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WRN Endorsement: Rebecca Kleefisch Is the Proven Conservative

Wisconsin Right Now is endorsing former Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch for governor.

Kleefisch is a proven conservative. Voters know they will get a tested fighter who will advance a conservative agenda on day one. In contrast, Tim Michels is a question mark. We aren’t exactly sure how Michels would lead, he doesn’t have much of a record to go by, and there are too many red flags to take the chance.

We are concerned that Michels’ flatfooted and defensive campaign would bungle the deluge of attacks the left and media will throw at the Republican nominee beginning Aug. 10. They couldn’t even handle a few tough questions from a conservative news site run by two people in their basements.

The same week Rebecca Kleefisch was appearing at a news conference in Milwaukee’s inner city with black Republicans she helped recruit for Assembly races, Tim Michels and his wife were purchasing their $17 million mansion in liberal Greenwich, Connecticut. That contrast says it all.

Kleefisch remained invested in our state. Michels called those questions political garbage, but it matters where a major candidate for governor was living the last decade.

We really like Timothy Ramthun. We appreciate his folksy charm. We know he’s a good man. He would make a good governor. However, his decertification platform would cost him the general election. It’s unconstitutional. We believe the best way to get election reform is by electing a Republican governor.

Kleefisch has the best chance to do that. We have some concerns that running Walker’s second-in-command will evoke the divisiveness of the Walker years. However, independents may have buyer’s remorse now that they have lived through Evers’ failures. The last poll that did head-to-head matchups showed Kleefisch was the strongest candidate against Evers because she did best with independents.

We think she can get back some of the suburban voters Trump lost. We are concerned that Trump’s endorsement of Michels could cost him the general election, with suburban women fleeing the Republican ticket.

While Kleefisch was helping Scott Walker usher in an era of bold new conservative reforms, Michels’ company was involved in multiple groups that pushed back against those same reforms. That concerns us greatly, and it’s quite a contrast. While Walker/Kleefisch held the line on the gas tax, these groups aggressively pushed to increase it.

Michels has argued that he can’t speak for his own company and didn’t have a clue what groups were doing while he served as board president. That doesn’t inspire confidence in his executive leadership.

Kleefisch was tested through the raging fires of a recall and Act 10. The left threw everything they could at Kleefisch and Walker. She won with 52.9% of the vote. We think she is tenacious and tough. She won the lieutenant governor’s seat in an upset over a favored insider. We need a fighter to take on Evers and his machine. She’s proven she can win, whereas Michels has two big losses on his political resume, to Scott Fitzgerald and Russ Feingold.

We started out this primary undecided. In fact, one of us was leaning toward former Marine Kevin Nicholson early on. The other wasn’t sold on any of the candidates at first. Slowly, our concerns about Rebecca Kleefisch evaporated. Slowly, our concerns about Tim Michels grew.

We broke the story about Michels’ residency issues. The campaign treated us with disdain, refused to answer our legitimate questions, and kept us away from the candidate. It got worse from there.

Tim Michels’ tagline is that Evers failed from “COVID to Kenosha.” He did. But Michels wasn’t living full-time in Wisconsin during either one.

People tried to discredit the messenger, but a major candidate for governor should be able to answer tough questions designed to see if he adheres to conservative values and lives in the state. He should answer them in a forthright matter. We don’t need another Brian Hagedorn.

We broke the story about Michels’ involvement in groups that pushed for the gas tax. We think this is a legitimate issue, although Kleefisch could have worded her ads more accurately. There was nothing conservative about these groups, however. As someone said to us, if you were to, hypothetically, serve as board president of Planned Parenthood, you don’t get to come out later and say, “well, I was really pro-life.”

We both remained undecided, wanting to see how the candidates held up in the debates. When they occurred, only Kleefisch and Ramthun seemed deeply informed, and Michels stumbled.

We weren’t going to endorse in this race even then. What pushed us over the edge: the way Donald Trump trashed Kleefisch and her conservative husband at the Aug. 5 rally in Waukesha. Support her or not, all should acknowledge that Rebecca and Joel Kleefisch have worked hard for the conservative cause for years. They did not deserve that thrashing.

We have covered Trump rallies that were electric and focused on Democrats. This one was small, mean, and focused on tearing down Republicans who did not deserve it. We say this as two people who voted for Trump a collective 5 times (like Kleefisch, one of us voted for Cruz in the 2016 primary).

Michels didn’t even vote in the 2016 primary.

We had an initial concern that Kleefisch relied too much on talking points, but, in the debates, she demonstrated command on policy questions and issues. She was especially strong on tax policy.

In contrast, Michels stumbled. Not knowing what DACA was is indicative of how he’s acted this entire campaign. We are deeply concerned by his lack of depth on the issues.

He skipped a debate on the Regular Joe show in the Fox Valley, which also did not inspire confidence. Wisconsin Right Now was set to moderate a debate; Michels objected. He was allowed to give a stump speech instead. Why be afraid of tough questions?

Consider:

Michels said in May that he was for “modernizing” the 1849 abortion law. By June, he was saying his position on abortion was “an exact mirror” of the 1849 law.

He told Jay Weber in May that Milwaukee County DA John Chisholm should “probably be removed,” but he hated to say this far out that “I’m going to fire that guy on that day.” However, minutes later, his campaign issued a press release promising that he would “fire…Chisholm on day one.”

He initially said he wasn’t sure he wanted to abolish the Wisconsin Election Commission, then said he wanted to “dramatically reform” it, and then switched to supporting it being abolished.

He’s given contradictory statements on where he lived. He said he lived in Connecticut with his family on the weekends, commuting to Wisconsin. But he also said he lived in Wisconsin at least 51% of the time for tax purposes. He claimed the family went to New York for a subway project, but that ended in 2016, and Michels and his wife purchased two multi-million dollar mansions in Greenwich, Connecticut after that. His kids all graduated from high schools out east.

On the Second Amendment, Michels said that he did not have an answer on whether he supported expanded background checks for buyers younger than 21. His campaign falsely told voters he was endorsed by the NRA in a direct mail piece, claiming it was inadvertent. How does a mistake that big just happen?

He said that teachers, not students or parents, came “first.”

Michels said he “always supported right to work” on the Mark Belling show, but his company fired a worker who refused to pay union dues and then joined a coalition of companies that fought against Right to Work. The company gave a worker a day off to protest Walker-Kleefisch’s right-to-work reforms.

Kleefisch’s wording is sometimes inartful. We did not respect her premature and uninformed comments against the police officer who shot Jacob Blake and was later cleared. Calling inmates corrections customers was silly, although she was doing good work on getting job training for already released inmates. However, we have not found a series of contradictions on the issues with her.

We need a governor who is deeply informed on the issues that matter to voters. That’s Kleefisch.

We need a governor with the campaign organization and strength to defeat Evers. We think Kleefisch’s campaign has it. People say she shouldn’t have gone negative, but Michels was defining himself through millions of dollars in ads in a way that she thought was misleading.

She needed to explain to voters who he really was. Frankly, we hope she uses the same aggressive strategy against Evers.

Her timing was perfect to win.

Michels’ campaign was going negative behind the scenes anyway. They just did it through surrogates. One even shopped her daughter’s prom picture. At times, Michels’ campaign has seemed like something out of the land of misfit toys, with blunder after blunder.

The negativity has been extremely off-putting. When Michels’ campaign and third-party groups supporting him did go negative, their attacks were blatantly dishonest.

Ads dishonestly argued that Kleefisch is married to a lobbyist, implying nefariousness. But Joel Kleefisch was a very conservative legislator, and he was a conservative lobbyist too.

For the past four years, he has had a small lobbying practice. He lobbied for pro-life bills, including one protecting Down Syndrome babies from being aborted. He lobbied for sportsman’s groups, the deaf community, and disabled people. There was nothing non-conservative.

They attacked her for a trade mission to China, comically trying to make it look like she supports Communists. Actually, she was on an official trade mission to find new export markets for Wisconsin products like ginseng. Oh, the horrors.

No one really thinks Rebecca Kleefisch is a Communist or Communist sympathizer.

They trashed her for working for a group that employs lobbyists without telling people that the group was conservative and it lobbied FOR Scott Walker’s reforms.

It got even uglier. We reported that some of the most dishonest attack ads were funded by a group, Midwest Growth Inc., that, in turn, was funded by a group run by the union president behind the infamous Scott Holes campaign that might have cost Walker/Kleefisch the last election. That group was in turn funded by WEAC.

Midwest Growth Inc. is tied in tax records, as recently as 2018, to a self-described longtime friend of Tim and Barbara Michels and unpaid Michels’ campaign volunteer. He used a Michels’ campaign email address and was at the Trump rally in Michels garb. He won’t say if he’s still running the group.

This concerns us greatly.

The Michels candidacy doesn’t feel organic. People not sold on Kleefisch sought an alternative and he was choice #4. He parachuted into the race at the last minute and blew it into a multi-million dollar bloodbath by beating up the second-in-command for our last Republican governor. We fail to see how this helped anyone except Tony Evers.

So many legislators have told us they have concerns about who Michels really is and who he surrounds himself with, especially the roadbuilding lobby and unions, but none will go on the record. We’ve heard similar concerns from people who serve at the federal level. We do appreciate his military service and we are happy his company is a success and brings jobs to Wisconsin. But too many questions remain.

Kleefisch showed her grit during Act 10. We want to say to Michels supporters: Have you forgotten what happened there? What they endured and what they accomplished?

The Walker/Kleefisch era wasn’t perfect. Walker took his eye off the ball when he ran for president, and it cost them. FoxConn and the Hard Rock casino were missteps. Some reforms could have been done sooner.

We expect that Kleefisch will share similarities with Walker, but she is her own person. If elected governor, we are hopeful she will embrace the Walker/Kleefisch successes and learn from the failures.

She has the right messages. Gas and groceries. Crime. Educational freedom. As a mom of two daughters who went to Wisconsin schools, she has the credibility to deliver them.

But mostly you know what you are going to get. A conservative fighter.

For all of these reasons, we urge you to vote for Rebecca Kleefisch for governor on Aug. 9.

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