Politics 2005Week of February 14

Search for Greener Pastures in Wisconsin

When Rep. Mark Green (R.-Wis.) recently transferred $1 million from his House campaign fund to an exploratory campaign for governor, pundits and pols in Wisconsin concluded that there was no turning back from a statewide bid for the four-term congressman. But before Green (lifetime American Conservative Union rating: 84%) can take on Democrat Gov. James Doyle, Green must deal with Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker, who has so far raised more than $100,000, in the GOP gubernatorial primary next summer.

Whatever the outcome of the race for governor, the apparent decision of the 44-year-old Green to go “up or out” has begun a flurry of political activity in the Badger State’s 8th District (Green Bay-Appleton). Days after the congressman’s transfer of campaign funds, an Appleton Post-Crescent poll of voters on possible Republican successors to Green showed that the most conservative prospect, state Rep. Steve Wieckert of Appleton, topped the field with 27% of the vote. Wieckert was followed by former Green Bay Mayor Paul Jaden at 20%, Assembly Speaker John Gard at 12%, and state Rep. Teri McCormick at 8%. (In a district that has been in GOP hands for all but six years since 1942, the primary is considered tantamount to choosing the new congressman.)

For conservatives, the front-runner status of the 49-year-old Wieckert is exciting news. After a decade in the state legislature, Wieckert has become well known in circles beyond Wisconsin for grappling with critical issues through creative legislation. He is best known for his groundbreaking measure providing a $10,000 tax deduction for making an organ donation. Known as “Cody’s Law,” Wieckert’s landmark legislation was inspired by the story of 8-year-old Cody Monroe of Menasha, Wis., who received a life-saving kidney from his father. After being enacted in Wisconsin, “Cody’s Law” was featured in such places as Paul Harvey News and Comment, National Public Radio, CNN, the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. So far, similar measures have been introduced in 15 other states.

A son of the town best known as the home of Sen. Joseph McCarthy–“And,” says Wieckert, “that statue of him should be back outside the courthouse here where he was a judge instead of in a museum, where it is now”–Wieckert worked on the staff of Rep. Tim Petri (R.-Wis.) from 1979-83. Like the young Donald Rumsfeld in Illinois, Wieckert left Capitol Hill to work in private business at home and lay the groundwork for an eventual political career. After more than a decade in the family real-estate business, Wieckert went to Madison as a legislator in 1996.

Many of Wieckert’s conservative stripes were earned in the anti-tax movement, and the Appleton lawmaker can take credit for actually abolishing some taxes. He is the father of the repeal of the state sales tax on electricity use for manufacturing, for example, and his proposal that government spending cannot rise above the level of the rate of personal income growth is now part of state law. In Wieckert’s words, “It was just a simple idea to make sure the state does not spend more than the taxpayers’ ability to pay. I’m proud to call myself a fiscal conservative in the Ronald Reagan mold.”

Although fellow legislators and prospective primary foes Gard and McCormick cannot be called “liberals” (and, like Wieckert, they are both strongly pro-life), neither has the strong record and grassroots following that the man from Appleton has on the right. Many conservatives in Madison still growl that the 41-year-old Gard was a player in the sales tax increase to fund a football stadium enacted by the legislature in 2000. Green Bay’s McCormick, according to the just-released records of state Assembly Chief Clerk Pat Fuller, was among the top five legislators in terms of per diem spending.

Jaden, now operating head of the Green Bay Chamber of Commerce, always won non-partisan election for city office and has not been identified with the Republican Party until his name began being mentioned as a candidate for Green’s seat.

The Shelley Slot

Following the Democratic sweep of California in 2002, pundits in the Golden State repeatedly reminded their readers that it was the first time since 1882 that Republicans did not hold a single statewide office.

That dismal picture changed, of course, in ’02, when Democrat Gray Davis was recalled as governor and replaced with Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger. Now, with the stunning resignation of Democrat Kevin Shelley as secretary of state last week, the state GOP will shortly pick up a second statewide official, well ahead of the ’06 elections.

The fall of the 49-year-old Shelley amid charges of misuse of official funds in his office (and the specter of prosecution in the near future) spelled the end of a Democrat who appeared to have been groomed for high office since childhood. The son of the late Rep. (1948-63) and San Francisco Mayor (1963-67) John Shelley, Kevin had been an aide to the late, far-left Rep. (1964-83) Phil Burton (D.-Calif.) and then to wife Sala Burton, who succeeded him in the House (1983-87). After a stint on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, Shelley went on to the state Assembly, where he was elected majority leader. He was then elected the state’s chief elections officer in ’02. Until his latest troubles, Shelley was considered a potential Democratic opponent to Schwarzenegger next year.

Now, for the first time since 1987, a Republican governor gets to appoint a statewide official–providing, of course, he can secure a confirmation vote from both houses of the state legislature. The leading figures mentioned as replacements for Shelley are conservative former state legislator Ross Johnson, moderate former state Sen. Bruce McPherson of Santa Cruz, and Rosario Marin, former U.S. treasurer and third-place finisher in the ’04 GOP primary for U.S. senator. Marin is controversial on the right for her pro-abortion stance and her opposition to the anti-illegal immigration Proposition 187 of 1994.

Short Takes

Another “Sen. Abraham (R.-Mich.)”? As predicted in this space last month, veteran conservative activist and Lansing businessman Saul Anuzis was unanimously elected state Republican chairman of Michigan, succeeding retiring Chairman Betsy DeVos. Shortly after his election, Anuzis told me how he had had a long discussion with Jane Abraham, wife of former Michigan Sen. (1994-2000) and Secretary of Energy (2001-05) Spence Abraham, “and she is looking seriously at the Senate race next year.” Should Jane Abraham, formerly head of the conservative Susan B. Anthony List political action committee, make the race, she would face Democrat Debbie Stabenow, who unseated Jane’s husband five years ago.

Other prospective GOP opponents to Stabenow include Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard, the Rev. Keith Butler (a former Detroit city councilman who is black), Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land, and real-estate developer Peter Cummings.

The Long Count: In one of two statewide races in North Carolina that remained undecided from November, the state Board of Elections certified Republican Steve Troxler as the new state commissioner of agriculture. Prior to the certification, Democrat Britt Cobb–who had been fighting in court since November to have a revote of the neck-and-neck race with Troxler, conceded defeat. In the tight race for state superintendent of public instruction, the state Supreme Court unanimously ruled last week that provisional ballots cast in the wrong precinct cannot be counted. The ruling was a major victory for Republican Bill Fletcher, who is locked in a tight contest with Democrat June Atkinson. A Wake County court ruled against Fletcher, but the Supreme Court overruled that decision and sent the race back to the lower court.