Nearly all Assembly Republicans are urging delegates to their party convention this weekend to reject a resolution affirming the state’s right to secede from the United States in extreme circumstances.
In a letter released Friday with the Republican Assembly Campaign Committee letterhead, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and 53 of his fellow Republicans in the Assembly called on delegates “to reject the worthless resolution.”
“This resolution would only serve as a distraction from all of the great conservative policies we have been able to enact with your help,” the letter states. “We need to win elections and we will not win elections on a platform that includes secession.”
The letter acknowledges frustration among Republicans with the policies of Democratic President Barack Obama, but says the answer is not secession, “or even the mention of it.”
It also notes the Republican Party was founded in a little, white schoolhouse in Ripon, that Republicans are the party that ended slavery and that the first Republican president, Abraham Lincoln, thwarted the south’s attempt to secede.
“Why, then, should we run the risk of tossing this all aside and becoming the party of retreat and surrender?” the legislators asked.
As the convention opened in Milwaukee on Friday, all but one of 10 delegates interviewed by the State Journal said they opposed the resolution.
“It’s stupid,” said Rohn Bishop, a delegate from Waupun. “It’s a silly vote.”
He wore a sticker reading “I stand with Lincoln,” and he had more to share.
Pam Stevens, a Kenosha delegate, said she supports the resolution.
“I in no way believe the state will secede, but when you take away state’s rights, individual rights will follow,” she said.
The resolution first gained broad attention after it passed a 6th Congressional District Republican Party Caucus. Dan Feyen, the chairman of that caucus, referenced the language in a letter to Republican legislators.
Feyen’s letter was sent as required by a separate resolution seeking to censure Sen. Luther Olsen, R-Ripon, and Rep. Steve Kestell, R-Elkhart Lake, for their support of the Common Core K-12 education standards. Feyen was highlighting that there were multiple resolutions passed by a small number of caucus attendees with which he disagreed.
The GOP’s resolutions committee later forwarded the secession resolution for a vote on the floor of the GOP convention Saturday. The committee amended the Olsen/Kestell resolution so that it calls on them to recuse themselves from matters where they disagree with the party platform or have a conflict of interest, but does not ask them to resign their positions as chairmen of the Senate and Assembly Education Committees, which the 6th District resolution did.
Initially, 10 Republicans didn’t sign a version of the letter released Friday morning, but a later version included 54 signatures. The six who didn’t sign it were Chad Weininger, Joe Sanfelippo, Kevin Petersen, David Craig, Chris Kapenga and Bill Kramer, who has been reclusive since facing sexual assault charges.
Assembly Democratic Campaign Committee executive director Joel Gratz criticized the lack of unanimity in the Assembly Republican caucus on the issue.
“It’s disingenuous for Robin Vos to ask convention-goers to disavow secession when he can’t even get his caucus to agree that this embarrassment of a proposal never should have seen the light of day,” Gratz said.
Craig, of the town of Vernon, said he opposes the secession resolution, but disagreed with sending the letter, saying “tactically it’s the wrong thing for us as a caucus to do.”
“Why draw more attention to this group of individuals by acting on this resolution alone?” Craig said.
Sanfelippo, of West Allis, gave a similar reason.
Kapenga, of Delafield, said he didn’t sign the letter because he’s a convention delegate and didn’t see the need to sign a letter to himself. He said he plans to push for tabling the secession resolution at the convention.