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Arvina Martin, Doug La Follette

Ald. Arvina Martin registered on April 26 to run against Secretary of State Doug La Follette, who is seeking re-election to an 11th term. 

Wisconsin's longtime Secretary of State Doug La Follette and Madison Ald. Arvina Martin agree on this: the office of the Secretary of State ought to have more responsibilities than it does now.

Martin says it's time the office gets a fresh perspective, too. But La Follette says her primary challenge is a "nuisance." 

The Madison alder registered with the state Ethics Commission on April 26 to run against La Follette, 77, who is seeking re-election to an 11th term. Martin officially launched her campaign on Wednesday.

"It’s kind of a nuisance, quite honestly," La Follette said Tuesday when reached by phone. "I respect anyone’s right to run for office. That’s how democracy works. But it's too bad Democrats have to argue among themselves."

Martin, 38, argued that elected officials should remember their positions are only theirs as long as voters support them. She said she has the "utmost respect" for La Follette, but "it may be time for some new ideas, new blood, and someone with a different point of view."

"I think that whenever people are putting forth their ideas to the public in an election, that’s a good thing," she said in an interview Wednesday. 

La Follette has held the office for more than three decades. He also served one term from 1975-1979 before an unsuccessful bid for lieutenant governor. He returned to the office after defeating incumbent Secretary of State Vel Phillips, a Democrat and the first African-American woman to hold the office, in 1982. 

Martin became the first Native American member of the Madison City Council when she was elected in April 2017. She worked previously as a statewide tribal liaison and policy analyst for the Department of Transportation.

The duties and powers of the secretary of state have been significantly reduced over the last several years. The office is no longer responsible for publishing bills signed into law by the governor, and does not oversee state elections like in some other states. 

Martin said she's running because she wants to fight to bring elections oversight under the purview of the secretary of state. She has worked previously as a voter protection fellow for the Democratic Party of Wisconsin. 

"I think that having somebody outside of the Legislature or the governor's office who can be a watchdog to make sure we have accessible elections, that districts are not gerrymandered … I think that will have a great effect on our state and our democracy overall," she said.

Martin said she envisions the position working with the state's Ethics and Elections Commissions, which currently oversee election matters. The two commissions replaced the state's Government Accountability Board two years ago. Martin said the now-defunct GAB was a national model.

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La Follette, who announced his re-election bid in January, said he wants the office to oversee business functions, including trademark and notary issues. He said he is proud of his work while in office, but said he is disappointed he was unable to prevent Republicans from reducing the power of the office.

"We should give both (the secretary of state and state treasurer offices) the important responsibilities they used to have and that they have across the country," La Follette said.

Republican Jay Schroeder, of Neenah, announced in February that he plans to run for the office and then advocate for its elimination. Voters in April rejected a constitutional amendment that would have eliminated the state treasurer's office, which has also been stripped of most of its powers.

La Follette said he would prefer not to have a primary so he can focus on defeating the Republican candidate in November, along with supporting Democratic U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin and the eventual Democratic candidate for governor.

After suffering a fall while gathering signatures for his nomination papers late last month, La Follette took a break from carrying his clipboard. He said Tuesday his knee is still sore but he is recovering and back at it. 

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Jessie Opoien covers state government and politics for the Capital Times. She joined the Cap Times in 2013 and has also covered Madison life, race relations, culture and music. She has also covered education and politics for the Oshkosh Northwestern.