Differences on display at Wisconsin Republican lieutenant governor candidate forum
Eight people are running on the Republican ballot for lieutenant governor in Wisconsin. They're hoping to be just a heartbeat away from the governor's chair, if the eventual GOP gubernatorial nominee defeats incumbent Democrat Tony Evers in November.
All eight took part in a forum Thursday at UW-Milwaukee, showing some significant differences in their background and political experience.
The differences began to surface in what amounted to the candidates' opening statements.
Here's Racine resident Will Martin: "I'm proud that in addition to having run my own business for 20 years, that I'm the only one on the stage who served under both Governors [Tommy] Thompson and [Scott] Walker, helping them get their conservative agenda implemented."
Roger Roth, who is stepping down as a state senator, said: "I'm a third generation home builder, 17 years in the Wisconsin Air National Guard, deployed to Iraq three times, and my wife and I raise our five little boys up in Appleton."
State Sen. Patrick Testin of Stevens Point appeared to praise Republican gubernatorial candidate Rebecca Kleefisch, only not by name. "As you take a look at what our former lieutenant governor was able to do with this office, she actually turned this office into somethin'. Working with our business community, attracting new opportunities and developments to the great state of Wisconsin — that's the same approach I want to take," he said.
Former Mayor of Lancaster, Wisconsin, David Varnam said, "I'm the only former chief executive of a government that's running in this race. I feel that experience helps. I'm also a former alderman of Lancaster, and a former aide to Dr. [James] Dobson at the Christian ministry Focus on the Family."
Milwaukeean Cindy Werner, of the free market-oriented Frederick Douglass Foundation-WI, said, "I'm a mom, a grandmom, a Christian constitutional conservative seeking to serve in this seat."
And, as Werner added later, the only lieutenant governor candidate endorsed by former Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke.
Franklin resident Jonathan Wichmann, who for most of the last two years explored a bid for governor, said the state's number two official can still help set the vision for Wisconsin. "Especially when it comes to our economy and jobs. Being a small business owner, I believe I have that skill set, and the talent and demonstrated that," he shared.
Eau Claire insurance agent Kyle Yudes' first words during the forum were: "Freedom! Next to life itself, freedom's the next important thing we have as Americans, as people."
And, Milwaukee pastor David King said, "The reason I joined in this race is, lately, we've been voting in too many sheep and not enough lions. We need true leadership."
The eight Republican candidates praised the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling overturning abortion rights from the 1973 Roe vs. Wade decision, though the candidates somewhat disagreed on whether the state should alter the 1849 law banning almost all abortions here.
Most contenders said Wisconsin should not try to overturn the 2020 presidential results showing Democrat Joe Biden won the state. But no one opposed having former President Donald Trump try to be the Republican presidential nominee in 2024.
A bigger difference of opinion surfaced over whether Republicans controlling the state Legislature and Democratic Gov. Evers should have worked together more often.
Kyle Yudes criticized the lawmakers. "Hell no, I wouldn't let the Legislature act like it's been acting over the last two years. It's disgusting to we the people. The people of Wisconsin are tired of it. I've been traveling Wisconsin the last two-plus years. Everywhere I go, they're sick of the Legislature, of anybody in government acting like they're kings," he said.
The two state senators running for lieutenant governor took exception to the criticism.
Roth said he's proud of the Legislature over the last four years, including taking on Evers. "So, he can do his political stunts and call his special sessions, but we're going to stand up and fight for the people of Wisconsin," he said.
Testin said the governor has been offering policies Republicans can't accept. "And when he tried to call us in for special session to take away people's Second Amendment rights, to have abortion on demand, I'm proud in the Legislature we said no," he said.
After GOP voters choose a lieutenant governor nominee in the August 9th primary, it's presumed that winner will work with the party's nominee for governor. But sometimes that new two or three month partnership, which could last for years if the running mates are elected, hasn't gone smoothly.