State Senator LaTonya Johnson speaks at a press conference.
Sen. LaTonya Johnson calls for Wisconsin Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu to remove his appointee to the bipartisan Wisconsin Election Commission, Jan. 18, 2023 in Madison, Wis. Ten of the 11 Democratic members of the Senate signed a statement Wednesday, asking LeMahieu, a Republican, to remove Commissioner Bob Spindell over comments he made about minority voter turnout in Milwaukee. (Harm Venhuizen / AP)
Reading Time: 2 minutes

Wisconsin Watch is a nonprofit and nonpartisan newsroom. Subscribe to our newsletter to get our investigative stories and Friday news roundup. This story is published in partnership with The Associated Press.

A Wisconsin election official who came under fire for comments he made about minority turnout in Milwaukee said Wednesday he hasn’t spoken with the Republican leader of the state Senate who appointed him, even as Democratic lawmakers called for his removal from the Wisconsin Elections Commission.

Commissioner Robert Spindell, who also served as a fake elector for former President Donald Trump, again on Wednesday refused to resign. Spindell was first appointed in 2019 by former Senate Republican Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald. Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu reappointed him in 2021 for a term that expires in May 2026.

Spindell has been under pressure after he publicly applauded GOP tactics in Milwaukee during the 2022 midterm, crediting them with depressing turnout from Black and Hispanic voters.

Ten of the 11 Democratic members of the Senate signed onto a statement Wednesday asking LeMahieu to rescind his appointment of Spindell. Democratic Wisconsin Elections Commissioner Mark Thomsen, along with multiple Milwaukee-based community organizers and voting rights groups, have also called on Spindell to resign.

Spindell told The Associated Press Wednesday he hasn’t spoken with LeMahieu since his comments became public a week ago. LeMahieu has declined on several occasions to comment and did not immediately respond to a request for comment. A spokesperson said the senator was unavailable.

“Remove this man,” Democratic Sen. LaTonya Johnson, who is Black and from Milwaukee, said at a news conference. “There’s nothing that can be said, there’s no apology. Even when he tried to clarify his comments, he made them worse.”

Spindell has stood by his comments. He accused Democrats of taking his comments out of context and claimed he was touting positive efforts by the GOP to counter liberal messaging in the Democratic stronghold of Milwaukee. High turnout there is crucial to Democratic victories in statewide races.

“They need to look at their own situation to see why they weren’t able to get a very good turnout,” he said.

Democratic Sen. Kelda Roys said Democrats’ request Wednesday was a chance for LeMahieu to prove he was sincere in suggesting that he wants to do more to work across the aisle during the new legislative session. But Republican lawmakers already have rejected a petition from Democratic Gov. Tony Evers to put a nonbinding abortion referendum on the ballot.

Popular stories from Wisconsin Watch

Avatar photo

Harm Venhuizen / Associated PressReport for America Corps Member

Harm Venhuizen is a state government reporter with The Associated Press in Madison, Wisconsin, primarily covering elections and voting rights. Prior to this, Venhuizen interned at Military Times. He holds a bachelor’s degree in political science and philosophy from Calvin University in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where he served as editor-in-chief of Chimes, the student paper. During his time at Chimes, he earned recognition for his investigative coverage of controversial personnel decisions, sexual assault and university employment policies against same-sex marriage. Venhuizen grew up on a small farm in rural Wisconsin, and spent a summer working as a wildfire firefighter with the U.S. Forest Service.