Former Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, businessman Tim Michels and state Rep. Tim Ramthun at a debate in the Republican primary for governor. (Screenshot | WisEye)
In a debate between three of the candidates vying to be the Republican nominee for governor of Wisconsin, former Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, businessman Tim Michels and state Rep. Tim Ramthun promised to cut taxes in a variety of ways, limit abortion access in Wisconsin even further and eliminate state agencies.
The debate, held at Marquette University, included anti-vaccine sentiments, false claims of fraud during the 2020 presidential election and unabashed support for the 2nd Amendment as the candidates made their case for why they’re the right person to take on Democratic Gov. Tony Evers in November.
The ongoing conspiracy theories surrounding the 2020 election have played a major role in the primary campaign as the candidates try to attract supporters of former President Donald Trump — who continues to claim that the election was stolen.
Ramthun’s calls to decertify Wisconsin’s election results are a major part of his campaign platform, while Kleefisch has said she’ll eliminate the Wisconsin Elections Commission — a body that was created by Gov. Scott Walker when she served as his lieutenant. Michels has promised to sign a number of election related bills that were vetoed by Evers.
There is no evidence of widespread fraud during the 2020 election. Multiple recounts, audits, lawsuits and reviews have confirmed the election was won by Joe Biden by about 21,000 votes.
Despite repeated attempts from the moderators, TMJ4’s Charles Benson and Shannon Sims, none of the candidates offered any concrete evidence for their belief that the election was stolen.
“The receipts coming in on the information that supports the fraud happened and the election was manipulated and the outcome was changed, continue to come in every day,” Ramthun said before complimenting the ongoing election review by former Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman. Ramthun also pointed to a recent decision by the state Supreme Court which stated that absentee ballot drop boxes aren’t allowed under state law as evidence that the election was stolen.
The crowd, which cheered loudly when the topic of election decertification was brought up, booed Benson when he noted that the court didn’t rule that those 2020 votes were illegal.
Michels, who has been endorsed by Trump, gave a laundry list of changes he’d make to the state’s election laws largely based on the numerous places Republicans have alleged are vulnerable to fraud. Those included private grant money to help municipalities manage the election process that came from a group partially funded by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, and a practice that allows people who are unable to leave their homes to vote absentee.
“I will make sure that we have election integrity, no more Zuckerbucks, no more out of state billionaires coming in and taking over our election process,” said Michels, a millionaire who until recently lived in Connecticut. “No more unmanned ballot boxes, no more ballot harvesting, and no more indefinitely confined status.”
Kleefisch touted her lawsuit against the Wisconsin Elections Commission as evidence that she is the only candidate who is serious about changing the state’s election rules, but the only evidence she provided that the 2020 election was stolen was the commission’s decision in 2020 not to allow the Green Party’s candidates onto the ballot because of a technical problem with their filing paperwork. She also said she’d create a new division within the state Department of Justice to “purge” the state’s voter rolls.
“I have said in the past that the 2020 election I feel was rigged, and I have presented plenty of evidence including the WEC booting the Green Party candidate off of the ballot before the election ever even occurred,” she said. “But let me make known that I’m the only one on this debate stage who has actually sued the Wisconsin Elections Commission and I did it because they were completely lawless in blaming COVID for every behavior they did to skirt the law. That’s why as your governor I’ll abolish the WEC. I will ban the use of ballot drop boxes. I will ban the use of central counts, I will ban the practice of ballot harvesting and I will ban third-party dollars, those Zuckerbucks.”
Central counts are a method of counting votes allowed under state law. Instead of counting ballots at the polling place, all of a municipality’s votes are brought to one location and counted there. The number of municipalities that use the method is small but it is used in Milwaukee.
The three candidates all reiterated their opposition to any expansion of exemptions to the state’s abortion ban. The ban, which has remained on the books since 1849, kicked back into effect when the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade earlier this summer. The ban makes it a crime to provide an abortion, unless the life of the mother is at stake.
Kleefisch said she supports the law as it is, without any expansions to the exemptions — in instances of rape or incest, for example.
“I think it’s sick the anti-feminist myths that Democrats have tried to peddle to women like me for years that you have to somehow choose between the life of your baby and your own personal success,” she said. “It’s a lie and Democrats don’t get to tell it anymore. Being pro-life means being pro-woman and pro-baby. And as governor, I’m going to make sure that we treat new moms with unexpected pregnancies with empathy and compassion and give them the resources they need.”
Ramthun said that he believes pregnancy crisis centers across the state should be better resourced to help people when they get pregnant and that the state should make the adoption process easier while adding that no matter how it happens, life is “a gift from God.”
“Life begins at conception. Life is a gift from God. It’s not the child’s fault. It is not the child’s fault how they were conceived,” he said.
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Michels said he wanted to make sure people have all the options available to them if they get pregnant, even though he doesn’t support expanding abortion access.
“I can only imagine what a teenage girl or a young woman who finds herself in an unexpected pregnancy is going through,” he said. “But here’s the problem right now. We have so many of these pro abortion zealots that are just screaming in their ear. You have to abort the baby. Let’s give them all the options, all the solutions that are out there. Let’s talk to them about adoption. Let’s talk to them about monies that are available for infants and toddlers out there. That’s what being pro-life means.”
Even as the candidates said they were in favor of providing expanded government services to help support children and families, the three candidates outlined a variety of ways they want to cut taxes and government services.
Michels said he would treat the government like his business and do a top to bottom review of every government agency to see if any of them can be eliminated.
“I’m sure there’s a lot of fraud and abuse and inefficiencies in government,” he said. “I’m going to find them.”
Ramthun suggested eliminating the property tax levy that funds the state’s public school system, while Kleefisch said she wanted to move to a flat tax of 3.54% for every person in the state as a stepping stone to eventually doing away with the state’s income tax.
The three candidates all agreed they want to overhaul the state’s education system, including how curriculums are designed and what role parents play.
“So there’s no greater investment than the future generations of Wisconsin,” Michels said. “The problem there is we’re already throwing so much money at education. That’s been the fix, if you will, for the last 10 or 20 or 30 years. More money at education, more money at education, and it’s not working — the definition of insanity.”
Michels also discussed his plan to incentivize high school students who get education in skilled trades rather than attending a four-year university. But when asked repeatedly, he refused to answer whether those incentives would be available for undocumented immigrants in Wisconsin under the DACA program — even though the lobbying group he used to run advocated against a bill that would have prevented companies that employ undocumented immigrants from getting government contracts.
The three candidates also all said they would support breaking Milwaukee Public Schools up into a number of smaller districts — the subject of a bill that Republicans in the Legislature passed earlier this year and that Evers vetoed.
The Republican gubernatorial primary is set for August 9.
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