MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin’s longtime Democratic Secretary of State Doug La Follette resigned on Friday, saying he was leaving with a “heavy heart” three months into his 11th consecutive term in office after he watched the office be stripped of its power over the past 50 years.
Gov. Tony Evers appointed former Treasurer Sarah Godlewski, who ran for U.S. Senate last year but lost in the primary, to fill out the four-year term. Wisconsin’s secretary of state has not been in charge of elections since 1974 and has almost no official duties.
“It is with a heavy heart that I submit my resignation,” the 82-year-old La Follette said in his resignation letter. “After many years of frustration, I’ve decided that I don’t want to spend the next three and a half years trying to run an office without adequate resources and staffing levels.”
He did not immediately return a telephone message left seeking comment. In his resignation letter, La Follette said “I must now focus on my personal needs.”
La Follette won reelection in November over a Republican who wanted to shift election duties to the office.
Evers, also a Democrat, thanked La Follette for his decades of service and named Godlewski to replace him.
“In a critical position that has seen no turnover in decades, maintaining continuity with a leader who’s prepared and committed to fulfilling this office’s constitutional obligations could not be more important—and there’s no one more uniquely qualified or better suited for the job than Sarah,” Evers said in a statement.
Godlewski, 41, was 1-year-old when La Follette began his current consecutive run as secretary of state.
Godlewski said she was humbled by the appointment. She becomes the third woman to hold the position in state history. She served one term as treasurer, from 2018 to 2022. She lost the Senate primary to Mandela Barnes, who went on to lose to Republican U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson.
“To become just the third woman in our state’s history to hold this office is the honor of a lifetime,” Godlewski said. “I know how important this role is and my responsibilities are, and I’m looking forward to getting to work.”
La Follette — a distant relative of “Fighting” Bob La Follette, a progressive governor and 1924 presidential candidate — was first elected secretary of state in 1974. After a failed try for lieutenant governor in 1978, he won the office in 1982 and has won reelection 10 times.
Republicans have gradually stripped the office of almost all its duties and staff and relegated La Follette to a cramped office in the Capitol basement. However, since the 2020 presidential election, Republicans have been mulling shifting oversight of elections to the secretary of state.
This story corrects the number of times La Follette has been reelected from nine to 10. It also clarifies that La Follette was in his 11th consecutive term when he resigned.
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