MILWAUKEE — The secretary of state and state treasurer elected posts may be in peril, if politicians running for office this fall have any say in it.
With the state facing a $2.7 billion budget shortfall next year, the two low-profile positions up for election Nov. 2 are being targeted for elimination by the gubernatorial candidates and also treasurer challenger Kurt Schuller.
"No one cares about these offices, that's how we in the last election got a part-time Boston store clerk as the state treasurer," said Schuller, a Republican referring to Democratic incumbent Dawn Marie Sass.
Schuller, a former restaurant owner, would like to see that office's work rolled into other departments to save money. He then plans to run for state Assembly or Senate, where he says he can make a real difference.
Eliminating the offices would require a constitutional amendment that would have to be approved by two successive Legislatures and state voters. Proposals to eliminate the positions have been introduced regularly in the Legislature but never passed.
This time could be different, said Barry C. Burden, a University of Wisconsin-Madison political science professor, with the right combination of a budget shortfall and voter dissatisfaction — even if the savings isn't overwhelming.
"They carry that kind of symbolic weight in a time like this when so many Republican candidates in particular are pushing for restraining government and looking for places to cut," he said.
The secretary of state issues notary public commissions, registers trade names, and trademarks and files deeds for state lands and buildings, among other record-keeping duties. It also affixes the state seal to official acts of the governor.
The office's current yearly budget is about $726,000, with 7.5 positions. The secretary makes about $65,000.
The treasurer's duties include signing checks, returning unclaimed property in the state's possession and administering the state's EdVest college savings program. Sass also sits on an 11-member board that administers EdVest and the Board of Commissioners of Public Lands, which manages trust funds built through fees, fines and land sales.
That office has 14.7 positions, with a $7.4 million yearly budget. The treasurer makes about $65,000.
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Tom Barrett said eliminating the positions would save about $1 million. Republican candidate Scott Walker's campaign said he supports eliminating the positions as well.
Longtime Secretary of State Doug La Follette said elected officials are cheaper than "bureaucrats" and their assistants. He said eliminating his office would also make it harder for people to find its services. And, he said, he's the most qualified candidate for the job.
"I think it's a bad idea because I believe in a democracy where people get to elect their leaders," La Follette said.
His opponent, Milwaukee pastor David King, a Republican, wants to make the position more meaningful. He wants to concentrate on literacy, jobs and helping people get off drugs. King, who runs the Milwaukee God Squad, said he would tour the state to talk to residents.
"I don't think they've been electing him because the work he's done, I think he's been skating in because a lot of people have been voting straight party," he said.
King filed for bankruptcy in 2003 and has several other entries in the Milwaukee County court system indicating delinquent bills. King didn't return a phone call Friday for comment. But he told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "I'm not ashamed because I had some unpaid bills. That shouldn't stop people from voting for me."
Sass, a first-term incumbent for state treasurer, is a former Milwaukee County custody placement specialist and a part-time Boston Store clerk. Sass said she has returned more than $100 million in unclaimed property during the last nearly four years and has visited every Wisconsin county each year to promote unclaimed property.
Schuller said he will only stay one term and sees the position as helping him get a "foot in the door of politics" so he can help government represent the people rather than the "government representing the government."