La Follette
Says he’s been Wisconsin secretary of state "around 25 years."  

Doug La Follette on Wednesday, July 18th, 2018 in an interview

Doug La Follette says he's been Wisconsin secretary of state about 25 years, but it's been nearly 40

Wisconsin Secretary of State Doug La Follette listens to arguments in court in 2011 over whether his office should publish a budget-repair bill pushed by Gov. Scott Walker. (Mark Hoffman/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)

The first question posed to Doug La Follette in a July 18, 2018 interview on WisconsinEye, the public affairs television network, was simple enough.

"Now, you have been secretary of state for how long, total?" host Steven Walters asked.

"Well, I think around 25 years. I’d have to look it up," La Follette replied.


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Perhaps La Follette couldn’t recall.

Or perhaps he wanted to downplay how long he has held the job.

Counting the years

La Follette’s opponent in the Aug. 14, 2018 Democratic primary, Madison Ald. Arvina Martin, told the Capital Times when launching her campaign "it may be time for some new ideas, new blood and someone with a different point of view."

So, just how long has La Follette held the secretary of state’s job?

Nearly 40 years.

From the official Wisconsin Blue Book’s list of secretaries of state:

Doug La Follette


Vel Phillips


Doug La Follette



So, La Follette served four years before being replaced by Phillips, the only black person ever elected to statewide office in Wisconsin. That was when he ran unsuccessfully for lieutenant governor.

After reclaiming the office by defeating Phillips in the 1982 election, La Follette has since served in the job for another 35.5 years and counting.

(La Follette is more accurate about his time in office on his campaign website. He notes that he served as a state legislator for two years until 1974, and "was then elected secretary of state and has been re-elected every four years for the past 30 years.")

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Over the years, the Legislature has gradually reduced the duties of the secretary of state. La Follette said in the interview his office once had 50 employees and now it’s just him and one other full-time employee.

The winner of the La Follette-Martin race will face the winner of the two-way Republican primary in the Nov. 6, 2018 general election.

Spencer Zimmerman of Janesville is campaigning to make the secretary of state’s position Wisconsin’s "chief protocol officer for international relations," while Jay Schroeder of Neenah is campaigning to eliminate the office altogether.

When we contacted La Follette about his statement, by the way, he said he would have to "do a little calculation." Then later he emailed us, saying: "Wow, I did some math. It looks like it is more like 40 years; let me say, time flies when you’re having fun. Thanks for calling this to my attention."

Our rating

La Follette says he’s been Wisconsin secretary of state "around 25 years."

He’s held the job for a total of nearly 40 years.

We rate his statement False.