Announcements and Appointments
There have been multiple announcements in recent weeks from state officials regarding appointments and new positions. With the passage of the delayed state budget and the approaching elections in 2018 the timing was right to begin moving forward on these changes that have been on hold.
Strategic Economic Initiatives Director
Governor Walker’s Deputy Chief of Staff Matt Maroney will serve as the Strategic Economic Initiatives Director at the Department of Administration, the Governor announced. Maroney currently holds the title of Walker’s Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations and previously served as Deputy Secretary at the Department of Natural Resources and Executive Director of the Metropolitan Builders Association of Greater Milwaukee. The new project position at DOA was recently created in the Foxconn special session legislation to focus on economic development in coordination with the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation. Maroney will transition from the Governor’s Office to DOA over the coming weeks.
Department of Natural Resources
Governor Walker appointed former Republican State Representative Dan Meyer as his new Department of Natural Resources Secretary. Meyer, of Eagle River, served in the Assembly for 12 years before stepping down in 2012. Prior to that, he served as Eagle River mayor and Executive Director of the Eagle River Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Center. Walker in a press release said Meyer was chosen because he is a highly respected former legislator who understands the balance between protecting natural resources and supporting economic prosperity in the state. Meyer replaces Cathy Stepp, who stepped down recently to take a job with the Environmental Protection Agency.
WI Elections Commission
Former state Representative Dean Knudson, a Republican from Hudson, was appointed to the Wisconsin Elections Commission by Assembly Speaker Robin Vos this week. Knudson served three terms in the Assembly and was a member of the Joint Finance Committee for two budget cycles. He was also the lead author of legislation in 2015 that overhauled the Government Accountability Board, creating the state Ethics Commission and Elections Commission in its place.
Justice Gableman Being Considered for Trump Administration Job
Outgoing state Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman is being vetted by the Trump Administration as they consider him for a federal position, according to recent media reports. Gableman announced in June he would not seek a second ten-year term on the court in next spring’s election. Although unclear what job Gableman is in line for, it’s not expected to be a federal judgeship.
Vukmir Enters U.S. Senate Race
State Senator Leah Vukmir launched her U.S. Senate bid, portraying herself as the only true and tested conservative in the race, a knock on former marine and Democrat Kevin Nicholson, the only other declared Republican candidate. A registered nurse from Brookfield, first elected to the state Assembly in 2002 and Senate in 2010, Vukmir has been an outspoken supporter of conservative causes, including school choice expansion, repeal of right-to-work and prevailing wage laws, and Act 10 legislation limiting collective bargaining rights for public employees. Nicholson, who has faced criticism for serving as national head of the College Democrats of America in 2000, released a statement highlighting his military service, while saying he respects Vukmir’s right to run for office. Vukmir’s announcement came just a day after the legislature’s Joint Finance Committee, of which she is a member, completed their work on the state budget. For months Vukmir had been laying the groundwork for a run, and has secured the backing of Beloit billionaire Diane Hendricks, along with Mary Kohler, widow of Terry Kohler, a GOP activist and successful businessman. Nicholson also has significant backing, from the national conservative group Club for Growth and a super PAC that billionaire Richard Uihlein has committed $2 million to. Madison businessman Eric Hovde, a former U.S. Senate candidate, said he is also mulling a run and expects to make a decision within 45 days. If Vukmir remains in the race through early next year, she’ll be forced to relinquish her state Senate seat, also on the ballot in November of 2018. State Rep. Dale Kooyenga has ruled out a U.S. Senate run and is expected to vie for Vukmir’s seat.
State Senator Vinehout Launches Bid for Governor
Democratic state Senator Kathleen Vinehout formally announced her bid for Governor. In a four-minute campaign video, Vinehout promised her campaign will focus on putting people first and protecting Wisconsin’s natural resources while highlighting four alternative budgets she’s proposed. Vinehout also said she plans to make transportation funding a key issue for her campaign, pledging support for increasing the gas tax five cents and imposing a $10 fee per rail car that operates on state-owned lines. A former college professor and dairy farmer, Vinehout was elected to senate in 2006 when she defeated GOP incumbent Ron Brown. She went on to narrowly defeat Ed Thompson in 2010 and Mel Pittman in 2014. She also ran unsuccessfully for governor in the 2012 Democratic primary during the failed recall election that year against Walker. Vinehout’s departure from the senate would mean an open and competitive seat on the ballot in western Wisconsin in 2018. The 31st Senate District leans Democratic but was carried by President Trump in 2016. Although Vinehout’s campaign spokesperson said she won’t run for a fourth Senate term, and may get into farming full-time at her family’s farm if she doesn’t take the governor’s office, Vinehout later told reporters she’ll never say never when asked about running for re-election. Republican Mel Pittman has already announced he’ll vie for the seat again, while state Rep. Warren Petryk is also said to be considering a run. The crowded Democratic field for Governor now includes Vinehout, state Rep. Dana Wachs, state Schools Superintendent Tony Evers, businessman Andy Gronik and campaign finance reform advocate Mike McCabe.
Assembly Minority Leader
State Rep. Gordon Hintz was elected by his colleagues to replace Peter Barca as Assembly Minority Leader. After challenges from his caucus in recent weeks, Barca announced he would be stepping down from leadership. A member of the Joint Finance Committee, Hintz has also been considering a run for governor Hintz released a statement thanking Barca for his service, while promising to be a steadfast advocate for working families while contrasting core Democratic values with those of the Republican Party.