Political News

Bribery complaint against superintendent candidate dropped

Posted March 15

— State superintendent candidate Lowell Holtz didn't violate laws prohibiting election bribery when he allegedly offered a rival a state job in exchange for dropping out of the race, the Wisconsin Elections Commission said Wednesday.

The commission notified One Wisconsin Now that it had dismissed the liberal activist group's complaint against Holtz. The group made the letter public minutes before Holtz and incumbent state Superintendent Tony Evers met at a forum hosted by the Wisconsin Association of School Boards. The forum comes less than three weeks before the April 4 election.

One Wisconsin Now filed a complaint last month alleging that Holtz broke the law by allegedly offering John Humphries a $150,000 job, and personal driver, with the state Department of Public Instruction if he would drop out of the race in December and agree to back Holtz, or vice versa. Holtz denied that it was a bribe and instead said he was sharing rough ideas presented to him by business leaders he's refused to name. Humphries made the offer public and released emails detailing his conversations and meetings with Holtz.

Humphries was eliminated in last month's primary, which Evers won with nearly 70 percent of the vote. Holtz came in a distant second, with 23 percent.

Holtz said after the candidate forum that he was confident he had done nothing wrong and that his conversations with Humphries had been mischaracterized.

"There was no way I would abandon my faith, my family or my friends who are running my campaign with me and drop out before we were ever on the ballot," Holtz said. "I retired early so I could do this full time."

Evers said the alleged bribery didn't bother him as much as the fact that Holtz discussed taking over and reorganizing the state's five largest schools. The state superintendent does not have that power.

"That to me was the scariest part of the whole thing," Evers said. Was that bribery, was that part of it? No, but what it was was back room deals and that upset me tremendously."

One Wisconsin Now director Scot Ross said that the commission's decision to drop the complaint "points to shortcomings in the law, not the lack of sleaze in the conduct of Lowell Holtz." Ross said if Holtz's activity wasn't illegal under the law, "then it ought to be."

Ross has also asked district attorneys in Milwaukee and Rock counties to investigate.

Democratic state Rep. Eric Genrich, of Green Bay, plans to circulate a bill for co-sponsorship this week that would specifically prohibit a state official or candidate for a state public office to offer a job to induce the rival to drop out. Current law only generally prohibits a state public official or candidate from receiving anything of value in exchange for taking or not taking action on a proposal or pending issue.

Whoever wins the April 4 election will oversee the state Department of Public Instruction, which administers K-12 education policy, curriculum and programs, as well as state and federal aid for all 424 public school districts. The department also works with private schools in the choice program and runs teacher licensing and regulation.

While the race is officially nonpartisan, Evers has the backing of Democrats, teachers unions, and public schools advocates. Holtz has the support of two dozen current and former Republican lawmakers and a host of conservative groups.

Holtz, a former superintendent most recently for the Whitnall and Beloit school districts, argued in Wednesday's forum that the state Department of Public Instruction is a bureaucratic impediment to teacher and school success. Evers touted his deep connections with public schools and their leaders across the state, saying that he has worked with Republican, Democratic and moderate board members over his career, including the past eight years as state superintendent.

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Follow Scott Bauer on Twitter at https://twitter.com/sbauerAP . His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/scott-bauer .

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