WILL Comments on Proposal to Appoint, Rather Than Elect, State Superintendent of Public Instruction

Nature of spring, non-partisan elections ensures outsize role of special interests

September 14, 2015, Milwaukee, WI State Representative Joe Sanfelippo today unveiled a proposal that would change the way the State Superintendent of Public Instruction is selected. Currently, the State Superintendent, the head of Wisconsin’s Department of Public Instruction, is elected every four years in Wisconsin’s spring, non-partisan elections. The Superintendent is a constitutional officer like Governor, Lieutenant Governor, State Treasurer, Secretary of State, and Attorney General.

WILL President and General Counsel Rick Esenberg noted, “I think it is appropriate to consider whether the Superintendent should continue to be an elected official or appointed by the Governor and confirmed by the Senate. As it currently stands, the spring elections in Wisconsin are typically low turnout. In any low turnout election, those most interested in the outcome can have a disproportionate impact on election results. Thus, the winning candidate for Superintendent of Public Instruction is generally the one supported by the teachers’ union. If we elected a Commissioner of Banking in off year, spring elections, the banks would have a large say.”

In 2009 when the current Superintendent, Tony Evers, was first elected, voter turnout was barely 18 percent and then in 2013, Evers’ reelection, voter turnout was barely 20 percent. Conversely, the fall, partisan elections immediately preceding them saw 69 and 70 percent turnout respectively.

Representative Sanfelippo’s proposal will require an amendment to Wisconsin’s constitution. To amend the constitution, the Legislature must pass the proposal in two consecutive sessions of the Legislature and then be approved in a statewide referendum.


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