Wisconsin governor election updates: Tim Michels campaign calls police on reporters attempting to cover event

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Republican construction executive Tim Michels is challenging Democratic incumbent Gov. Tony Evers in a hotly contested, nationally watched contest. The candidates will meet on the ballot on Nov. 8.

Oct. 24: Tim Michels campaign calls police on reporters attempting to cover event

Republican gubernatorial candidate Tim Michels’ campaign called police last week on a group of national reporters attempting to cover a publicly advertised event in Oconomowoc where Michels planned to speak.

The caller, who identified himself as a volunteer for the campaign, told dispatchers that media from the New York Times had been asked “on multiple occasions” to leave the “closed event” featuring Michels and other statewide GOP candidates last Thursday at SteelTank Brewing Company.

“I was wondering if we could get an officer over here to remove them from the private property,” the campaign volunteer told dispatchers in the 5:49 p.m. call obtained by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Police later arrived, according to New York Times reporter Reid Epstein, and told reporters their car would be towed if they did not leave the parking lot. Handwritten notes taped to the brewery door said: “Private Event. No Media.”

Reporters for CNN were also denied entry.

The event was hosted by the conservative group Lake Country Patriots and was about why voting in November “is so crucial,” a flier posted publicly to the group’s Facebook page indicated. The post made no indication the event was closed to the media.

Michels and Republican U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson were listed as “featured speakers” for the gathering, but Johnson was at a different event and did not attend with Michels, a Johnson aide confirmed.

News of the police call, which was placed through the non-emergency line, drew criticism from Democrats who accused the Michels campaign of dodging the press weeks before the election and raised questions from others about press access.

Charlie Stadtlander, a spokesman for the New York Times, noted Epstein, a photographer and an audio producer never entered the building for the event and did not seek access after they were denied.

Stadtlander noted the event was “advertised as open to the public” and said reporters returned to their cars in the parking lot after identifying themselves as press and requesting entry to the event.

“We’re disappointed at the lack of access afforded at this event and particularly at the request of law enforcement to confront members of the press and remove them from a parking lot,” Stadtlander said in a statement.

The Michels’ campaign did not immediately respond to a request to comment. But Michels spokeswoman Anna Kelly replied to Epstein’s tweet about the situation with the caption: “Dear diary,”.

The incident came a day after a report from the Journal Sentinel’s Dan Bice detailing Michels’ more than a dozen calls to police in the last 20 years. Those calls included instances in which Michels’ dogs ran away and a time Michels couldn’t get in touch with his wife because she was taking a nap.

-Lawrence Andrea

Oct. 20: Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin to hold rally for Tim Michels in Waukesha

Republican Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin will appear at a rally next week in Waukesha for GOP candidate for governor Tim Michels.

Youngkin’s defeat of Democrat Terry McAuliffe last year forecasted a positive environment for Republicans heading into the midterm elections and was the first time a Republican won the Virginia governor’s office since 2009. Since his election, Youngkin has been floated as a possible 2024 contender.

Youngkin’s win has been used by Republican campaigns in battleground states as a strategy to navigate the pros and cons of being tied to former President Donald Trump, whose endorsement propelled Michels to a victory in the GOP primary but has low approval overall in Wisconsin.

“Governor Youngkin is one of America’s foremost advocates for parental rights, and I’m proud to have his support as parents and families come together behind our movement in the final stretch before Election Day,” Michels said in a statement.

-Molly Beck

Oct. 20: Evers campaign will start featuring former President Barack Obama in ads

A familiar face and voice will hit airwaves for Gov. Tony Evers. The campaign will start using former President Barack Obama in television and radio ads in coming days with less than three weeks to the midterms.

Obama will headline a rally on Oct. 29 in Milwaukee for Evers and Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, who is running for U.S. Senate.

“Rather than focusing on what divides us, Governor Tony Evers is bringing people together to do the right thing for Wisconsin,” said Sam Roecker, a campaign spokesman. “The governor is honored to have former President Obama’s support and encourages people to get out and make their voices heard at the ballot box.”

The ads will feature Obama urging people to vote for Evers on Nov. 8.

“If you care about protecting your right to vote, protecting access to abortion, and investing in our kids’ public education, you need to get out and vote for my friend Governor Tony Evers,” Obama says.

– Corrinne Hess

Oct. 19: Reince Priebus says he’s 95% sure former President Donald Trump will run again

Former White House Chief of Staff to former President Donald Trump told a group of business leaders in Madison that he’s is “like 95% sure” Trump will seek another term as president in 2024.

Priebus said if Trump runs, “he will be very difficult for any Republican to defeat.”

Priebus is a senior adviser to Tim Michels, who is running for governor against Democratic incumbent Gov. Tony Evers. He told the Wisconsin Manufacturing & Commerce crowd that he believes U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson could defeat his Democratic challenger Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes by four or five percentage points but that Michels will have a tougher battle against Evers.

“Milquetoast is tougher to beat,” Priebus said of Evers.

Associated Press contributed to this report.

-Molly Beck

Oct. 17: Advocacy groups break spending records weeks before midterms

Outside groups that tell people how to vote have already spent a record $36.7 million on legislative and statewide candidates with three weeks to go before the Nov. 8 elections, according to research by the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign. 

This spending does not include the U.S. Senate race or any Congressional races. To date, express advocacy groups supporting Republicans have outspent groups supporting Democrats $29 million to $7.7 million.

The $36.7 million spent on independent expenditures so far in 2022 surpasses the previous record $36.57 million spent in the 2018 fall elections.

Nine groups have spent more than $1 million on races for governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, treasurer, secretary of state, and the legislature. They are:

Republican groups: 

  • Right Direction Wisconsin PAC, $8.28 million. 
  • Americans for Prosperity, $5 million. 
  • Fighting for Wisconsin, $4.38 million. 
  • Club for Growth Action, $3.55 million.

Democratic groups: 

  • A Better Wisconsin Together Political Fund, $3.15 million. 
  • Wisconsin Conservation Voters Independent Expenditure Committee, $1.54 million. 

Other: 

  • Freedom Wisconsin PAC, $2.56 million. 
  • Wisconsin Freedom PAC, $1.49 million. 
  • Sunrise in America Political Fund, $1.07 million. 

Corrinne Hess

Oct. 13: Business execs praise Evers for pledging to accept election results

A group of Wisconsin business executives is praising Gov. Tony Evers as the only candidate for governor who has pledged to accept the November election results — and certify the winner of the 2024 presidential election — after those results are verified.

A digital ad launched Thursday by Project Democracy PAC urging people to vote for Evers because he vowed to accept election results features Republican and Democratic business officials. They include: Anoop Prakash, an automotive industry executive, former George W. Bush appointee and U.S. Marine Corps veteran from Whitefish Bay; David Irwin, a technology industry executive from Brookfield; Elizabeth “Betsy” Brenner, the former president and publisher of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel; and John Florsheim, a footwear industry executive from Shorewood.

“We are job creators, Democrat and Republican alike,” Irwin says in the ad.

“We know that a vibrant economy needs a healthy democracy,” Brenner adds.

The four execs featured in the ad, who are members of a group named Wisconsin Business Leaders for Democracy, note that they asked the candidates to commit to a series of pledges.

Those pledges include: accepting the outcome of the 2022 Wisconsin gubernatorial election once results are verified by the Wisconsin Elections Commission, refraining from “knowingly propagating falsehoods about the electoral process,” vetoing any measures approved by the Legislature to decertify the 2020 presidential election results in Wisconsin, and certifying the state’s 2024 election results

While Evers agreed to the pledges outlined in the letter, Michels didn’t answer, they said.

“I have never voted for a Democratic governor before,” Prakash said in the ad.

“This will be the first time I have voted for a Democrat for governor,” Irwin added.

The group, which cited concerns about threats to democracy when it was formed in August 2021, said it was a “six figure digital ad campaign,” but did not provide a specific dollar amount for the ad buy.

Michels’ spokeswoman Anna Kelly said the group was composed of “Evers donors,” criticized the members for calling the Wisconsin Elections Commission “unbiased” and for running negative ads.

Kelly said Michels is “the only candidate for governor who is concerned about election and ballot integrity. Tony Evers has vetoed numerous bills designed to ensure  confidence in the process and even tried to cancel an election.

“Tim isn’t interested in signing election year gimmick pledges to groups run by Democratic donors.”

Michels, a construction executive who is endorsed by former President Donald Trump, has signaled his support for attempting to decertify the 2020 election, an illegal move that has been promoted by Trump despite it being impossible.

He has previously declined to say whether he would certify Wisconsin’s 2024 presidential election results if Trump makes another run for the White House and again loses the key battleground state.

Project Democracy’s website shows it has primarily backed Democrats, but it has endorsed at least one Republican, Alaska U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski.

-Mary Spicuzza

Oct. 10: Tommy Thompson blasts Evers after calling him ‘outstanding Governor’ 

Former Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson is blasting Democratic incumbent Gov. Tony Evers after praising him repeatedly while he was leading the University of Wisconsin System during the coronavirus pandemic.

Thompson, 80, had an unparalleled career in state politics. And now, he has a complicated relationship with the candidates in the governor’s race. 

Thompson was elected governor four times, ran a federal agency, served in the state Assembly and most recently oversaw the University of Wisconsin System. He considered running again for governor but instead endorsed Republican candidate Tim Michels. 

Thompson appears in Michels’ latest ad, criticizing Evers’ leadership, saying, “The governor needs to lead, bring people together and focus on what matters. That’s not happening.”

It was a different message during the pandemic. In February 2021, Thompson praised Evers for being “an outstanding governor” who was “doing a wonderful job for the State of Wisconsin.” 

In 2018, Thompson praised Evers in the Milwaukee Business Journal for his willingness to work with Republicans.

“He said he wanted to work with the (Republicans) and he wanted me to help him,” Thompson said. “I think that’s wonderful.”

When reached by phone Monday, Thompson said he doesn’t want to criticize anyone.

“Right now people are not communicating — so they’re not solving the problems of Wisconsin,” Thompson said. “It’s not benefiting anyone.”

Thompson said he endorsed Michels because he’s a “problem solver” and a “doer.” 

He said he has given Evers many compliments over the years because they worked well together. 

“I have things I was involved with him and it was fine,” Thompson said. “But the problems of Wisconsin are not being solved. I think Tim is capable of doing the job.” 

Corrinne Hess

Sept. 28: Tim Michels pours $5M more into largely self-funded campaign 

In the last weeks of the Republican primary and during the month of August, GOP candidate for governor Tim Michels put another $5 million of his own money into his campaign — accounting for 92% of the funds he raised during the latest campaign finance reporting period. 

Michels raised $416,025 from other donors. He loaned his campaign $3.7 million and contributed $1.3 million between July 26 and Aug. 31.

In that time period, Evers raised $4.6 million with $1.6 million of that total coming from the state Democratic Party. 

Overall, Michels had $1.2 million in cash on hand as of Aug. 31, going into the final weeks of the general election race. Evers reported having $6.2 million in cash. 

– Molly Beck

July 27: Former VP Mike Pence endorses Rebecca Kleefisch for governor

With less than two weeks leading up to the closely watched Republican primary for Wisconsin governor, Rebecca Kleefisch has gotten an endorsement from former Vice President Mike Pence. This comes after former President Donald Trump endorsed Kleefisch’s rival businessman Tim Michels. 

Ted Cruz, who won Wisconsin’s 2016 GOP presidential primary over Trump also endorsed Kleefisch this week.

Michels has gotten the endorsement of former Gov. Tommy Thompson, who briefly considered another run for governor.

Trump supporter and business executive Mike Lindell has endorsed Tim Ramthun.

Read the full story

July 18: Tim Michels’ releases economic plan, wants to eliminate personal property tax

Republican candidate for governor Tim Michels released a broad-brush economic plan Monday that includes eliminating personal property taxes.  

Michels, a multimillionaire who co-owns the state’s largest construction company, is calling his plan the “Wisconsin First Blueprint.”  

It includes 11 bullet points, but few details on how he plans to achieve the goals. The Michels campaign did not respond to a request for more information.  

Michels, who is endorsed by former President Donald Trump, is in a tight primary contest with Rebecca Kleefisch, who has the backing of former Gov. Scott Walker.  

She served as Walker’s lieutenant governor between 2011 and 2019. 

Michels “blueprint” is focused on three areas: incentivizing business attraction and expansion in Wisconsin, addressing workforce shortages, and creating a more sustainable economy suited for the 21st century, according to the campaign. 

“Having an experienced, proven business leader in Madison will allow our state to produce a strong, more sustainable economy,” Michels said in a statement. “Tony Evers has no idea how to grow a successful business. I’ve spent my entire life creating jobs. I will do the same as governor.” 

Besides eliminating the personal property tax, Michels wants to reduce corporate and individual income taxes to attract and retain more talent in Wisconsin and increase American energy production. The entire plan can be found on his website.  

Kleefisch’s campaign has released two policy papers on the economy and has emphasized tax cuts.  

Corrinne Hess

July 18: Tim Michels’ campaign says mailer promoting NRA endorsement was sent ‘in error’

Republican candidate for governor Tim Michels sent out a mailer to potential voters promoting an endorsement from the National Rifle Association that Michels does not have — an error a spokesman said was unintentional and has since been corrected. 

Michels’ campaign mailer included a photo of Michels in hunting gear with a freshly harvested buck and said Michels was “standing up for our gun rights.” It promoted an endorsement from the NRA at the bottom of the mailer. 

“There was an error in a mailer we sent out but it was unintentional and it has been immediately corrected for all future communications,” Chris Walker, adviser to the Michels campaign, said in a statement on Monday.

Scott Jones, NRA Wisconsin’s state director, said in a statement the NRA Political Victory Fund has not made any endorsements for the 2022 Wisconsin gubernatorial primary.

Read more.

— Molly Beck

July 15: Tim Ramthun raises $172K in bid for governor

State Rep. Tim Ramthun of Campbellsport raised less than $200,000 so far in his campaign for governor, far less than his opponents in the GOP primary.

Ramthun is reporting having raised $172,627 in the first six months of 2022 and has about $86,000 in cash on hand heading into the final weeks of the Republican primary for governor. 

His haul is far less than what former Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch plans to report Friday, the deadline for candidates to file campaign finance reports covering the first six months of the year. 

Kleefisch announced this week she plans to report raising $3.6 million. Democratic incumbent Gov. Tony Evers said he raised $10.1 million in the same time period. 

Tim Michels, co-owner of Michels Corp., is leading the GOP primary in state polling and has not yet reported his fundraising totals. 

– Molly Beck

July 13: Tony Evers: Republicans won’t stop investigating 2020 ‘until Donald Trump is 6 feet under’

Democratic incumbent Gov. Tony Evers warned supporters Wednesday that if he is not re-elected, oversight of elections in Wisconsin could be at risk of being turned over to state lawmakers.

“We will see elections change to the point where the Legislature makes the final decision and that should scare the living crap out of everybody in this room,” Evers said at a campaign stop in Madison focused on abortions.

Evers’ top Republican rival Tim Michels, co-owner of Michels Corp., said Tuesday he isn’t ruling out signing legislation to overturn the result of the 2020 election that former President Donald Trump lost. 

Trump, who has endorsed Michels for governor, has pushed lawmakers for two years to take action to overturn his election loss in 2020. But the idea is impossible, legal scholars say — including his own attorney. 

But the idea persists as Trump and some of his supporters continue to push it. 

“They will continue doing this until Donald Trump is 6 feet under,” Evers said about Republicans focusing on the 2020 election.

Molly Beck. 

July 12: Tim Michels now says he is ‘not against contraception

GREEN BAY – The Republican candidate for governor leading in state polling now says he is “not against contraception” after previously refusing to say whether he would sign legislation banning emergency contraceptives, known as Plan B.

“I am against abortion, I am not against contraception,” Tim Michels, a construction executive endorsed by former President Donald Trump, told USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin in an interview Tuesday when asked whether he would sign a bill as governor banning Plan B.

Michels made the comments at a campaign stop in Green Bay, kicking off a two-day, statewide tour through the northern parts of the state. The tour comes less than a month before an Aug. 9 primary election during which he will face former Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch and state Rep. Tim Ramthun. 

Kleefisch has pledged not to ban Plan B as scrutiny of Republican candidates’ positions on emergency contraceptives come under scrutiny in the wake of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that has halted abortion procedures in the state. 

Read the full story

July 12: Tony Evers raises $10.1 million so far in 2022

MADISON – Gov. Tony Evers has raised $10.1 million in the first six months of 2022 — putting his total re-election fundraising haul since the start of 2021 at more than $20 million, according to the Democratic governor’s campaign.

The incumbent is facing a general election race against either a well-known former lieutenant governor or a construction executive with enough wealth topersonally finance a campaign as rising inflation and gas prices push disapproval of the leader of Evers’ party to historic levels.

Against these headwinds, Evers raised nearly double what his predecessor, former Republican Gov. Scott Walker, had amassed at this point in their 2018 race, according to the campaign. Evers’ campaign has $7.6 million in cash on hand one month from the start of the general election race.

Evers will likely face either former Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch or Tim Michels, who co-owns Michels Corp., a pipeline construction company. Kleefisch and Michels are leading by double digits in recent state polling on a primary field of four Republicans. 

Read the full story

July 8: GOP candidate for governor Tim Michels says he supports Wisconsin’s right-to-work law despite his company’s past opposition

Republican candidate for governor Tim Michels says he supports Wisconsin’s current ban on requiring non-unionized workers to pay dues to their workplace union, despite his company’s history opposing it.  

Wisconsin enacted the ban, known as “right to work,” in 2015 under former Republican Gov. Scott Walker. The state’s law is similar to those passed in more than 20 states nationwide.

Michels Corp, the construction company Michels co-owns, was a part of the Wisconsin Contractor Coalition that opposed the right-to-work proposal.

The construction company’s employees were also a part of protests against the proposed right-to-work law at the time. At least one employee of the company was able to protest right-to-work legislation because Michels Corp. gave him time off, according to a 2015 article from The Daily Reporter, a construction industry newspaper. 

Read the full story

Get ready for nonstop political ads. A Democratic group announces plan to spend $21 million this fall for Tony Evers

In the latest sign Wisconsinites will see nonstop political ads this fall, a Democratic group announced Wednesday it plans to spend $21 million on spots supporting Gov. Tony Evers. 

The ad reservation by the Democratic Governors Association comes two months after its Republican counterpart said it would spend $6.2 million on spots for its nominee starting in September. The Republican group has described its plans as initial and said it could spend more.

The Democrats didn’t say when their ads would begin running. 

The candidates and other groups will also be spending heavily, guaranteeing an onslaught of ads this fall. 

Read the full story.

Evers is casting himself as someone who works with Republicans, but he rarely talks to GOP leaders

Democratic Gov. Tony Evers is campaigning as if he works closely with Republicans who control the Legislature even though he rarely talks to legislative leaders.

The lack of communication between the first-term governor and GOP leaders has been well established, and each side has blamed the other for the situation. Overlooking their history, Evers launched a re-election ad Monday that said he “worked with Republicans and Democrats to pass middle-class income tax relief.”

The two sides barely spoke during budget deliberations last year. Republicans tossed aside Evers’ proposal to raise some taxes and cut others and then wrote their own plan to cut income taxes by more than $2 billion over two years. Evers quickly signed their plan, calling it a victory for the middle class. 

Republicans treated Evers’ ad as revisionist history. 

“This is something,” Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke, R-Kaukauna, wrote on Twitter. “Why would anyone believe he’d reverse course after 3 years of pretending the legislature didn’t exist?”

Read the full story.

Michels has lived part-time in Connecticut and Manhattan the past decade but says Wisconsin is home

Construction company executive Tim Michels is running for governor of Wisconsin after spending the last decade living part-time in Manhattan and Connecticut, where his children attended school.

Michels, a co-owner of the Brownsville-based Michels Corp. who is seeking the Republican nomination for governor, said Monday he calls the Waukesha County lake country community Chenequa home but also has split his time for the last nine years on the east coast.

Most recently, Michels and his wife purchased a $17 million estate in Greenwich, Connecticut in 2020 — real estate holdings first reported Sunday by the conservative website Wisconsin Right Now. 

Michels defended his ties to the Badger State on Monday following the release of the Wisconsin Right Now story questioning his residency.

Read the full story.

Kleefisch ignored problems with Wisconsin’s unemployment system, former workforce development secretary says

 A cabinet secretary who served with former Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch turned against her Friday, saying she had ignored problems with the state’s unemployment system for years, leading to a crisis when claims skyrocketed during the coronavirus pandemic.

Manny Perez, the first workforce development secretary under Republican Gov. Scott Walker, wrote in a column in the Wisconsin State Journal that Walker and Kleefisch had disregarded his pleas to upgrade the state’s decades-old computer systems that process unemployment claims. 

“They knew this was a crisis waiting to happen and did nothing,” Perez wrote. 

Keith Gilkes, who served as Walker’s chief of staff, called Perez’s claims false. He described Perez as a disgruntled employee who left his position in 2011 after less than five months on the job. 

Read the full story.

Michels promises to divest himself from family construction business if he wins race for governor

Tim Michels announced he would divest himself from his family’s construction business if he wins the governorship, making the pledge hours after ethical questions were raised about the company continuing to seek government contracts under a Michels administration.

Michels joined the Republican primary for governor last week and said days later he was stepping down from his management role with Brownsville-based Michels Corp. The firm has received more than $660 million from the state for construction projects over the last five years. 

Read the full story.

More: Here are the 4 Republicans who are seeking to unseat Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers in the 2022 election

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