Longtime Wisconsin Secretary of State resigns

La Follette was first elected in 1974.
Wisconsin Secretary of State Doug La Follette unveils a plaque he helped pay for to honor his distant relative Robert “Fighting Bob” La Follette, one of the state’s most famous politicians whose bust sits in the Capitol Rotunda, on Monday, Jan. 30, 2023., in Madison, Wis (AP Photo/Harm Venhuizen)

Wisconsin Secretary of State Doug La Follette (D) resigned on Friday, marking an unexpected end to one of the longest-tenured careers in American politics.

La Follette, 82, has served as Wisconsin’s top elections and administration official for all but four years since 1975. He won election to a 12th term in office in 2022 by just three tenths of a percentage point, or about 7,000 votes out of more than 2.5 million cast.

In a statement Friday, Gov. Tony Evers (D) praised La Follette’s long role running parts of Wisconsin’s government.

“Secretary of State La Follette’s retirement after more than 40 years of state service leaves an incredibly important role to fill, and I want to thank him for his years of dedication to the people of Wisconsin throughout his long career,” Evers said.

Evers said he would appoint former state Treasurer Sarah Godlewski (D) to fill La Follette’s role. Godlewski served one term in office before mounting a bid for a U.S. Senate seat in 2022. She dropped out before the primary to endorse then-Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes (D), who narrowly lost the race to Sen. Ron Johnson (R).

Godlewski, 41, was born six years after La Follette took office for the first time.

Though he was an institution in state politics, Republicans had reduced La Follette’s role in administering state government. The GOP-run legislature has moved oversight of elections and other agencies to different offices, and even ordered his physical office moved to a basement in the state capitol.

The Secretary of State’s office is the formal keeper of the Great Seal of the State of Wisconsin, responsible for affixing the official stamp to acts of the legislature and the governor.