In this update:
- End of Session
- U.S. Senate Race
- Gubernatorial Race
- State Legislative Races
- April 5th Elections
End of Session
Evers continues to act on 2021-22 legislation
Governor Tony Evers continues to work through the nearly 140 pieces of legislation that have passed both the State Senate and State Assembly and are awaiting his signature or veto. Evers has until April 14th to call for the bills. Otherwise, they are automatically sent to him and he has six days to act upon them (not including Sunday). Therefore, the deadline for gubernatorial action on the final enrolled bills of the 2021-22 Legislative Session is Thursday, April 21st.
Over the last week, Evers has acted on the following bills of note:
- 2021 Assembly Bill 679, now 2021 Wisconsin Act 208, amends 2021 Wisconsin Act 10, which authorized a hospital to provide hospital-associated services in a home setting without a home health agency license under Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) standards through January 1, 2022. Act 208 changes this law by removing the sunset provision on the authorization of hospital-associated services, thereby making the authorization permanent.
- 2021 Assembly Bill 960, now 2021 Wisconsin Act 209, makes it a Class H felony to commit or threaten battery against a person who is a healthcare provider, a staff member of a healthcare facility, or their family member if the battery or threat is in response to an action taken by the healthcare provider in their official capacity or in response to something that happened at the healthcare facility.
- 2021 Assembly Bill 82, now 2021 Wisconsin Act 210, requires the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) to work with the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association (WIAA) and two pediatric cardiologists to both develop and distribute information on the nature and risks of sudden cardiac arrest at school athletic events.
- 2021 Senate Bill 507, now 2021 Wisconsin Act 211, designates the bridge on State Highway 13 and County Highway A over U.S. Highway in Wood County as the Deputy LaVonne Zenner Memorial Bridge. Zenner was a full-time deputy for the Wood County Sheriff’s Department who passed away in 1989.
Evers and DHS introduce $5 million investment in telehealth
Governor Tony Evers and the Department of Health Services (DHS) announced on Wednesday that they plan to invest $5 million in federal money to improve child psychiatric telehealth services and create “neighborhood telehealth access points.”
“This investment in telehealth services is critical,” Evers said in a statement, “as telehealth can bridge the gaps between patients and providers by offering more flexibility and convenience in accessing healthcare, reducing the stigma and increasing the availability of mental and behavioral health services, and ensuring folks can meet with a healthcare professional no matter where they live.”
$2.5 million will go towards a new grant program which will expand and enhance child psychiatric services for hospitals and health services. DHS plans to give out one-year grants of approximately $500,000 to five hospitals and health systems across the state. These grants could be used for anything from buying and supporting the technology, to the recruitment and retaining of psychiatrists and psychiatric prescribers.
The other $2.5 million will go towards grant programs supporting partnerships between behavioral health providers and community organizations to create telehealth accessibility at food pantries, homeless shelters, long-term care facilities, libraries, community centers, and more publicly accessible areas in underserved communities. These grants can cover hardware, software, internet access, and remodeling costs. DHS anticipates awarding $100,000 one-year grants to 25-50 providers throughout the state.
U.S. Senate Race
Mandela Barnes releases new internal poll
Lt. Governor Mandela Barnes, a candidate in the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate, released an internal poll that found he has a 21-point lead over his opponents.
According to the poll, 38% of respondents said they intended to vote for Barnes, compared to 17% for Milwaukee Bucks Vice President Alex Lasry, 9% for State Treasurer Sarah Godlewski, and 8% for Outagamie County Executive Tom Nelson. 26% of respondents said they were undecided.
However, Barnes’ support dropped by 2 percentage points compared to his last internal poll from January. In that poll, Lasry was at 11%, Godlewski was at 10%, and Nelson was at 8%. 29% of respondents then were undecided.
The poll also found that 56% of voters viewed Barnes favorably, compared to 9% who viewed him unfavorably. Lasry had a favorability/unfavorability rating of 32%/10%, while Godlewski had a 24%/6% rating and Nelson had a 17%/5% rating.
The poll, which was conducted by Impact Research between March 16th and 23rd, surveyed 449 likely voters in the Democratic primary via telephone and text-to-web. The poll had a margin of error of +/- 4.6 percentage points. FiveThirtyEight gave ALG Research – which recently became Impact Research – a grade of B/C.
Tom Nelson releases digital ad to encourage grassroots donations
Outagamie County Executive Tom Nelson released his second digital advertisement for his run in the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate.
“Unfortunately, I can’t write million dollar checks to my campaign as a mostly lifelong resident of the Fox Valley without many billionaire friends,” Nelson said in a press release. “So I’m breaking out the dinosaur toys again to fund my grassroots campaign. I am proud to be raising money the grassroots way, with much of our money coming from local Wisconsinites and none from corporate PACs.”
In the advertisement, Nelson references comments made by incumbent Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI) in which he claimed that “standard gargle, mouthwash, has been proven to kill the coronavirus.” He also references Johnson’s decision to not lobby for the production of postal vehicles in his native Oshkosh.
Liberal group announces new ad targeting Ron Johnson for trying to repeal Obamacare
Opportunity Wisconsin has released a new radio advertisement that criticizes incumbent U.S. Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI) for his past efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA), often referred to as Obamacare.
The five-figure ad buy will air on four Milwaukee-area radio stations: WJMR, WKKV, WXSS, and WZTI. In total, the group said that it has spent over $4,500,000 in ads that target Johnson since early 2021.
“There’s no question that everything is more expensive these days,” said Program Director Meghan Roh in a press release. “But instead of helping bring down costs, Senator Ron Johnson is still trying to repeal the Affordable Care act. And that would mean higher costs for folks across the Badger State.”
The ad can be accessed via Google Drive here.
CPAC endorses Rebecca Kleefisch
The Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC) announced their endorsement of former Lt. Governor Rebecca Kleefisch for Governor of Wisconsin in a press release, saying that their endorsement is “…further evidence that Kleefisch is the choice of the grassroots conservative movement.”
“Rebecca Kleefisch is an unwavering conservative leader for WI,” CPAC Chairman Matt Schalpp tweeted. “Her previous service as Lt. Gov. shows Rebecca knows how to get the job done. She will defend the rights of parents and get the economy back on track. CPAC endorses Rebecca Kleefisch to be the next Gov. of Wisconsin.
CPAC joins a growing list of prominent conservative individuals and groups who have endorsed Kleefisch’s campaign. These include former Gov. Scott Walker, Governor of Iowa Kim Reynolds, Wisconsin Family Action, and Wisconsin Right to Life.
Kleefisch campaign releases new ad
Former Lt. Governor Rebecca Kleefisch released a new TV and digital advertisement on Thursday in which she promised to stand up for law enforcement, advocate for the rights of parents, and protect the integrity of Wisconsin votes.
In an interview with WisPolitics.com, the Kleefisch camp said the 30-second ad is part of a six-digit buy. Kleefisch is seen in the ad touting her accomplishments as lieutenant governor in front of a crowd of supporters.
“As your lieutenant governor, I beat the liberal mob, I cut your taxes, and I protected your freedoms,” Kleefisch says.
Kleefisch also pledges to be pro-gun and pro-life if elected, among other things.
“As your governor, I will be unapologetically pro-gun and pro-life. I will stand up for law enforcement, I will stand up for parents and I will protect the integrity of your vote,” she says. “I’m Rebecca Kleefisch, and I’m ready to fight for Wisconsin.”
Kevin Nicholson calls for cutting state lawmakers’ time and pay
Kevin Nicholson, a candidate in the Republican primary for Governor, is proposing a reduction in time and pay for members of the State Legislature, framing it as a means to both save money and attract political newcomers.
“It’s for more than just the financial purpose. It’s also to say, let’s free this up so that more people can serve,” he said in an interview. “People that work regular jobs in the private sector that can start to say, “OK, you know, I can’t park my business or my life or my job, just to be a legislator. But you know what, honestly, if this is a more constricted thing, and it’s a part-time role, and everybody accepts that you continue to work in the private sector, sure, I could stand up and serve.”
According to the National Conference of State Legislators (NCSL), Wisconsin is one of only ten states that has a full-time legislature. A spokeswoman for the Nicholson campaign said that he would work with lawmakers to determine new pay levels and benefits packages.
State legislators currently receive an annual salary of $55,141. Senators who live outside of Dane County can claim an additional $115 per day, while those in Dane County can claim $57.50. Representatives outside of Dane County may claim $153 per trip that includes an overnight stay, while all other representatives can claim $76.50 per day. These per diem payments can be claimed up to 90 days each year.
While a spokesman for Governor Tony Evers did not say whether Evers backed Nicholson’s proposal, he has similarly criticized the Legislature in the past for infrequently meeting during certain periods.
Former Lt. Governor Rebecca Kleefisch, who is also a candidate in the Republican primary, pushed back on Nicholson’s proposal by referencing his lack of experience in state government.
“The legislators receive a per diem (stipend) for actually coming into work. But it is incumbent upon them as part of their job responsibilities to answer constituent issues and solve problems every day,” she said. “If you’re a legislator, you should be on call 24/7. I mean, that’s public service.”
Rep. Timothy Ramthun (R-Campbellsport), another candidate in the GOP primary, said that he wants legislators to work more in the Capitol to justify their full-time salary and benefits.
Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu (R-Oostburg) and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) declined to comment. Assembly Minority Leader Greta Neubauer (D-Racine), on the other hand, said that being a legislator is a full-time position and claimed that Republican legislators were treating it like a part-time one.
Nicholson to seek Republican Party’s endorsement despite past criticisms
Kevin Nicholson asked Republican Party of Wisconsin (RPW) officials this week to allow state convention delegates to consider him for the party’s endorsement, despite previously saying that he did not want it.
In a meeting on Tuesday, Nicholson asked for his name to appear on the endorsement ballots alongside former Lt. Governor Rebecca Kleefisch and State Rep. Timothy Ramthun (R-Campbellsport). He also suggested that the party could alternatively consider a “no endorsement” option.
However, an RPW committee did not take action on Nicholson’s request after he refused to provide copies of his fundraising records. Certain metrics need to be achieved to appear on the endorsement ballot.
While Nicholson may not get the party’s endorsement if he does make it onto the ballot, it would likely make it more difficult for his opponents to receive it. A candidate needs 60% of the votes to be endorsed. With the endorsement, the party can spend freely on the chosen candidate.
In February, Nicholson said in a video posted to Facebook that he did not think that the party should have a role in the endorsement process. He has also publicly challenged its chairman, Paul Farrow, even going so far as to say that Farrow would not be the party chair if he wins the gubernatorial election.
State Legislative Races
Son of former Speaker to challenge State Rep. Doyle
Ryan Huebsch, the son of former Assembly Speaker Mike Huebsch (R-West Salem), has announced his campaign for the 94th Assembly District against incumbent Rep. Steve Doyle (D-Onalaska).
“From our unaffordable economy, to our childrens’ education, from health care for our families to the way our elections are run, partisan arguing has replaced working together,” Huebsch said in his press release. “Spending more of our tax money seems to be the only solution offered. We deserve and expect better. I intend to bring fresh energy and common-sense ideas from Western Wisconsin to Madison.”
Huebsch attended Western Technical College and graduated from University of Wisconsin-La Crosse in 2018. He served three years in the State Legislature as a legislative aide to former Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) and Sen. Eric Wimberger (R-Green Bay).
Doyle, the incumbent representative, has served the 94th Assembly District since 2011. Doyle succeeded Huebsch’s father, who had resigned the seat in 2010 to become Secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Administration (DOA). Doyle won re-election a fifth time in 2020 with 52.4% of the vote, or a margin of 2,660 votes.
State Sen. Jeff Smith to seek re-election
Senate Minority Caucus Chair Jeff Smith (D-Town of Brunswick) announced that he will be running for re-election in the 31st Senate District.
“I feel a responsibility to continue to serve the 31st Senate district in the capacity that I have because I didn’t just get elected for one term and walk away from it,” he said. “We have a lot of work to do.”
Smith was elected to his first term as State Senator in 2018, in which he defeated his Republican opponent by a margin of 4,389 votes. He previously served in the Wisconsin State Assembly between 2007 and 2011. He was narrowly defeated by Warren Petryk (R-Town of Washington) in 2010 and again in 2012 and 2014. He was also a candidate for chair of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin (DPW) in 2015.
April 5th Elections
DPW donates $100,000 to Cavalier Johnson
The Democratic Party of Wisconsin (DPW) donated $100,000 to the campaign of Milwaukee Mayor Acting Cavalier Johnson, according to campaign finance reports that were released on Monday.
Johnson is competing against former Alderman Bob Donovan in the Milwaukee mayoral election, which will be held on Tuesday, April 5th. The winner will serve out the remaining two years of the term left open by former Mayor Tom Barrett, who resigned the position to become the U.S. Ambassador to Luxembourg.
In a statement, party chair Ben Wikler said that Johnson is “the leader Milwaukee needs right now.” Even in a Democratic stronghold like Milwaukee, Wikler said “…it’s critical to invest in inspiring candidates like Cavalier Johnson, a leader who meets the moment, to inspire and mobilize a new generation of voters.”
Donovan criticized Johnson for the contribution, saying that Johnson was “looking to buy the election” while he was “counting on the people” in a text message to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
In total, Johnson has raised $375,721 between February 1st and March 21st with $169,525 cash on hand. Meanwhile, Donovan has raised only $86,936 during that same time period, with $1,250 coming from the Republican Party of Milwaukee County, $2,500 from a PAC associated with former Lt. Governor Rebecca Kleefisch, and $500 from Republican gubernatorial candidate Kevin Nicholson. Donovan reported having $2,775 cash on hand.
State of the Milwaukee Mayoral Race
By Evan Zeppos – MBS Principal and Senior Public Affairs Advisor
Observers looking for some suspense from Tuesday’s, April 5 special Mayoral election in Milwaukee between Acting Mayor Cavalier Johnson and former Alderman Bob Donovan would be better served by tuning into to the next episode of The Masked Singer – there is no uncertainty on the expected outcome of this election, but viewers still don’t know who is singing!
By all accounts from all observers, Johnson is on the doorstep of history and about to become the first elected, African American Mayor of the state’s largest city. Using basic political calculus, the signs all point to a strong Johnson victory:
- Johnson won the crowded primary in February with more than 40% of the vote, and Donovan –was able to muster only 22%, down from his 32% when he ran against now Luxembourg Ambassador and former Mayor Tom Barrett in 2020. That’s a troubling trend.
- Johnson won 12 of the city’s 15 aldermanic districts – a strong signal that he attracts votes across geographic, racial, economic and political lines. It’s the definition of a broad coalition.
- Unions may not be as strong as they once were in Wisconsin, but they still have clout in the City, and Johnson has racked up considerable labor support – from the IBEW and UAW to the Milwaukee Area Labor Council and the Milwaukee Building and Construction Trades Council, among others. Stunningly, Donovan failed to get the endorsement of the Milwaukee Police Association, an historically reliable political partner of conservative candidates in Milwaukee. That they are staying neutral in the race is a bad omen for Donovan.
- Cash is king, and money remains the mother’s milk of politics. Johnson has raised considerable funds. It’s likely he will report more than $1 million raised when the race is over, and Donovan will be lucky to cross the $250,000 threshold. This 4/1 advantage is significant, and observers can see it when comparing media buys, social media ads and voter outreach. That’s a big plus and another very troubling sign for Donovan.
- Most onlookers would argue Johnson has done a commendable job since assuming the spot as the City’s CEO. He has not stumbled, although his recent comments on his crime program were not artfully conveyed and raised some eyebrows. However, he has been where he needs to be; and the transfer of power went off without a hitch when he took over. Credit that to great staff work and smart people around him, but he has looked like and acted like a strong mayor since Day One. Voters like that. He also had a strong, experienced and professional campaign in place once the race began. Donovan has nothing that even comes close.
All this and more points to a strong, city-wide victory for Johnson this coming Tuesday, and he’ll have two years to cement his position as a strong leader and steward of the state’s largest city. Those who watch races closely will be able to go to bed early Tuesday night – this will not be a nail-biting cliff hanger. Indeed, it has all the makings of a rout.
With Johnson’s victory, some attention will turn to his ability to build a successful relationship with the Republican majorities in the Legislature in order to get a local sales tax approved, something that the City has been trying to get for years. That, like Johnson’s election, would be historic.
Evan Zeppos is a principal and senior public affairs advisor for Michael Best Strategies. Prior to joining Michael Best Strategies, Evan was the founder and owner of Zeppos & Associates, a top-rated, Milwaukee-based public relations and government affairs firm, before selling it to a local digital marketing and advertising firm in 2012. He served as executive vice president of public relations at that firm and headed its public relations department for five years before joining Strategies.
Wisconsin School Board Elections to Watch
By Bill McCoshen – MBS Partner
There is growing interest in local elections this year. That’s a good thing! Spring elections in Wisconsin are non-partisan. But both parties are actively involved in identifying and turning out voters for next Tuesday.
Typically, spring elections have low turnout. This is one of those rare years where there isn’t a presidential primary, supreme court, or superintendent of public instruction race on the spring ballot to drive higher turnout. But don’t be surprised if turnout on Tuesday is still good.
Pay close attention to school board races on Tuesday. There has been a great parent awakening over the past year and more and more parents are getting involved in their child’s education. These parents are supporting candidates for school board who share their values. We saw an early sign of this last spring when the Wausau School Board majority flipped from liberal to conservative. Look for similar outcomes across the state. Incumbent school board members who do not support parent’s rights to be involved in their child’s education, and who are not in favor of transparency of curriculum or increased violence in schools are vulnerable on Tuesday. The Beloit School Board races will be a good barometer of parent outrage.
The recent Marquette Law School poll showed most registered voters (55%) believe our schools are in worse shape than they were a few years ago. A near majority (47%) believe our school standards are too low. And a plurality of registered voters (35%) they parents should have the biggest role in determining curriculum in schools. These are dramatic shifts in voter attitudes. If you are looking for an early indicator of how the fall elections may go in Wisconsin, then pay close attention to school board races on Tuesday night.
Bill McCoshen is a partner at Michael Best Strategies. Bill previously served as Chief of Staff to former Wisconsin Governor Tommy Thompson, and then as Gov. Thompson’s campaign manager during his successful third-term gubernatorial campaign in 1994. Following the election, Gov. Thompson appointed Bill to serve as Secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Commerce. Over the next four years, Bill oversaw economic development programs throughout the state. Bill remains the youngest person ever to hold the position of gubernatorial chief of staff and cabinet secretary.
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