Gov. Tony Evers appointed Godlewski, the former state treasurer, to fill the rest of the nearly four-year term La Follette won in November—ending a tenure that first started in 1974.
Wisconsin Secretary of State Doug La Follette abruptly announced his resignation and retirement from office on Friday, after nearly five decades in office. Gov. Tony Evers announced he has appointed former state Treasurer Sarah Godlewski to serve out what remains of a nearly-full, four year term in office that La Follette, 82, won last November.
La Follette’s undated, hand-delivered letter to Evers said that he would leave the post “with a heavy heart” effective March 17, 2023.
“After many years of frustration,” La Follette wrote, “I’ve decided I don’t want to spend the next three-and-a-half years trying to run an office without adequate resources and staffing levels. After decades of public service, I must now focus on my personal needs.”
La Follette, a Democrat, could only watch as the Secretary of State’s office was stripped of most of its duties by legislative Republicans who never could field a candidate to win the post through an election. The lawmakers relegated him to a small room in the Capitol basement where his office keeps the Great Seal of the State of Wisconsin, which is applied to state documents.
In the lead-up to the 2022 election cycle, La Follette said he was running again because of concerns that Republicans would give the office tremendous powers over election administration—but only if they won the seat.
Name recognition—Progressive pioneer “Fighting Bob” La Follette is a distant cousin—helped him hold the seat last year with a narrow win over former state Assembly Rep. Amy Loudenbeck.
Through a press release, Evers said La Follette’s retirement “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.”
“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,” Evers said. “And there’s no one more uniquely qualified or better suited for the job than Sarah.”
“I am so grateful for Doug’s decades of public service and lifelong commitment to moving Wisconsin forward,” said Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin. “I am thrilled that Gov. Evers selected Sarah to serve as our Secretary of State and have full confidence she will serve the people of Wisconsin well!”
La Follette served one term in the post starting in 1974 before an unsuccessful campaign for lieutenant governor. He then took the job back in 1982 and has held it ever since.
Godlewski will be only the third woman in Wisconsin history to serve as Secretary of State, Evers noted in his press release.
Godlewski was elected state Treasurer in November 2018, after leading a public campaign to save the position from similar Republican attacks on the position. A GOP-sponsored constitutional amendment abolishing the office was rejected by more than 60% of voters in April of that year. Godlewski left the office after one term to run for US Senate last year, in a primary eventually won by former Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes.
Evers noted that the Secretary of State and the state Treasurer serve on the Board of Commissioners of Public Lands (BCPL), an agency that holds title to nearly 77,000 acres of school trust lands and manages four trust funds totaling more than $1 billion in assets—including the Common School Fund, its net earnings distributed annually to public school districts by the BCPL. Godlewski will bring prior BCPL experience to her new role.