A Job For Godlewski

You can’t fault Sarah Godlewski for wanting to have something to do.

I’m not sure what Godlewski, the former State Treasurer and Senate candidate, ever did to cross Gov. Tony Evers, but Evers sentenced her to four years as Secretary of State after Secretary of State For Life Doug LaFollette decided to quit shortly after his reelection. I think it was John Nance Garner who said that being Vice President wasn’t worth a bowl of warm spit. It may have been LBJ who added color to the analogy by changing the liquid. Secretary of State is like that, only the contents aren’t even warm.

The job has no real responsibilities. You stamp some documents and you sit on a board that oversees a fund for school libraries and some forest land that generates revenue for that good purpose. But that program pretty much runs itself. And your office doesn’t even have a window.

It’s a limbo office. It has no responsibilities and yet it can’t be abolished. Doing so would take a constitutional amendment. We tried that a few years ago with the other office with nothing to do — Treasurer — and the voters decided for some unfathomable reason to keep it alive. In fact, Godlewski got her start in politics by leading the fight to keep the Treasurer doing nothing for us. Then she occupied that office for four years, so she has experience in running a pointless operation, which I suppose is as good a reason as any for Evers to tap her for this assignment.

You can’t blame Sarah Godlewsk for wanting to occupy her days with a useful project.

Now, if I were Secretary of State I’d know exactly what to do. Each day, after a rough 15 minutes of stamping documents, I’d play golf. I’d also do lengthy inspection tours of the 77,000 acres of forest land that the Board of Commissioners of Public Lands oversees. I would do this with a fly rod in hand. Along the way, I’d visit supper clubs and I’d find sheepshead games, where I would spread the gospel of “call an ace.” In other words, I’d do pretty much what I do now, except that the taxpayers would pay me for it. What’s not to love about that?

But Godlewski is young and ambitious and so, in a way, this is the worst of fits and so it’s giving her fits. She’s casting about for something to do, but her most recent cast has found a snag. She wants to have something to do with running elections. This morning’s Wisconsin State Journal editorial pointed up all the reasons this is a horrible idea. The main one is that Republicans have been trying to gain control of these offices around the country with the intent of fixing elections for their candidates. In fact, that’s exactly what some GOP legislators had in mind for her office if LaFollette had lost to Republican and election denier Amy Loudenbeck.

So, why Godlewski would pick this of all things as the project she wanted to pursue in her office’s copious free time is a mystery to me.

But we always strive to be constructive and helpful here at YSDA, so here are three ideas for Godlewski.

First, be an ambassador for school libraries. She and her husband have some money so they could seed a foundation for that purpose and she could go around talking up libraries and raising money for the foundation. She might need to get some ethics guidance on this since it combines personal and official business, but that can’t be too problematic. It’s not without controversy either since Republicans have stepped up book banning efforts, especially in school libraries. Godlewski could be a champion for free speech. This could have the beneficial side effect of inspiring Republicans to take a shot at abolishing the office.

Second, take on some role in promoting good land and water management. The hook here is all that public land the lands board oversees. This goes back to statehood when a certain amount of land was set aside to be sold and managed for the benefit of creating a public school system. The Secretary of State, State Treasurer and Attorney General are designated as the members of the board. Yes, we have departments of natural resources and of tourism, but there’s always room for another voice of conservation in the room.

Third, be a voice for regional cooperation among Great Lakes states. This is quite a stretch, but hear me out. At the national level, the Secretary of State deals with foreign governments. Here, the office would specialize in building relationships with surrounding states. It’s nobody else’s job to do this, so the field is wide open. One thing that really sticks in my craw is the national media’s (and too often even local media’s) description of our region as the “Rust Belt.” What other part of our country would embrace a moniker like that? I’m aware of no other entity that is fighting to stamp out “Rust Belt” and to rehabilitate the image of our region. Also, as Richard Longworth pointed out 20 years ago in his great book, Caught in the Middle, there is a lot of untapped potential in regional cooperation in higher education, economic development, workforce training and resource management.

You have to appreciate Godlewski’s energy and ambition, and having a job with no real responsibilities essentially means she can take on anything she wants. She has stumbled out of the gate by picking maybe the worst possible project. It’s easy enough to do a reset.


Published by dave cieslewicz

Madison/Upper Peninsula based writer. Mayor of Madison, WI from 2003 to 2011.

4 thoughts on “A Job For Godlewski

  1. how about, defensive coordinator for the Packers, could not be any worse than what the Packers have now.


  2. I can assure you that Secretary Godlewski does not need anyone’s suggestions on how to spend her time.

    How about uh pursuing what other intelligent female Secretaries of State do like…address ways to ensure election integrity, promote free and fair elections, and access for ALL to the ballot ?!?


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