Senators stand by Walker, reforms on campaign trail
By M.D. Kittle Wisconsin Reporter
MADISON — This raucous recall summer in Wisconsin has pumped up the volume on attack ads and campaign rhetoric.
The candidates — some more than others — have earned the vocal support of big money political action committees and special interest groups through a barrage of campaign ads. But what about the backing of fellow senators outside the hot lights of the recall?
Some political observers say some GOP lawmakers have been conspicuously quiet in their support of their targeted brethren.
“To the degree that the parties are involved, the Democrats appear to be more unified in supporting their candidates than do the Republicans,” wrote Barry Burden, professor of political science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, in an email response to Wisconsin Reporter.
“This might (be the result of) some uneasiness on the part of Republicans with being linked to the Walker administration,” he said, referring to Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s controversial budget reforms, which turned a more than $3 billion deficit into a balanced budget.
The Democratic Party of Wisconsin makes more pointed charges, asserting that GOP lawmakers in general have been aloof in the campaigns of recall candidates, and Walker is too politically hot to touch right now.
That couldn’t be further from the truth, according to several Republicans in and on the campaign trail.
State Sen. Mary Lazich’s bustling campaigning schedule is jam-packed with stump speeches, door knocking and fundraisers.
The New Berlin Republican, who is not up for recall, said she dodged a bullet by missing the list in the recall push and purge, and that’s why it’s so critical that Republicans like her lend a hand.
Lazich, in a phone interview Wednesday moments before she was expected to take the stage at a fundraiser for GOP recall candidates, told Wisconsin Reporter that Republicans have never been so galvanized, have never felt so much solidarity.
“Republican senators have bonded in a way I’ve never seen in my life,” said Lazich, serving Wisconsin’s 28th Senate District since 1999. “My colleagues have been through this battle since February … My role is to get out there and help them.”
Lazich said many lawmakers are spread thin, that between legislative duties and catching up on the tens of thousands of emails that inundated GOP offices earlier this year during the protest movement, there’s only so much time available to hit summer campaign stops. Senators are doing all they can to help those peers in political peril, she said.
Jeff Weigand, campaign manager for state Sen. Luther Olsen, R-Ripon, ticked off a laundry list of lawmakers who have come to the aid, early and often, of the embattled senator, who is in a heated recall race against state Rep. Fred Clark, D-Baraboo, for the contested 14th District Senate seat.
District 20 state Sen. Glenn Grothman has been a constant presence on the Olsen campaign trail, among the other Republican recall candidates, Weigand said, and District 33 state Sen. Rich Zipperer has been extremely active. Majority
Leader Sen. Scott Fitzgerald stepped in as speaker for U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Janesville, at a recent fundraising event — Ryan was up to his shoulders in debt ceiling debate — and District 19 Sen. Mike Ellis has been a huge campaign donor, Weigand and other GOP campaign representatives said.
“We’ve had more offers for help than we can accommodate. They’ve been constant,” said Jennifer Harrington, campaign manager for state Sen. Dan Kapanke. The La Crosse Republican is in a political dog fight with state Rep. Jennifer
Shilling, D-La Crosse, for the right to represent the 32nd Senate District.
Other GOP power players have stepped up, too, like former Gov. Tommy Thompson and Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch.
Graeme Zielinski, spokesman for the Democratic Party of Wisconsin, said the biggest star right now in the Republican galaxy has been persona non grata on the recall election campaign trail.
“Everyone is running for the hills, saving their own hides, on the Republican side. You can tell by their events,” Zielinski said. “If the Walker agenda is such a good agenda, you would think they would all be standing together, hands together singing hosannas to themselves.”
Democrats and some political observers have offered that Walker may be toxic right now, particularly for GOP senators in tight recall races.
That’s not how Republican senators facing recall feel, Weigand said.
He said the Kapanke campaign is calling on the governor to lead a rally in the coming days, and Republicans are more than happy to invoke the name of their party’s chief in the wake of so many legislative successes.
“I think our governor has exhibited an incredible amount of leadership and care over past seven months, and the right thing to do is proving itself out,” Weigand said. “If anyone is bashful about that, I don’t know why. We are sticking to our guns, and we’re getting the job done.”