In this update:
  • Point Counter Point: April 5th Elections
  • U.S. Senate Race
  • Gubernatorial Race
  • Redistricting
  • Post-Session Updates

Point Counter Point – April 5th Elections


By: Evan Zeppos, MBS Principal & Senior Affairs Advisor

Evan Zeppos“The Richter scale reading from Tuesday’s Spring election did not show a major earthquake for Republicans, but the tremors were strong enough that the GOP can feel good about the results and Democrats should continue to worry about what the future may hold in the upcoming midterms. In the aftermath, for Republicans, it was two steps forward, and the march continues. For Democrats, it was one historic and important step forward, but two steps back.

Republicans can feel good that two of their major messages – more parental control in local schools/anti Critical Race Theory and get tough on crime – seemed to resonate with base voters. That’s certainly the case when you look at the results in the City of Waukesha, where three Republican-backed conservative candidates swept all the open seats on the local school board. In Menomonee Falls, three challengers knocked off two incumbents and claimed an open seat, and in the Elmbrook School District, a conservative who argued more needs to be done to remove sexually explicit books from the school won a three-year term after the incumbent failed to make it past the February primary. Similar school board results throughout the state favored Republican-backed candidates, with the notable exception being the Mequon-Thiensville School District, where voters again rejected an anti-CRT candidate who had previously lost in a recall election.”

Read more here.


Spring election produced very good results for GOP, but more work to be done.

By: Bill McCoshen, MBS Partner

“Tuesday was a very good night for conservative candidates across the state. But it wasn’t the tsunami or even red wave some had predicted. As expected, turnout statewide was very low because there wasn’t a statewide race on the ballot. In Madison, for example, the turnout was the lowest it had been since 2015.

Republicans were able to take control of County Boards in Calumet, Door, Kenosha, Marathon, Rock, Adams and St. Croix County. Not long-ago Rock and Kenosha were considered deep blue counties. The GOP also took control of the City Council in Green Bay, and established majorities on school boards across the state. But the biggest GOP victories came in the County Executive races in Kenosha and Portage County. Samantha Kerkman won an upset victory to become the first female and GOP Kenosha County Executive in history. John Pavelski was elected Portage County Executive by a slim margin, but a GOP countywide win in Portage would have been impossible a decade ago. Maria Lazar defeated a Gov. Evers appointee for a seat on the 4th District Court of Appeals. Those three races were the major highlights for the GOP on Tuesday.”

Read more here.

Johnson wins elected Mayor of Milwaukee

Acting Milwaukee Mayor Cavalier Johnson beat former Alderman Bob Donovan in Tuesday’s Milwaukee mayoral election, becoming the first elected Black mayor in the 176-year history of the city. The unofficial results have 62,143 votes, or 72%, for Johnson and 24,543, or about 28%, for Donovan. Johnson will serve out the final two years of former Mayor Tom Barrett’s term.

“This is an important moment in our city’s history,” Johnson said in his victory speech. “So I hope that all the Black and Brown boys and girls wake up tomorrow, and when they get ready for school, they do so knowing that what we have shown here today, that no matter where you live, or how much or how little your parents make, and no matter the color of your skin, that in Milwaukee there’s a place for you too.”

Donovan congratulated Johnson and thanked those who voted for him, saying: “There’s one thing I’ve learned in politics. There’s no participation trophies. You either win or you lose. Well, we took it on the chin tonight, but boy oh boy we’re not down.”


Waukesha County Judge Maria Lazar wins seat on 2nd District Court of Appeals

Maria Lazar, a Waukesha County Judge, beat incumbent Lori Kornblum in the election for the 2nd District Court of Appeals, which encompasses twelve counties surrounding and North of Milwaukee. Lazar received 158,290 votes, or 54.55%, while Kornblum received 131,863 votes, or 45.45%. Kornblum will serve out the remainder of her term, which expires on July 31st.

Gov. Tony Evers appointed Kornblum to the court to replace Paul Reilly, who had resigned six months before his term ended. This is the second straight year that Evers’ appointee to the 2nd District Court of Appeals lost to a challenger, as then-judge Jeffrey Davis lost to Shelley Grogan in April 2021.

Notably, Kornblum outraised Lazar significantly, partially due to the personal money she invested in her campaign. Between January 1st and March 21st, Kornblum outraised Lazar $432,522 to $121,912. However, Fair Courts America spent $250,000 on a pro-Lazar television advertisement in addition to a six-figure buy from the Wisconsin Reform Fund.

Although State Rep. Samantha Kerkman (R-Salem) won the Kenosha County Executive election, the liberal-leaning Kornblum beat conservative-leaning Lazar in Kenosha County with 51.3% of the vote. Many Republicans believe that Evers is vulnerable in the Kenosha area due to the violent protests following the police shooting of Jacob Blake in August 2020.

Both candidates framed the their opponent as being soft on crime. Kornblum was targeted by Lazar and independent groups regarding her connections to Evers and Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm during the campaign. Kornblum released an advertisement that criticized Lazar for sentencing a convicted rapist to eleven months in jail, below the prosecutors’ recommendation of seven years.


State Rep. Samantha Kerkman wins Kenosha County Executive race

State Rep. Samantha Kerkman (R-Salem) beat Rebecca Matoska-Mentink in the Kenosha County Executive race by a margin of just 2.8%. This leaves another open seat in the State Assembly.

In a phone interview, Kerkman stated that her biggest issue was “public safety, wanting to feel safe in our county.” She also said that voters liked the experience she brought to the position after two decades of service in the State Assembly.

Under state law, Kerkman will has sixty days from time she takes office to resign from the Assembly. She will be the 22nd state legislator to not run for re-election in November. These legislators include:

  • District 15 – Janis Ringhand – Retiring
  • District 25 – Janet Bewley – Retiring
  • District 27 – Jon Erpenbach – Retiring
  • District 23 – Kathy Bernier – Retiring
  • District 19 – Roger Roth – Running for Lt. Governor
  • District 29 – Jerry Petrowski – Retiring
  • District 5 – Jim Steineke – Retiring
  • District 6 – Gary Tauchen – Retiring
  • District 10 – David Bowen – Running for Lt. Governor
  • District 13 – Sara Rodriguez – Running for Lt. Governor
  • District 31 – Amy Loudenbeck – Running for Sec. of State
  • District 45 – Mark Spreitzer – Running for Senate
  • District 52 – Jeremy Thiesfeldt – Retiring
  • District 54 – Gordon Hintz – Retiring
  • District 55 – Rachel Cabral-Guevara – Running for Senate
  • District 59 – Tim Ramthun – Running for Governor
  • District 61 – Sam Kerkman – Won Kenosha County Executive Race
  • District 68 – Jesse James – Running for Senate
  • District 74 – Beth Meyers – Retiring
  • District 79 – Dianne Hesselbein – Running for Senate
  • District 82 – Ken Skowronski – Retiring
  • District 84 – Mike Kuglitsch – Retiring
With the fate of the final legislature maps still in the hands of the Wisconsin
Supreme Court, many questions still remain unanswered. If the maps do not dramatically change from the initial maps the Court accepted, Sen. Kooyenga is not able to run for re-election and four GOP assembly members are paired in primaries against each other. This will leave two members without a seat following the results of the primary.

State Rep. Timothy Ramthun wins re-election to school board

State Rep. Timothy Ramthun (R-Campbellsport), a candidate in the Republican primary for Governor, won re-election to the Kewaskum School Board. Ramthun came in second place with 1,561 votes, or 37.1%. The top two vote getters were elected to the board.

At a candidate forum hosted in March by Common Sense Citizens of Washington County, Ramthun was asked about his views on “the use of critical race theory and social emotional learning principles in middle school and high school education.” In response, Ramthun said that “we have to get back tot the core elements of education with reading, writing, and arithmetic and htose elments more so than social behavioral issues.”

Ramthun also suggested that students are being forced into special education classes due to “…a push for adding funding to those categories to enforce more participation. So it’s a false sense of why we’re supporting these things. I think it has to do with money and also to control the students at the educational level as well as perhaps their parents.”


Former State Rep. Don Pridemore wins school board seat

Don Pridemore, a former Republican State Representative (2005-2015) and former candidate for Superintendent of Public Instruction, was elected to a seat on the Hartford Union School Board Tuesday.

Pridemore was narrowly elected to the school board, with only the top two vote getters being awarded seats. Pridemore was second with 3,452 votes, or 25.19%. He had only received 653 votes, or 15.37%, in the February 11th primary. While Pridemore won a seat on the board, his wife did not. Tina Pridemore, an incumbent school board member, came in third with 3,427 votes, or 25.01%.

In a March 24th interview with Fox 6 Milwaukee, the couple said they were running as a team. Tina Pridemore acknowledged the possibility of losing to her husband, saying that she was “happy where I’m at, no matter what.”


Tyler Foti and Charles Schellpeper win re-election to Waukesha-area positions

Two Michael Best Strategies’ team members won their re-election races for local office on Tuesday.
Tyler FotiTyler Foti, a Senior Associate in Madison, ran unopposed for District 1 of the Waukesha County Board, receiving 2,834 votes. Foti has served on the board since 2018 and will serve another two-year term through 2024.
Charles “Chas” Schellpeper, a Legislative Assistant in Madison, won re-election to District 2 of the Oconomowoc Common Council in a landslide, receiving 72% of the vote and 529 more votes than his opponent. Schellpeper has served as Alderman since 2020.
Congratulations to Tyler and Chas on their successful campaigns!

U.S. Senate Race

Sarah Godlewski releases anti-inflation plan, calls for suspending federal gas tax

State Treasurer Sarah Godlewski, Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate, released her “Cut Costs Plan” this week. Her proposed plan is an effort to combat inflation and “make Washington work for Wisconsin again.”

Godlewski’s plan suggests temporarily suspending the federal gas tax of 18.4 cents per gallon to provide Wisconsinites “…with relief and lower costs for workers and families.” She also promised to work to obtain additional funding from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) for its Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) so that more families can receive support to pay their energy bills.

In her plan, Godlewski also frames investments in renewable energy as a way to reduce future energy costs. She says that she will work to ensure that the state develops a “diverse and robust clean energy portfolio that provides Wisconsinites with good-paying jobs, affordable energy, and insulation from foreign crises.”

To combat isszes in the supply chain, Godlewski’s plan looks to “incentivize domestic manufacturing to easy supply chain slowdowns and help bring home and create new jobs.” In particular, she wishes to address obstacles in the food supply by facilitating local sourcing and making it easier to export American products.

She also lays out a plan to make housing more affordable, including increasing both tax incentives through the Low-Income Housing Tax Credits and funding from the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) Certified Counseling Program.

Additionally, she proposes making the Child Tax Credit permanent, increasing federal antitrust enforcement, implementing a windfall profits tax and a wealth tax, and a permanent middle-class tax cut.

Liberal group announces new ad buy targeting Ron Johnson for increasing personal wealth while in office

Opportunity Wisconsin launched a new television and digital advertisement buy that criticized incumbent U.S. Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI) for helping to pass a tax break that the group “benefited his family’s business.”
The advertisement features a U.S. Air Force veteran saying that Johnson “…has doubled his wealth since taking office,” calling it a “dereliction of duty.” The buy cost nearly seven figures and will run on broadcast, cable, and digital platforms in the Milwaukee, Madison, Green Bay, and Wausau media markets.
According to the group, it has spent over $5 million in TV ads since early last year that target Johnson for his economic policy positions.

Gubernatorial Race

Republicans may consider “no endorsement” option at state convention

Mark Jefferson, the executive director of the Republican Party of Wisconsin (RPW), said that RPW may consider a “no endorsement” option for its convention in May after pushback from some primary candidates and other organizations.

“I expect there will probably be a vote by the full convention as to whether a ”no endorsement“ option is allowed on the ballot,” Jefferson said. “No mater what the rules committee decides, I expect the convention attendees will take up that question and vote on it.”

Under RPW’s endorsement policy, which was approved in December, to receive an endorsement from the state party at convention candidates for lieutenant governor and attorney general must raise at least $50,000 in campaign donations from at least 300 individual donors — excluding candidate contributions or those from their immediate family or political action committees — by March 15th. Candidates for governor or U.S. Senate must raise at least $100,000 from at least 1,000 individual donors by that same deadline.

Some candidates have criticized RPW’s endorsement process, one of the most notable being gubernatorial candidate Kevin Nicholson. David Varnam, vice chair of the Grant County Republican Party and candidate for lieutenant governor, argued that his endorsements from notable conservative organizations like Wisconsin Right to Life PAC, should factor into his consideration despite his falling short of the fundraising threshold.

Additionally, nearly two dozen county parties, including the Republican Party of Dane County, have called on RPW to allow delegates to choose to not endorse any candidate, or skip the process entirely.


Wisconsin Supreme Court rejects Evers’ motion to provide evidence to support his maps for State Legislature

The Wisconsin Supreme Court denied Gov. Tony Evers the ability to provide additionial evidence to support his maps for the State Assembly and the State Senate after the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOUTS) rejected both.

While the court provided no explanation for why it denied Evers’ request, it came after the State Legislature asked the court to deny the motion. The Legislature claimed that Evers had not been ordered to submit additional evidence and that he could have done so months ago.

SCOTUS rejected Evers’ maps two weeks ago, ruling that the Wisconsin Supreme Court failed to properly determine whether Evers’ maps comply with the federal Voting Rights Act (VRA) due to its creation of a new, seventh Black-majority Assembly District.

Even if the Wisconsin Supreme Court decides upon which map to use, the litigants may decide to appeal the ruling. According to Robert Yablon, an associate professor at the UW-Madison Law School, the Legislature could appeal to SCOTUS if Evers’ maps are chosen again.

Post-Session Updates

Evers announces $15 million in grants for school-based mental health supports

Gov. Tony Evers announced the launching of his “Get Kids Ahead” initiative, which will provide $15 million in mental health funding to “nearly every school district across the state, including more than 450 local education agencies.”

According to Evers’ press release on Wednesday, schools can use these funds to provide direct mental healthcare, hire and support mental health navigators, provide mental health first aid and trauma-based care training, or provide family assistnace programs. Each public school district was eligible to opt-in to receive funding with the guarantee of at least $10,000; the remaining funds were allocated on a per-pupil basis.

“We know that long before the pandemic hit, kids across our state were already facing immense challenges with their mental health, but as parents and educators are seeing firsthand, these challenges have only been made worse by the isolating and traumatic events of the past two years,” Evers said. “These funds will go directly towards whatever mental health support and services our kids need so they can be successful both in and out of the classroom to help them grow, learn, and get ahead.”

A breakdown of funding by local education agency can be accessed here. Please note that three tribally-controlled schools that are eligible to receive funding are not included in the aforementioned list.

State Sen. Van Wanggaard files complaint alleging that Racine is violating state law

State Sen. Van Wanggaard (R-Racine) announced on Tuesday that he filed an elections complaint with the Wisconsin Elections Commission (WEC), claiming that the City of Racine is engaging in “ballot harvesting” by “accepting ballots from someone other than the voter.”

In a press release, Wanggaard claimed that current state law requires voters to either mail or personally deliver their own ballot to the city clerk due to a ruling from a Waukesha circuit court judge in January. These changes went into effect with the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s approval for the April 5th election, with WEC issuing guidance consistent with the judge’s ruling last week.

Wanggaard argues that Racine’s policy of allowing someone other than the voter to return their ballot grants Racine voters “additional rights in shared elections,” calling it an an “outsized influence in those elections.”

In response to Wanggaard’s complaint, Racine City Clerk Tara Coolidge argued that Racine and all other municipalities are not bound by the Waukesha circuit court judge’s order because it was aimed at the WEC. She also pointed to the law’s exemption that allows an “authorized agent” to submit a ballot on someone else’s behalf.

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