MILWAUKEE — Wisconsin Secretary of State Doug La Follette is retiring from the position after more than 40 years, Gov. Tony Evers' office announced on Friday.
La Follette, who has served in the role for 11 consecutive terms and recently won reelection, retired from the role effective Friday, March 17.
Sarah Godlewski was appointed by the governor to serve as Secretary of State for the rest of La Follette's 4-year term. In the November 2022 election, La Follette won by just 7,660 votes against Republican competitor Amy Loudenbeck. That leaves Godlewski serving in the role for just under four years.
Democrat La Follette served as Secretary of State from 1975 to 1979 and Wisconsin State Senator from 1972 to 1974. He went on to lose elections for Wisconsin's 1st Congressional District in 1970 and 1996 and for U.S. Senate in 1988. He also lost the 2012 Democratic primary in the recall election against then-Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker.
La Follette won reelection as Wisconsin Secretary of State in 1983 and has been reelected every four years since then.
La Follette is the longest-serving state-wide elected official, excluding U.S. senators, in the United States, according to the Wisconsin Historical Society. He is related to Robert "Fighting Bob" La Follette, who served as Wisconsin's governor at the start of the 20th century.
Godlewski meanwhile will be the third woman in Wisconsin state history to serve as Secretary of State. (Vel Phillips of Milwaukee was the second woman to serve as Secretary of State, in 1978).
Godlewski served as Wisconsin State Treasurer from 2019 to 2023. She ran for U.S. Senate but lost the primary to Mandela Barnes, who in turn lost to incumbent Ron Johnson.
Godlewski's background is in philanthropy and for defense contractor Booz Allen Hamilton, among other positions.
According to Gov. Evers' announcement, “Secretary of State La Follette’s retirement after more than 40 years of state service leaves an incredibly important role to fill, and I want to thank him for his years of dedication to the people of Wisconsin throughout his long career."
“In a critical position that has seen no turnover in decades, maintaining continuity with a leader who’s prepared and committed to fulfilling this office’s constitutional obligations could not be more important—and there’s no one more uniquely qualified or better suited for the job than Sarah," according to Gov. Evers.
According to Godlewski in the same announcement, “It was a privilege to serve the people of Wisconsin as state treasurer for four years, and I am humbled that Gov. Evers has called upon me to serve as secretary of state... To become just the third woman in our state’s history to hold this office is the honor of a lifetime. I know how important this role is and my responsibilities are, and I’m looking forward to getting to work.”
Read the governor's announcement in full below:
MADISON — Gov. Tony Evers today announced he is appointing former State Treasurer Sarah Godlewski to Secretary of State of Wisconsin. The appointment fills a vacancy created by Secretary of State Doug La Follette’s retirement, effective today, March 17. La Follette was first elected as Secretary of State in 1974 and then again in 1982, holding the office for 11 consecutive terms spanning more than 40 years.
In a constitutional office that has been held by fewer than 30 individuals since 1848, Godlewski will be only the third woman in Wisconsin state history to serve as Secretary of State. Glenn Wise made Wisconsin state history as the first woman to serve as Secretary of State when she was appointed by former Governor Walter J. Kohler Jr. in 1955. Vel Phillips was the second woman to serve as Secretary of State—in 1978, she became the first woman ever to be elected to the position and the first African American elected to statewide office in Wisconsin.
“Secretary of State La Follette’s retirement after more than 40 years of state service leaves an incredibly important role to fill, and I want to thank him for his years of dedication to the people of Wisconsin throughout his long career,” said Gov. Evers. “In a critical position that has seen no turnover in decades, maintaining continuity with a leader who’s prepared and committed to fulfilling this office’s constitutional obligations could not be more important—and there’s no one more uniquely qualified or better suited for the job than Sarah.”
Godlewski, who most recently served as Wisconsin State Treasurer from 2019 to 2023 before deciding not to seek re-election to the office, is no stranger to state constitutional office roles and responsibilities. In 2018, Godlewski led the fight to protect the constitutional office of the state treasurer and to “save the state’s fiscal watchdog” as a constitutional amendment abolishing the office altogether was set to be put before Wisconsin voters for final approval. The effort was ultimately and soundly rejected by more than 60 percent of Wisconsin voters in April 2018. Later that year, in November 2018, Godlewski was elected to the office she helped save, winning her first-ever campaign for public office.
“The people of Wisconsin placed their trust and faith in Sarah’s experience and values to serve as our state treasurer, and she’ll bring those same qualities to her new role as Wisconsin’s Secretary of State. Sarah will bring unparalleled leadership and vision as a tenacious advocate who’s passionate about making smart, sound financial decisions that protect our state’s future, and I’m excited to continue our work together over the next four years,” Gov. Evers said.
The Wisconsin State Treasurer is a constitutional officer charged with helping manage state trust funds, executing certain financial instruments and checks, and promoting transparency within the unclaimed property program. As state treasurer, Godlewski worked to revitalize the treasurer’s role as the state’s chief financial officer, pushing to restore confidence in the office’s fiscal management and reinstate the responsibilities and powers that had been removed or transferred as part of the decades-long effort to slowly dismantle the office. In addition, Godlewski also helped launch a homeownership network designed to empower Wisconsinites to buy and stay in their homes and advocated for creating a child savings account program called 401(K)ids.
In 2019, Gov. Evers also appointed Godlewski to chair the Governor’s Task Force on Retirement Security, created by Executive Order #45, charged with developing new strategies to address growing concerns for Wisconsin’s aging population and lack of retirement savings and security, identify barriers to retirement savings and planning, and promote awareness about financial sustainability and solvency. The Task Force on Retirement Security’s final report is available here.
“It was a privilege to serve the people of Wisconsin as state treasurer for four years, and I am humbled that Gov. Evers has called upon me to serve as secretary of state,” Godlewski said. “To become just the third woman in our state’s history to hold this office is the honor of a lifetime. I know how important this role is and my responsibilities are, and I’m looking forward to getting to work.”
The Wisconsin Secretary of State is a constitutional officer charged with maintaining official legislative and gubernatorial acts and affixing the Great Seal of Wisconsin to all official acts of the governor. Additionally, and importantly, the Secretary of State also serves on the Board of Commissioners of Public Lands, one of Wisconsin’s oldest agencies. Godlewski brings unparalleled experience to BCPL, having already served on the board in her capacity as state treasurer. The BCPL, established by the Wisconsin Constitution, has several key responsibilities, including holding title to nearly 77,000 acres of school trust lands and managing four trust funds totaling more than $1 billion in assets, including the Common School Fund, the net earnings of which are distributed annually to public school districts.
The daughter of two public school teachers, Godlewski is a fifth-generation Wisconsinite, born and raised in Eau Claire, who learned at an early age the importance of public service. Prior to her time in state government, Godlewski worked for almost a decade at the Pentagon. She was co-founder of MaSa Partners, an impact investment firm that funds early-stage businesses; and a co-founder of WE Capital Fund, which empowers female entrepreneurs through financing opportunities. Godlewski, in 2022, ran for the U.S. Senate, advocating for policies critical for Wisconsin families, including reproductive healthcare, affordable child care, and paid family leave.
Godlewski’s appointment is effective March 18, 2023, and will fill the remainder of La Follette’s four-year term ending in January 2027. La Follette’s retirement letter is available here. Additional biographical details for La Follette and Godlewski are available in the 2021-22 Wisconsin Blue Book available here.
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