In this update:

  • ICYMI: Primary Election Recap
  • Administration Updates
  • Legislative Updates
  • Election Updates
  • A Look at the Week Ahead
  • Fundraising Opportunities

ICYMI: Primary Election Recap


In case you missed it, Tuesday was primary election day in Wisconsin with a statewide Supreme Court primary on the ballot, in addition to several notable local elections and a GOP primary for the vacant 8th Senate District.

Voter turnout on Tuesday set a record for any spring primary ever held in the state, with 950,000 people turning out to vote. That surpassed the previous record, which was set in 2020, when 705,000 people turned out to vote in a three-way primary for state Supreme Court. The turnout of voters increased by nearly 35% between the two races.

Money spent on advertising leading up to Tuesday’s primary also played a pivotal role in who made it through the primary to the general election. In the state Supreme Court race, advertisers spent $2.8 million on Pro-Daniel Kelly content, $2.3 million on Pro-Janet Protasiewicz content, and $959,000 on Pro-Jennifer Dorow content. With regard to negative advertising, $2.2 million was spent on advertisements which went against Judge Dorow, and $853,000 was spent on advertisements that went against Judge Protasiewicz.

A full breakdown of the results can be found in the February 21st Primary Election Results MBS Alert.

Below are the winners of Tuesday’s key races:

State Supreme Court Primary (93% Reporting):

  • Janet Protasiewicz: 46%
  • Daniel Kelly: 24%

8th Senate District GOP Primary (89% Reporting):

  • Dan Knodl: 57%

City of Madison Mayoral Primary (92% Reporting):

  • Satya Rhodes- Conway: 59%
  • Gloria Reyes: 28%

Administration Updates

Strand appointed to PSC

Governor Tony Evers recently announced his appointment of Summer Strand to the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin (PSC). The appointment fills a vacancy created by the resignation of Ellen Nowak, effective March 1, 2023. Strand comes to the PSC from the Walbec Group, a construction and engineering company, where she is the director of government affairs. Additionally, she previously served as a program and policy analyst-advanced in the Division of State Facilities at DOA in 2011. From 2008 to 2011, Strand also served as chief of staff to State Sen. Jeff Plale (D-Milwaukee) in the Wisconsin State Legislature.

On Strand’s appointment, the Governor said “I’ve had the pleasure of working with Summer on the State Building Commission for the past several years and I am confident that she will be an asset to the PSC and to the people of Wisconsin in this new role. Having worked in several roles within state government and with trade and industry professionals alike, Summer will bring a depth of experience, dedication to service, and collaborative skills necessary to be successful at the PSC.”

Evers looks to increase staffing at DSPS

Governor Tony Evers (D-Plymouth) has requested nearly 80 additional full-time equivalent positions to be added to the Department of Safety and Professional Services (DSPS) over the next two years as part of his executive budget. For the past year, DSPS has been a focus of attention for many GOP lawmakers who say the department is not doing enough to quickly and efficiently process licenses and credentials for applicants.

As part of the executive budget, Gov. Evers is requesting $73.9 million for DSPS in FY 2024, a 21% increase over the current fiscal year, to address the backlog. The request includes $968,700 for 16 new staffers to process applications and $793,000 for 14 additional customer communication positions. However, some Republicans, including Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester), are not convinced hiring more people will solve DSPS’ problems. “It’s not always a matter of just adding more people if the management behind the people and the practices they are employing are also not working,” Speaker Vos told reporters following Gov. Evers’ budget address.

Gov. Evers’ budget now goes to the GOP-controlled Joint Committee on Finance (JFC) for amendment prior to going to the full legislature for final approval. The JFC and legislature will make the final recommendation on DSPS’ budget for the next two years and Gov. Evers will either sign or veto that appropriation.

Wisconsin approved for nearly $80 million under SSBCI

According to a joint press release from Governor Tony Evers and U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin, Wisconsin has been approved for up to $79.1 million through the State Small Business Credit Initiative (SSBCI), a federal program approved under the American Rescue Plan and meant to support small business and entrepreneurship, as well as expand access to capital. Of the $80 million allocation, $50 million will go to venture capital funds meant to support small businesses. Another $6 million will go to the WEDC Capital Catalyst Fund, “a loan participation program, which provides matching capital to revolving loan funds managed by nonprofits to provide capital to startups and emerging growth companies.” An additional $15 million will go to WHEDA to help small businesses with credit support. The remaining $8.1 million will go to the state’s Technology Development Loan program.

“The SSBCI offers an exciting opportunity to not only provide the capital that is so critical to small business success but to use federal resources to promote new private investment,” said WEDC Secretary and CEO Missy Hughes. “The long-term benefit is using the private investment expertise to generate returns and grow a revolving pool of capital to be reinvested in new businesses again and again.”

Legislative Updates

Marklein on “UpFront”

This week state Senator Howard Marklein (R-Spring Green) sat down for an interview with WISN’s “UpFront” where the JCF co-chair weighed in on Governor Tony Evers’ recently released executive budget. Sen. Marklein said Gov. Evers’ budget seemed to include an “excessive amount of spending” and pointed to the 24% increase in GPR spending as being a “big pill for us to swallow.”

Sen. Marklein also made the following comments during the interview:

  • The governor’s budget “raises taxes on people in order to give them a tax cut” and promised that the GOP tax-cut proposal would be “hopefully across the board.”
  • Regarding the governor’s proposal to send $290 million to the Brewers’ Stadium District, “We were not consulted ahead of the announcement, so we have not talked about it here in the legislature.”
  • Said the governor’s plan to implement a paid family leave program “sounds like another government program,” and “another tax on employers and employees.” He “doubts it is going to have much support in [the Republican] caucus.”
  • Unsure whether the governor will sign the Legislature’s budget, but promised to “craft the best possible budget for the State of Wisconsin. Something our constituents will like back home….and puts the state in good financial shape.”

GOP lawmakers skeptical of UW’s free-tuition program

Governor Tony Evers has proposed $24.5 million in funding for the Wisconsin Tuition Promise, a program designed to provide full tuition coverage for new, in-state freshmen and transfer students in the UW system whose families earn $62,000 or less. UW System President Jay Rothman called the program one of the best ways for Wisconsin to “win the war for talent.” However, some leading GOP lawmakers are questioning whether the program is the highest and best use of taxpayer money. “If the university wants to go out and raise private resources, I think that’s an excellent use of their fundraising prowess if they choose to,” Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) said. “I think it’s probably not something we’re going to be able to fund at the state level when we see so many folks struggling with paying their taxes and all of the other bills.”

While Speaker Vos’ senate counterpart, Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu (R-Oostburg), has not weighed in on the topic, Sen. Duey Stroebel (R-Saukville), a member of the budget-writing Joint Committee on Finance (JFC), tweeted “Actually the best way to remain competitive and to attract talent is to provide merit scholarships for the best and brightest. The UW System has been woefully inadequate in this area.” A similar tuition promise program was pitched to the Legislature in the previous budget, but it was rejected by Republicans at that time as well.

Election Updates

Dorow endorses Kelly, Mitchell endorses Protasiewicz

Tuesday night after the results of the state Supreme Court primary were finalized, both Waukesha County Circuit Court Judge Jennifer Dorow and Dane County Circuit Court Everett Mitchell put out statements in support of one of the advancing candidates. Judge Dorow first tweeted in support of former Justice Kelly and then released an official statement Wednesday morning. “Those of us who believe in a fair and impartial judiciary must unite behind Daniel Kelly,” Judge Dorow said. “The very role of a judge is on the ballot on April 4th.” Her endorsement comes despite Justice Kelly’s refusal to commit to endorsing Judge Dorow if she were to have advanced.

Judge Mitchell released his statement in support of Judge Protasiewicz saying, “Congratulations to Judge Protasiewicz on advancing to the April 4th General Election. Let us rally behind her and commit to the spirit of progress to ensure a progressive voice will guide the future of the Wisconsin Supreme Court.”

Protasiewicz releases new ads

Liberal Supreme Court candidate Janet Protasiewicz released two TV ads that claim conservative Supreme Court candidate Dan Kelly is an “extremist who doesn’t care about us.” The two ads are titled “Predator” and “Extreme“. The former focuses on the claim that Justice Kelly “defended child sex predators who posed as ministers” while the latter focuses on Justice Kelly’s “extreme” stance on abortion. According to the Protasiewicz campaign, the spots are part of a $2 million buy that will run through the April 4 general election.

New ads from A Better Wisconsin Together oppose Kelly

A Better Wisconsin Together Political Fund released two new ads this week critical of conservative Supreme Court candidate Dan Kelly. The first ad is running in the Green Bay market and is on Social Security and Medicare. The second ad is running in Milwaukee and covers abortion. During the primary, the group spent nearly $2.2 million on ads opposing conservative Judge Jennifer Dorow because it believed Justice Kelly would be a weaker general election opponent for liberal Supreme Court candidate Janet Protasiewicz.

Referendums to remain on April ballot

Dane County Circuit Court Judge Rhonda Lanford recently ruled in favor of allowing two GOP-authored referendums to be placed on the April ballot. Currently, there are two referendums that will be on the ballot; one of which asks whether the Wisconsin Constitution should be amended to overhaul bail policies. The other is an advisory referendum asking voters if able-bodied childless adults should be required to seek work to qualify for public assistance.

The case was introduced by Expo Wisconsin, INC. and WISDOM, INC. who sought to get the referendums removed from the ballot due to incorrect filing by the GOP legislators. Judge Lanford ruled that the lawmakers substantially complied with state law, and therefore denied the two groups’ efforts to remove the referendums. The groups further argued that they have lobbied against the proposals for months and would continue to do so through the election. Judge Lanford said the groups believe their efforts would be harmed without an additional year to campaign against the questions but ruled that it wasn’t sufficient justification to issue a temporary injunction blocking them from the April ballot.

In response to the ruling, Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu said, “Once again, special interests are trying to use the courts to push their agenda. The judge rejected this cynical and meritless attempt to take away the voice of the people, especially regarding public safety.”

A Look at the Week Ahead

Upcoming Committees of Note

Thursday, March 2

Senate Education & Assembly Education Joint Hearing

10:00 am, 412-E

Informational Hearing

This will be an informational hearing on reading Wisconsin. Testimony will only be accepted from invited speakers.

  • Department of Public Instruction
    • Laura Adams Policy Initiatives Advisor for the State Superintendent
    • Duy Nguyen Assistant Superintendent for the Division of Academic Excellence
    • Tom McCarthy Executive Director for the Office of the State Superintendent
  • ExcelinEd
    • Dr. Kymyona Burk – Senior Policy Fellow
  • University of Wisconsin – Madison
    • Mark S. Seidenberg – Vilas Research Professor and Donald O. Hebb Professor
  • Luxemburg-Casco School District
    • Kyle Thayse 4k-12 Instructional Coach

Assembly Hearing

  • AB-053 School Crime Reporting (Duchow, Cindi) Reporting certain crimes and other incidents that occur on school property or school transportation and granting rule-making authority

Fundraising Opportunities

A list of all upcoming fundraiser opportunities can be found by clicking the button below. For any questions or more information, please do not hesitate to contact your Michael Best Strategies contact.

Wisconsin Campaign Fundraisers

Michael Best Strategies (Strategies) helps companies accelerate their success through a combination of strategic business consulting, lobbying, government relations, public affairs, and communications. The firm has thrived by providing a diverse team of professionals with the experience, skills, and relationships necessary to help each client achieve their goals more quickly and fully.