In this update:
- SCOWIS Memo
- Administration Updates
- Legislative Updates
- Election Updates
- Fundraising Opportunities
Michael Best Strategies Supreme Court of Wisconsin Election Memo
The Spring Primary Election is just over two weeks away! For a full breakdown of the upcoming state Supreme Court election, as well as fundraising information and candidate bios, please read Michael Best Strategies Supreme Court of Wisconsin Election Memo.
Governor’s Health Equity Council releases report
The Governor’s Health Equity Council released its final report this week, laying out a number of proposals to make health outcomes more equitable in Wisconsin. The council agreed to 20 recommendations to address those disparities. The recommendations include policies such as raising the minimum wage, expanding broadband for telehealth services, and reforming the state’s Medicaid system to expand postpartum care eligibility and make it easier to get reimbursed for children’s dental work. The Council’s Vice Chair Michelle Robinson said the recommendations are meant to be comprehensive solutions to systemic health disparities. “We’re often also talking about literally stolen hours, stolen years, stolen moments, as people are dying prematurely due to oftentimes what is preventable,” said Vice Chair Robinson. “The Council selected and wanted to really focus on putting forth a set of proposals that wouldn’t just address the immediate consequences of health impairments, but rather to move upstream and really try to get at those root causes.”
The Council has already presented its report to Governor Tony Evers (D-Plymouth). However, many of the report’s proposals would require approval by the state’s GOP-controlled Legislature to take effect. Gov. Evers will deliver his budget address on February 21st, where some of the Council’s proposals may be highlighted.
Public hearing held on Houdek confirmation
Commissioner of Insurance-designee Nathan Houdek gave testimony during a public hearing on his confirmation this week. Although Commissioner Houdek was appointed to the post in Janaury 2022, he has yet to receive a confirmation vote in the state Senate. Thursday’s public hearing paves the way for a confirmation vote to be held. According to WisPolitics, Insurance and Small Business Committee Chair Sen. Mary Felzkowski’s (R-Irma) office said committee members would likely vote by paper ballot next week on whether to advance Commissioner Houdek’s confirmation to the full Senate.
During the public hearing, Commissioner Houdek said his short-term goal is to modernize the Office of the Commissioner of Insurance (OCI) by fully transitioning to a paperless operation. Such a switch would decrease staff hours spent on filing paperwork according to the commissioner. However, he also warned legislators about staffing shortages within the OCI. “So we are historically a lean agency,” Commissioner Houdek said. “And we continue to be lean. And, frankly, part of the concern is we’re starting to get a little too lean to the point where, as I said, we’re having concerns that we’re not going to be able to fulfil our responsibilities and meet the timelines that we need to meet.” Commissioner Houdek also noted OCI is fully funded through insurance industry revenue and pointed to an increase in revenue from $244 million in 2017 to $301 million in 2022 as an indicator of the industry’s growth in Wisconsin.
DSPS: License application and renewal fees will not increase
According to a plan submitted to the Joint Committee on Finance (JFC) by Department of Safety and Professional Services (DSPS) Secretary-designee Dan Hereth, the department’s initial application and renewal fees for licenses and credentials in the FY 2023-2025 biennium will not change from the current rates. In a letter to the JFC, Sec.-designee Hereth notes the fees are some of the lowest in the nation and that DSPS “continues to operate primarily through fee revenue with none of its operating expenses being supported by state tax revenue.”
DSPS has received heightened scrutiny over the past year from several GOP legislators who say the department imposes too many regulatory burdens on applicants and is too slow to issue licenses and credentials. The issue first came to the forefront during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic when a shortage of licensed healthcare workers put significant pressure on the existing healthcare workforce and hospital systems across the state.
Vos on “UpFront”
This past week Assembly Speaker Robin Vos sat down for a 1-on-1 with “UpFront” where he discussed the upcoming budget and policy issues of marijuana and abortion. On the budget, Speaker Vos stated, “(A flat tax) would be my preference, but I understand Gov. Evers has concerns with that. But the most important thing for us to do, we have to make big efforts toward reducing our tax burden. Flat tax would be ideal. If we can’t get to ideal, there are other ways to get there.” His comments regarding Governor Evers come after the Governor has repeatedly stated he will veto any flat-tax plan. Speaker Vos also suggested that there have been talks to increase the amount of money the state sends to municipalities through shared revenue and the possibility of backing a dedicated sales tax for Milwaukee. “I think it’s possible,” Speaker Vos said. “As I look at the real problem, the mistakes that have been made are so gargantuan, it’s almost impossible to solve without some new revenue.”
On the legalization of medical marijuana, Speaker Vos cast doubt on lawmakers successfully passing legislation. “We’re not that close,” he said. “I think it’s unlikely unless we can figure a way to find some middle-ground consensus.”
On the state’s abortion law, Vos said he still intends to introduce legislation that adds rape and incest exceptions to the 1849 ban in place. “I think we should have a rape and incest exception in the law,” the Speaker said. “I think we should redefine what life of the mother is, so it’s crystal clear. Why isn’t that an area Gov. Evers can work with us on?”
Neubauer and Agard speak at Madison luncheon
This past week, Democratic legislative leaders Senator Melissa Agard (D-Madison) and Representative Greta Neubauer (D-Racine) spoke at a Madison Club Luncheon hosted by WisPolitics.com. Their discussion was highly focused on the upcoming budget. Both argued that there is enough of an existing budget surplus to fund some of what both sides want. “I do think that there is room for bipartisan agreement in getting that robust surplus back into the hands of our communities,” Senator Agard said. “And we don’t need to be choosy; $7 billion is a lot of money.” Assembly Minority Leader Neubauer suggested using a part of the budget to fund K-12 schools. She said, “[If I had] a magic wand to do one thing in Wisconsin: I think that it’s fully funding K-12 schools. Because if our schools are strong, it ripples out in every way,” she said. “It helps struggling rural and urban and suburban communities; it is just at the center of everything.” Rep. Neubauer further noted that the state must make education investments while keeping the tax burden stable.
The two legislative leaders also discussed legalizing medical marijuana and specifically the GOP leaders’ uncompromising stance. Senator Agard said, “They are not listening to the people of the state of Wisconsin. It is our jobs as elected legislators, as elected policymakers, to lift up the will of the people. The will of the people is the law of the land. It’s not the will of a handful of powerful Republican legislators to create the law of the land.” Both repeated the fact that statewide polls such as the Marquette Law School poll have shown the majority of respondents favor legalizing medical marijuana.
Goyke on “UpFront”
This past week State Representative Evan Goyke (D-Milwaukee) sat down on “UpFront” where he discussed the upcoming budget. On the issue of shared revenue, the Representative said he is “the most hopeful and optimistic I’ve been that we’re going to solve this issue.” He continued to speak on the budget, saying “What has happened the last two budgets is Gov. Evers has put a benchmark out, and Republicans have kind of chased that benchmark and tried to catch up to him,” Rep. Goyke said. “And I expect they’re going to do the same.”
Audit Initiative proves high ROI
The Department of Revenue recently released the numbers for Act 55, an initiative passed in 2015, that created many audit and audit-related jobs in the state. Then-Governor Scott Walker proposed the addition of 102 positions to increase auditing activity and improve tax collections. The move was expected to increase state revenues by $31.5 million in 2015-16 and $82 million in 2016-17, according to the Legislative Fiscal Bureau. This past year, the revenue from the program ended up at $396.7 million, greatly exceeding the 2022 fiscal year goal of $82 million.
Conservative SCOWIS candidates participate in forum
This past week former State Supreme Court Justice Dan Kelly and Waukesha County Circuit Judge Jennifer Dorrow participated in a judicial forum in Greendale hosted by the Republican Women of Greater Milwaukee and moderated by News Talk 1130 host Dan O’Donnell. For the majority of the forum, the two focused on their Liberal opponent, Judge Janet Protasiewicz. Both spoke on the fact that Judge Protasiewicz is “dangerous” for Wisconsin due to her prior statements on abortion and redistricting.
When asked if they would endorse each other if they advance after the primary, Justice Kelly stated he would not due to being “burned” by his endorsement of Justice Brian Hagedorn. Justice Hagedorn was elected to the State Supreme Court in 2019 as a Conservative but has voted with the Liberal minority several times. Because of this, Justice Kelly says he will not endorse a SCOWIS Candidate. On the other hand, Judge Dorow said she will endorse former Justice Kelly if he advances after the February 21st primary.
Kelly on “UpFront”
This past week former State Supreme Court Justice Dan Kelly sat down for a 1-on-1 with “UpFront” where he discussed his support from Fair Courts America, his judicial ideology, and Justice Brian Hagedorn. On his $240,000 radio buy from Fair Courts America, former Justice Kelly says, “I welcome any support where we’re talking about the proper role and function of the Supreme Court. He continued to speak on his supporters and said, “What I’ve committed to them is what I’ve committed to every single other group in the state of Wisconsin, and it’s the same thing I’ve committed to every one of our fellow Wisconsinites. I will apply the law without regard to my personal preferences or personal values or my personal politics.”
When asked about current SCOWIS Justice Brian Hagedorn, former Justice Kelly referenced his opponent, Judge Jennifer Dorow. He stated, “One of my opponents is campaigning as a judicial conservative, but like Brian Hagedorn, there’s really nothing she can point to to say, ‘This is how I understand it. “I think we were a little bit surprised at how he turned out. He came to us, all of our fellow Wisconsinites, and he said he was a judicial conservative, that he would uphold the constitution, that he would preserve the rule of law. And then you got to the court, and it didn’t turn out quite to be that way.”
Dorow releases first ads
Supreme Court candidate and Waukesha County Circuit Court Judge Jennifer Dorow has released her first ads of the campaign, one will air on television and another on the radio. The language in the TV ad closely follows the radio ad which puts a heavy focus on the Darrell Brooks trial that Judge Dorow ruled over. The TV ad includes video of the red SUV plowing through the 2021 Waukesha Christmas parade as well as footage from the trial in which Judge Dorow gave him six life sentences for the six people he killed. The narrator says Dorow is now ready to serve on the Supreme Court and ends the ads saying, “The tested judicial leader, Judge Jennifer Dorow for the Supreme Court.”
Fair Courts America releases new TV ad
Fair Courts America, a conservative group that brands itself as the “nation’s premier organization dedicated to preserving the Founders’ intent that the judicial branch of government renders equal justice under the law,” put out a press release this week announcing its plan to back former Justice Dan Kelly with a $500,00 TV buy ahead of the Feb 21. primary. According to the release, the ad will run in the Milwaukee, Green Bay and Wausau broadcast markets and statewide on cable and addressable TV. The ad notes that Justice Kelley is the only candidate with a record of defending the rights of Wisconsin’s residents and also notes that he has been endorsed by sheriffs across the state. The TV buy comes on the heels of a $250,00 radio ad from the same group that started running last week.
Complaint filed against Protasiewicz
Barron County resident, Randall Cook, has filed a complaint against state Supreme Court Candidate Janet Protasiewicz in regard to comments she has made on redistricting and abortion. In reference to redistricting, he cites a WisPolitics forum that was held in early January where Judge Protasiewicz denounced the GOP-drawn legislative maps as “rigged”. He further notes her comments on abortion that were made during a recent television interview. In the interview, she said the U.S. Supreme Court incorrectly overturned Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that had guaranteed the right to an abortion.
Cook is claiming that Judge Protasiewicz’s comments were promises on how she would rule if elected to the Supreme Court, which violates multiple provisions of the Code of Judicial Conduct. Protasiewicz’s spokesperson Sam Roecker responded, “This is a partisan, politically-motivated complaint that’s not based in reality or facts, much like the decisions Wisconsinites have come to expect by the right-wingers on the state Supreme Court.”
Habush Sinykin releases new ads
Jodi Habush Sinykin, candidate for Wisconsin’s 8th Senate District, released two new TV ads this past week. One ad focuses on her opponent, State Representative Janel Brandtjen, and features a series of women speaking on Representative Brandtjen’s stance on abortion. They describe her as “too conservative” and her stance as “the most conservative you can be when it comes to abortion.” The second ad from Ms. Habush Sinykin focuses on her priorities in the State Senate by highlighting her family’s company, support for the police, and position on abortion.
Ms. Habush Sinykin’s campaign said the ads are running on broadcast and cable TV in Milwaukee as well as on digital platforms. Her campaign described it as a “significant six-figure buy,” but didn’t provide further details.
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National groups put funds into 8th SD race
Two national groups have put in over $208k in independent expenditures for Wisconsin’s 8th Senate District special election. The Republican State Leadership Committee Inc., which bills itself as “the largest organization of Republican state leaders in the country” is supporting Dan Knodl. The group has spent $83,036 on mail this week and another $70,000 on TV production and placement. Americans Keeping Country First, a “Super PAC dedicated to supporting principled Republican candidates in GOP primaries”, reported spending $55,100 for online ads to bolster State Representative Janel Brandtjen’s campaign.
Suit filed to block April referenda
Earlier this month, the State Legislature passed measures that would place a constitutional amendment on bail and an advisory referendum on work requirements on the April 4th ballot. The first referendum would amend the Wisconsin Constitution to change bail policies. The second is a non-binding referendum asking whether able-bodied, childless adults should have to meet work requirements to qualify for public assistance. Now, EXPO Wisconsin Inc. and WISDOM Inc. are seeking to block these from the ballot on the basis that the Legislature misfiled the ballot questions.
State law requires that all proposed constitutional amendments and advisory referendums “shall be filed with the official or agency responsible for preparing the ballots for the election no later than 70 days prior to the election at which the amendment, measure or question will appear on the ballot.” In notifying local clerks of the referendums, the Elections Commission noted the phrase “the official or agency responsible for preparing the ballots” may cause some confusion, however, the agency maintained that the commission is the “entity responsible for preparing the form of ‘referendum ballots’ for each state-level referendum election.” EXPO Wisconsin Inc. and WISDOM Inc. are arguing that county clerks are responsible for preparing the ballots, therefore, the Legislature should have submitted the referendums directly to them. Because they did not, the suit seeks an order rescinding the commission’s directive that clerks add the resolutions to the April ballot.
Spending in 2022 Gov’s race sets record
The 2022 Governor’s race set a spending record for the state with $164.29 million total from candidates and outside special interest groups. This number exceeds the previous record of $93.06 million, by 77% and follows a positive trend of costs for Wisconsin’s gubernatorial contests. In 2014, there was $81.8 million spent and $37.4 million in 2010.
After the August primary, WDC tracked $41.9 million in spending by Governor Evers and Lieutenant Governor Rodriguez, while GOP candidate Tim Michels and his running mate, former State Representative Roger Roth, spent nearly $28.5 million. In the entirety of the race, primary candidates included, Democrats spent nearly $87.8 million on the race, compared to $75.8 million by Republicans.
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