members what he knows to be the truth. He’s no profile in courage and he’s no leader.
Which leads to a final question, which maybe is just a little bit interesting. Who’s worse? The Republicans who are truly insane, like Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, or the far more numerous Republicans like Vos, who must know the election was fair, and yet pander to the Taylor Greenes anyway?
This column originally appeared in Isthmus.