MADISON, Wis. (AP) – Republicans who control the Wisconsin state Assembly unanimously voted to remove the majority leader from his post Tuesday amid allegations that he groped one woman and verbally abused another during a trip to Washington last week.
State Rep. Bill Kramer, who had held the Assembly’s second-most powerful position since September, wasn’t at the meeting. He checked himself into a treatment facility Saturday for an unspecified reason and hasn’t commented publicly about the allegations.
Kramer’s chief of staff, Cameron Sholty, didn’t immediately respond to email or phone messages seeking comment about the vote.
Republicans, who hold a 60-39 majority in the Assembly, met behind closed doors for about 90 minutes before opening the meeting to take the vote. Only the two lawmakers who made the motion to remove Kramer and who seconded it spoke.
“We just cannot condone that kind of activity,” said state Rep. Dan LeMahieu, R-Cascade.
The ballot was secret, but it was announced that the vote to remove him was unanimous. Kramer became majority leader in September and was first elected to the Assembly in 2006.
Republicans later elected state Rep. Pat Strachota to replace Kramer as majority leader for the remainder of the year. Strachota becomes the first female majority leader in state history, but she will hold the office for less than nine months. Both she and Rep. Mary Williams, who challenged her, are retiring at the end of the year and a new leader will be elected in January.
“Today we turned a corner in a very difficult chapter of the Republican caucus,” said Assembly Speaker Robin Vos following the votes.
Republican Gov. Scott Walker on Monday endorsed the move to remove Kramer, saying “I don’t think there’s any place for someone in a position of public trust to be in office if they’ve done those things.” Walker, a potential 2016 presidential hopeful, is not seen as closely allied with Kramer and didn’t publicly back his elevation to majority leader.
The majority leader is in charge of setting the agenda for the Assembly and working with lawmakers on the process of getting their bills through the process. In election years, like this one, the majority leader is also expected to help with fundraising and other campaign duties. All 99 Assembly seats are up for election in November.
Kramer is known for his sometimes flamboyant and confrontational style. He has admitted to carrying a concealed handgun on the floor of the Assembly to protect himself and in his previous position presiding over the Assembly, he was a stickler for the rules, especially those covering spectators in the galleries.
The sexual harassment allegations that led to Kramer’s ouster first came to light on Friday. Republican leaders agreed that night to seek his resignation as majority leader, but Kramer checked into an unspecified treatment facility on Saturday. That led to the vote Tuesday.
Vos, who was at the Washington fundraiser last week, said he did not personally see the alleged harassment but he spoke with several people who said they did. Vos said the unanimous vote speaks to the credibility of the charges.
Vos also said he hopes that Kramer, who registered for re-election, decides not to run again. He said if Kramer opts to return to the Capitol before the session ends later this month, he’ll take steps to ensure that nobody feels uncomfortable or unsafe.
Vos also acknowledged that someone had filed a human resources complaint against Kramer. That complaint is under investigation and no details will be released about who filed it or what it says, said Assembly Chief Clerk Patrick Fuller.
Republicans with direct knowledge of the current situation said one of the women allegedly harassed by Kramer was a lobbyist and the other was a legislative staff member. The Republicans spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized by their attorneys to comment publicly about the alleged victims.
Neither the lobbyist nor the staffer in question responded to requests for comment left Monday by The Associated Press. The requests were left in-person at the office of the staffer and on the voicemail and home answering machine of the lobbyist.