Wisconsin’s Other Choices

Electing a governor or president gets a lot of press attention. Voters have plenty of opportunity to learn about these candidates. But in a federal system of government, like ours, other state and local offices are also important. Too often these “down ballot” candidates don’t get the attention they deserve. Often people going to the polls don’t even know who is running for these offices. They don’t know the qualifications, political philosophy, or agenda of these candidates. They don’t know what difference one candidate or the other might make. In short, they can’t vote knowledgeably.

This article is for voters in northwest Wisconsin. It looks at several forgotten offices and the candidates on the November 6th ballot.

Lt. Governor. Although you vote for the governor and lieutenant governor as a team, voters should know something about whom they are electing. After all, the person might wind up being governor.

The Democratic candidate is Mandela Barnes, a Milwaukee native and former two term Assembly member. He has been involved in politics, community organizing, and progressive policy work most of his life. Mandela sums up his policy concerns on his website,

“With income inequality in Wisconsin at its highest point since the Great Depression, and a poverty rate of 12% (statewide), we are in urgent need of new leadership. We need meaningful reforms to get the state back on track, and to provide opportunity across all 72 counties. We deserve living wage jobs, access to quality and affordable healthcare, and great schools for our children. We have a long way to go.”

Mandela is likely to energize people of color and younger voters. He has an activist vision for the office beyond waiting for a vacancy. It is safe to say he would bring a new perspective to the job and provide the Democrats some “bench depth” for future elections.

Rebecca Kleefisch is the incumbent Lt. Governor. She was elected to her first political office with Scott Walker in 2010. She is a former reporter and TV anchor person. She is married to State Assemblyman, Joel Kleefisch. Her campaign website consists of a donation script and contains no positions on issues or information about her vision for Wisconsin. Her bio in Wisconsin Vote says,

“[she} wants our state’s success to embrace all our citizens, especially those who must overcome barriers to prosperity. She chairs the Governor’s Task Force on Minority Unemployment, works on the issues of homelessness and offender re-entry, and advocates for returning Veterans and people with disabilities looking to join the workforce”

But Republicans have rarely helped those with “barriers to prosperity” or any of the rest of us. Other sources indicate she is a climate change denying, anti-government, anti-union, anti-choice, typical far right conservative. From her Facebook page it appears she is a cheerleader for Scott Walker with no independent views. If you like Walker and his policies, you will like Rebecca. If you think Wisconsin has gone in the wrong direction, Mandela is a voice for change.

Attorney General.

Josh Kaul is challenging incumbent Brad Schimel for state Attorney General. Josh went to Yale and graduated from Stanford Law School. He was a law clerk for a federal appeals court judge, an attorney for a D.C. law firm, and a federal prosecutor. More recently he has specialized in voter suppression cases fighting against laws that make it harder for people to vote. He believes the Attorney General’s office has become too politicized. Josh believes the AG should enforce all the laws including those protecting citizens from consumer fraud, pollution violations and protecting voting rights.

Brad Schimel graduated from UW law school and worked in the Waukesha district attorney’s office for 16 years. In 2006 he was elected District Attorney. In 2014 he was elected Attorney General. His web site says, “…Brad Schimel has also led numerous lawsuits challenging overreach by the federal government that would cripple the economy and hurt Wisconsin families.” This is campaign speak for gutting consumer, environmental and labor laws. He has sued to overrule the Affordable Care Act, weaken federal environmental regulations. He defended the Republican gerrymandering and voter ID laws in court. Obviously his concern for “Wisconsin families” is suspect.

The Attorney General is supposed to be the independently elected chief legal officer of the state. The AG is supposed to be above politics. But many of Brad Schimel’s actions have supported partisan policies. Again, if you like Walker, Brad is your man. But if you think an independent AG is a good idea, then you should support Josh Kaul.

State Treasurer

The Wisconsin Constitution created the office of Treasurer as an independently elected state official. One would think having an independent financial manager would be good. But over time the Treasurer’s responsibilities have been reduced as the governor’s control of finances increased. Walker wanted to abolish the office entirely. In April the public voted to keep the office by a 62 to 38 percent margin. The public wants a strong independent treasurer, with real oversight authority, to prevent misuse of state money.

Sarah Godlewski is the Democratic candidate and an advocate for keeping the office and expanding its responsibilities. She is an Eau Claire native and co-founder of an investment firm. She is a certified public treasury manager. Godlewski says the treasurer should have the power to monitor the government’s spending. She would create an annual taxpayer report to show people how their money is spent.

Travis Hartwig, the Republican candidate, has a degree in finance and accounting. He has worked as a mutual fund manager for a major Milwaukee bank. But at 25 years old, with limited work experience, his qualifications are thin. Hartwig’s website indicates his primary qualifications are being a Walker supporter and far right conservative. I guess you don’t need to be qualified if you are running for an office you don’t believe is worth doing!

You can learn about all the candidates at Wisconsin Vote. Click on “Candidate Profiles” for a short bio and links to their webpages. Informed voters are essential to democracy. We all know the attack ads and campaign sound bites are not a good way to evaluate candidates. Do your homework. Then VOTE November 6th.