Wisconsin Elections Commission Administrator Meagan Wolfe with Commissioner Dean Knudson. Photo by Emily Hamer/Wisconsin Watch.

Wisconsin Elections Commission Administrator Meagan Wolfe with Commissioner Dean Knudson. Photo by Emily Hamer/Wisconsin Watch.

The envelope, please, for the awards category No Good Deeds Go Unpunished.

And the winner is….Dean Knudson.

His resume: Veterinarian, former Hudson mayor, Assembly Republican from 2011-17 and just-the-facts member of the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee, and member, and former chair, of the Wisconsin Elections Commission, which he worked as a legislator to create.

The nomination letter reads: Knudson resigned from the Elections Commission, which works with and sets policy for the 1,902 local and county clerks who administer elections, for telling the truth: Donald Trump lost the 2020 Wisconsin presidential vote fair and square. Knudson said it so often he angered top Republican Party leaders.

Resigning “really comes because my two core values are to practice service above self and to display personal integrity,” Knudson said in an interview with WisPolitics. “To me, that integrity means telling the truth – even when that truth is painful.”

Knudson and other Republican legislators created the under-siege Elections Commission – made up of two GOP appointees, two Democratic appointees and two local election clerks who cannot chair the panel – to replace the Government Accountability Board (GAB).

Republican legislators and former Gov. Scott Walker created the Commission because they believed the GAB, which was made up of former judges, had unfairly threatened and intimidated GOP leaders and groups that support them in the post-Act 10 years that saw recall elections for governor, lieutenant governor and nine state senators.

After leaving the Assembly in 2016, Knudson was appointed to the Elections Commission by Assembly Speaker Robin Vos. Vos first expressed confidence in Knudson in 2013, after Knudson lost a bid to be majority leader, by appointing Knudson to the budget-writing Finance Committee.

Knudson’s resignation meant that Vos didn’t have to rescind Knudson’s appointment to appease hard-core Trump supporters. Vos and Knudson say there was no widespread fraud in President Biden’s 20,600-vote win – out of 3.2 million Wisconsin votes cast – over Trump.

Because state law says Republicans and Democrats must alternate as Elections Commission chair every two years, Knudson could have been in line to again head the panel.

But, Knudson told wispolitics, “It’s been made clear to me from the highest level of the Republican Party of Wisconsin that there’s a deep desire that I not be the chair. That’s fine.”

Alexa Henning, an aide to Republican U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, who is up for re-election on Nov. 8, said Johnson had conveyed a lack of confidence in Knudson to Vos.

“As the senator has traveled around the state, election integrity continues to be a primary concern of the grassroots,” Henning said in a statement reported by Wisconsin Public Radio.

“[Johnson] did convey that truth to Robin Vos and express his belief that Dean Knudson had lost the confidence of grassroots Republicans in representing their interests on the Wisconsin Elections Commission,” Henning added. “He never suggested that Dean Knudson resign.”

Democratic Gov. Tony Evers conceded that he and Knudson didn’t agree on major issues but he told an Associated Press reporter,  “At the end of the day, [Knudson’s] right. His sense of what the Republican Party is has left him.”

Vos must appoint Knudson’s replacement, which may be the most controversial appointment the speaker has made, by the Commission’s Friday meeting. That appointee could chair the panel in the months leading up to Nov. 8 elections for U.S. senator, eight U.S. House members, governor and lieutenant governor, attorney general, 16 state senators and all 99 Assembly members.

Knudson’s resignation recalls what happened to another No Good Deeds Go Unpunished award winner.

David Deininger, a Naval Academy graduate who served on a nuclear submarine, lawyer, Republican member of the Assembly for eight years and former Court of Appeals judge, also fell out of favor with Republican legislators when he served on the Government Accountability Board.

Deininger was first appointed to the GAB by Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle and reappointed by Republican Gov. Scott Walker, who finally had to withdraw the appointment because of opposition from Senate Republicans.

“I think the GAB has done exactly what we were created to do – and, in some cases, maybe did it too well,” Deininger told the Wisconsin State Journal before the GAB was replaced by the Elections Commission.

“We’ve obviously angered some folks who have an interest in our work,” he added.

Steven Walters started covering the Capitol in 1988. Contact him at stevenscotwalters@gmail.com

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