A non-interview with Tim Michels: Where he stands on the issues and the questions that remain
How do you do an interview without the person you’re supposed to be interviewing?
It’s a question WUWM has been grappling with as some Wisconsin politicians have been increasingly unwilling to speak with us. On Lake Effect, you'll hear from the Democratic politicians running for three big offices in Wisconsin: governor, U.S. senator, and attorney general. But you won’t be hearing from any of the Republican candidates, including Tim Michels.
I invited candidate Michels to join me on air to share some of his policy positions. For weeks, I sent email after email, made calls and got nothing back.
As part of our election coverage our mission is to inform people what their elected officials and political candidates believe in and what they plan to do in office; hold elected officials and candidates accountable; and report facts and correct misinformation. To do that, we want to provide you with candidate Tim Michels’ policy stances as we understand them and with some of the questions we are hoping to ask him.
Abortion is top of mind for many Wisconsin voters. Currently, nearly all abortion is banned in the State of Wisconsin, due to an 1849 law criminalizing it. Michels hasn’t been clear about his position, at times saying he supports the near total ban and at others saying he supports exceptions for things like rape and incest. Here he is talking about abortion at the one and only gubernatorial debate this election season.
"I’ve said that if a bill is put before me from the Legislature, which is a direct representation of the people, and it has an exception in it for rape and incest, that I would sign that bill. This stuff about, ‘Are you going to prohibit pills to come through the mail?’ If it’s against the law, then that’s against the law, but I’m not against contraception," Michels said.
The debate moderator, Jill Geisler, then said, "Time is up, but the one other question was mail order pills, as you mentioned, and also crossing state lines for legal abortions elsewhere. "
He responded, "You know, like I said, I’m a reasonable guy and people say, ‘Tim you have a lot of common sense.’ So, that’s something that we’ll have to sit down and work out but you know, I’m not going to be this radical guy with checks at the border."
In that answer, Michels doesn’t rule out prosecuting people for getting a legal abortion out of state and he hasn’t discussed the implications of Wisconsin’s current law. Legal experts advising doctors have interpreted it to mean that a pregnant person’s life must be in active peril to perform an abortion. That excludes many people whose lives are threatened by a pregnancy due to cancer, heart disease and other serious health problems.
The current law leaves so many open questions on how people can access health care, whose lives we’re prioritizing, and the legal liability that doctors now face when trying to help their patients. So the question for Michels is: Should people be allowed to make their own health care decisions or do you support laws that would force a person to remain pregnant, despite their health needs?
Safety, more generally, has been a major touchstone of this election. Michels has made public safety central to his campaign, saying he “backs the blue.”
Here’s what he's said about crime in Milwaukee: "I’ve spent a lot of time in the inner city in Milwaukee. People tell me, like, ‘Tim, why are you spending time in the near north side or the south side of Milwaukee? And I say, ‘Because I’m going to be governor for all.’ Milwaukee is not the problem, Milwaukee has a problem and I’m gonna fix it. We’re going to get crime down and we’re going to get education scores up to provide opportunity for the young men and women that have no option but to be on the streets. "
He’s said he wants to hire more police officers and reduce state aid for localities who attempt to reduce funding for police departments. But right now, municipalities like the City of Milwaukee haven’t been able to fund the police department at a rate that matches inflation because the State of Wisconsin limits the ways that municipalities can make money. Republicans in the Legislature haven’t increased funding for the city, which is needed to make more investments in schools and police.
The question for candidate Michels is: Do you propose we increase shared revenue to give cities the ability to make these investments, and if not, then what’s the plan?
The debate moderator asked, "Mr. Michels, just specifically, shared revenue formula. What would be your vision for that?"
He responded, "You know there’s plenty of money in government … really at the top of the list is inflation and then is crime and that’s followed by education."
When it comes to gun violence, Michels questions the impact of guns on violent crime in Wisconsin.
"Guns are everywhere," he said. "I’ll tell you, I was up in Wausau this week and I spoke with officials at the Marathon County Sheriff’s Department. They told me that three-fourths, 75% of recent homicides were stabbings. Those weren’t gun violence, it was knife violence. The left always just wants to take away gun and thinks that’s the problem. I’m a responsible gun owner, I will protect your second amendment rights."
But gun violence continues to plague communities like Milwaukee. Candidate Michels is proposing a mandatory minimum penalty for felons found in possession of guns, but otherwise he supports more access to guns in the state. He is pledging to lift other restrictions on firearms, opposes an assault weapon ban and doesn’t support red flag laws, which are intended to keep guns away from people police deem to be a threat to the community.
One of Michels’ other focuses on reducing crime has to do with education — specifically bringing up test scores for Wisconsin students, which have taken a major hit over the last couple years.
"I am going to do universal school choice. It can’t get any worse, it will get better, 'cause we’re gonna empower parents, those tuition dollars are going to go with the parent, the sons and daughters of those parents, and we’re going to stop the CRT and get back to the ABCs," he said.
That last phrase is something candidate Michels says a lot, but K-12 schools don’t teach critical race theory in Wisconsin and it’s unclear what concepts related to race Michels is opposed to schools teaching. As the candidate alluded to, universal school choice would represent a major shift in funding from public schools that are already struggling to survive. Michels has opposed increasing public school funding without getting better results, but has also said he will spend more money on education than any other previous governor.
Not every student has the ability to go to a private school and universal school choice would defund public schools, which are the only option for many students. The question we have for Michels is: How do you intend to help vulnerable students access quality education, especially when that’s a key part of your plan to reduce crime?
Money has become a bit of a theme for the midterm elections — with everything from funding schools and police, to combatting the impact of inflation. Around the world, inflation has been rocking communities and Wisconsin is no different. Michels has a plan he calls the Wisconsin First Economy Blueprint and he’s touted his work at his family’s business as giving him special insight into the economy.
"I understand macroeconomics. I understand how to read a balance sheet. I’m going to do everything I can to put more money in people’s pockets, to help them with the price at the pump and the surging price of groceries. We’re going to do massive tax reform, get more money in people’s pockets here in Wisconsin," he said.
Michels plan includes eliminating the personal property tax and reducing corporate and individual taxes. Many experts believe decreasing taxes will only exacerbate inflation and that our specific, domestic struggles with inflation are directly linked to the massive tax cut passed by the Trump administration.
Our questions for Michels are: What evidence can you to point to that supports tax cuts will help bring down inflation? And also, how do you intend to increase support for local municipalities, to help with your priorities like education and policing, if you are removing tax money from the state government?
Let’s turn to environmental policy.
Michels said, "Climate change, you know there’s a lot of discussion about that. Has the temperature gone up? Temperature has always fluctuated throughout the history of this world and we can’t just say that it all just happened because of man’s actions in the last 100 years. But we should all be responsible like we are at Michels Corporation and do everything we can to make sure we have a health planet for future generations."
The debate moderator said, "Mr. Michels, I think the question was what would you do for Wisconsin specifically."
"I’m going to provide the leadership as governor. I’m going to be a bold leader and I’m going to make sure that we do all of the right things. I’m going to make sure that we work with the DNR, and by the way, the DNR has a lot of problems, it’s probably close to being broken. I’m going to fix that, I know how to fix that, and we’re going to make sure that the people of Wisconsin know they’re being taken care of and we are going to take care of them," he said.
Michels has questioned the human impact on climate change and has not given a clear plan on how to combat it. Michels has proposed splitting the DNR into two factions, one taking care of the needs of businesses and the other taking care of hunters, but that seems to leave out one of the main constituents: the environment.
The question for Michel is: What is your proposal for ensuring the next generation of Wisconsinites can continue to enjoy the great outdoors and have access to clean air and drinking water?
Finally, election integrity has become a major issue. Candidate Michels has cast doubt on the reliability of our elections, claiming the 2020 presidential election was rigged. He has suggested he could decertify Wisconsin’s 2020 election, which experts say isn’t possible. Michels has proposed eliminating the Wisconsin Election Commission, limiting absentee voting and signing a variety of bills from the Wisconsin Legislature that will make it more difficult to vote in the State of Wisconsin. When asked at the debate if he would respect the results of the election if he loses, he deflected by saying he would certify the election.
"Yes, of course I’ll certify the election. … I’m gonna fix the election process and make sure that no one in Wisconsin, no Republican, independent or Democrat ever has another question about election integrity," Michels said.
Wisconsin's midterm elections are Tuesday, November 8, 2022. If you have a question about voting or the races, submit it below or check out WUWM's voter guide.