MADISON — The Racine County Register of Deeds might not seem to be an office with much political conflict, but it could be the next battleground between area Republicans and Democratic Gov. Tony Evers.
On Thursday, Evers received a hand-delivered letter signed by every Republican representative in Racine County including Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, state Sen. Van Wanggaard, state Rep. Robert Wittke and Racine County Executive Jonathan Delagrave, among others, asking the governor to appoint a Republican to the office of Register of Deeds.
Tyson Fettes, the current Register of Deeds, announced on Monday he was planning to step down from his office after agreeing to take a job with Community State Bank.
Fettes was appointed register of deeds by Gov. Scott Walker in 2011. He was one of 20 people who applied to fill the vacancy created when for Register of Deeds Jim Ladwig stepped down after being elected county executive.
Fettes was elected in his own right in 2012 and re-elected in 2016.
The register of deeds office oversees the filing of real estate and vital records such as birth, death and marriage certificates.
With the position now vacant, Evers can appoint the next register of deeds and voters won’t have an opportunity to choose someone for the position at the polls until 2020.
According to the letter delivered to Evers, it states that Fettes “has served Racine County with distinction, leading reform and modernization,” and the letter urges Evers to appoint a Republican to build on “Fettes’ legacy of reform and innovation in local government.”
The letter states, “Voters endorsed (Fettes’) leadership in 2012 and 2016, decisively backing him as a Republican candidate for Register of Deeds with more than 60% in both elections. On April 2nd, Racine County voters reiterated their support for conservative reform, giving Judge Brian Hagedorn a margin of 14%.”
Vos said he understands that Evers gets to choose whomever he thinks is best fit for the position but he believes the next register of deeds “should at least be in the same party” as the previous office holder.
“He still gets to pick the best qualified person but you would think that the most qualified person would be to say that they should be in the same party,” Vos said. “It would just be more representative of what the people of Racine County want… every county-wide elected official is a Republican, the majority of our legislative delegation is Republican, we voted for Scott Walker and Brian Hagedorn, we are a Republican county and you would think that should be reflected in the people that he would choose to serve in those elected capacities.”
State Rep. Greta Neubauer, D-Racine, said the letter is “an attempt to distract from the conversation that’s happening around the formation of the 2019-2020 state budget.”
“I think that’s pretty transparent,” Neubauer said. “The governor was in this area (Thursday) speaking on healthcare, public education, roads — those are the things people in Wisconsin are focused on. Those are the conversations that we need to be having and I do trust Gov. Evers and the people of Wisconsin clearly trust him to make that appointment based on who’s best qualified for the position.”
As of Thursday, the only person who had announced plans to apply for the position was former Racine County Clerk Joan Rennert.
Rennert, who plans on applying as a Democrat, said she is not deterred from applying based on the letter and said sending it to Evers is the “prerogative” of those officials.
“It’s just a letter with their wishes for the governor,” Rennert said. “Obviously they can say and do anything that they would like to encourage the governor to honor their wishes.”
Also signing the letter to Evers were: Racine County District Attorney Tricia Hanson; Sheriff Christopher Schmaling; Clerk of Courts Sam Christensen; county Treasurer Jane Nikolai; state Sen. Dave Graig, R-Town of Vernon, and state Rep. Chuck Wichgers, R-Muskego, whose districts include the Waterford area; and state Rep. Tyler August, R-Lake Geneva, and state Sen. Steve Nass, R-Whitewater, whose districts include the Bohners Lake area of the Town of Burlington.