• WisPolitics

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

 12:35 PM 

Primary field taking shape for fall elections

The field for this fall's election continues to take shape ahead of tomorrow's deadline to file nomination papers with the GAB.

Candidates registered with the GAB indicate their intentions to challenge at least seven sitting lawmakers, all but one of them Dems.

As of Sunday afternoon, four challengers had turned in their signatures to the GAB, according to a list posted at the agency site.

State Rep. Mandela Barnes has filed his papers to take on fellow Milwaukee Dem state Sen. Lena Taylor.

Also in the Senate, Jared Landry, of LaFarge, filed his signatures to challenge Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling of La Crosse. Landry, who has faced misdemeanors in several court cases, told the La Crosse Tribune this spring he saw winning the Senate seat as a launching pad toward the presidency

In the 16th AD, public defender Edgar Lin, who noted in his announcement his parents are immigrants from Taiwan, files his signatures to challenge Rep. Leon Young, of Milwaukee, in the Dem primary. Brandy Bond, of Waukesha, also had registered to run.

In the 80th AD, Luke Joseph, a former member of the Army National Guard who works as a material handler at a radiation oncology company, filed his papers to challenge Rep. Sondy Pope, of Mt. Horeb, in the Dem primary.

Other seats that could include a primary challenge to an incumbent include:

*9th AD: Marisabel Cabrera, a Milwaukee attorney, filed to run for the seat following the arrest of Rep. Josh Zepnick, D-Milwaukee, for drunken driving.

*70th AD: Freshman GOP Rep. Nancy VanderMeer, of Tomah, could face Kyle Corrigan, a private investigator.

*78th AD: Freshman Dem Rep. Lisa Subeck, D-Madison, could fae Jacob Wischmeier, a 35-year-old manager at the Best Western Inn on the Park and self-described "Bernie Sanders Democrat."

See the GAB list of those who have turned in their nomination papers:

Friday, May 27, 2016

 9:12 AM 

Ryan leads primary challenger Nehlen 80-7 in new poll

House Speaker Paul Ryan had a commanding lead on GOP challenger Paul Nehlen in a new poll conducted for the conservative Washington Free Beacon.

The survey of likely GOP primary founders found 80 percent backed the Janesville Republican, while just 7 percent favored Nehlen.

Ryan also lead a generic Dem candidate 54-36 in the general election with 11 percent undecided.

It’s the second poll out this month to find Ryan up on Nehlen by a big margin. The Remington Research Group found him leading Nehlen 78-14.

The Free Beacon survey suggests Ryan is not suffering with Republicans at home even as he holds out from endorsing Donald Trump for president.

Ryan was viewed favorably by 76 percent of Republicans in the district, while 15 percent viewed him unfavorably.

The poll also found U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson and Gov. Scott Walker upside down in the GOP-leaning district. Thirty-three percent had a favorable opinion of Johnson, while 40 percent did not. Walker’s split was 39-51.

Trump and Hillary Clinton also were underwater. Trump’s split was 31-57, while Clinton’s was 32-58.

In a general election contest between the two, Trump and Clinton were tied at 38 percent apiece.

Vox Populi Polling conducted the poll Sunday and Monday. It surveyed 1,197 likely general election voters taken from a list of registered voters, and the margin of error was plus or minus 2.83 percentage points for that sample.

The GOP primary sample was 451. The toplines overview did not include a margin of error for that sample.

See the toplines:

Thursday, May 26, 2016

 10:54 AM 

Ryan says Trump phone call 'productive,' declines to provide details

House Speaker Paul Ryan said he had a productive phone call Wednesday with presumptive GOP nominee Donald Trump, but declined to provide details of the conversation during a press briefing today.

"It was a productive phone call," Ryan said. "We had a very good and productive phone call. I'll leave it at that."

Ryan also reiterated previous comments about why he is not yet ready to endorse Trump.

"What I'm most concerned about is we have real party unity, not pretend party unity," Ryan said.

Ryan spent much of the briefing slamming House Democrats for voting against an energy and water appropriations bill.

Ryan said the fact Dems voted against it despite it having Dem amendments included shows they are trying to "sabotage the appropriations process."

-- By David Wise

 9:29 AM 

Sanders sends fundraising pitch to help Feingold

Bernie Sanders' campaign announced today it has sent a fundraising pitch to its national list encouraging backers to contribute to Russ Feingold's bid to re-take his old Senate seat.

"We are going to have to elect candidates up and down the ballot who recognize that it is too late for establishment politics and economics,” Sanders wrote, according to a campaign release. “Candidates like my friend, former U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold. Russ led the fight with me to make the Affordable Care Act much stronger in 2009. He voted against the USA Patriot Act and the war in Iraq. He authored and passed landmark campaign finance reform legislation and his campaign is powered by small-dollar contributions like ours.”

Feingold is challenging GOP U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, who beat the Middleton Dem in 2010 for the seat.

It's the second time this week Sanders has sent an appeal to his national list on behalf of a Wisconsin candidate. He did the same for freshman state Rep. David Bowen, D-Milwaukee, the only Wisconsin superdelegate to endorse him.

Feingold has so far declined to say who he supported in Wisconsin's April 5 presidential primary.

-- By JR Ross

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

 9:30 PM 

Walker defends New Mexico guv day after Trump knocks her

Gov. Scott Walker is defending New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez's record one day after Donald Trump accused her of "not doing the job."

Trump's criticism of Martinez, the GOP's best-known Latina elected official, came at an Albuquerque event after she skipped his rally there. Among other things, Trump criticized her for a growing number of food stamp recipients in New Mexico.

Martinez chairs the Republican Governors Association with Walker serving as the group's vice chair.

The group issued a statement late Wednesday in which Walker said she has a dedicated record of helping elect conservative guvs and is leading the charge in states that are in dire need of "real leadership."

"From delivering crucial tax reform, standing up to Washington by suing the EPA for federal overreach, turning a deficit into a surplus and making New Mexico the leader in jobs for export growth while increasing the state’s business friendliness, Governor Susana Martinez has effectively driven conservative reforms in a blue state won twice by President Obama, while winning re-election by the largest margin by a Republican in state history," Walker said. 

Walker has said he will support the GOP nominee, but backed Ted Cruz in Wisconsin's April presidential primary, campaigning with the Texas senator as he won the state. Trump also took several shots at Walker in the run up the state's primary, saying he sent Walker "packing like a little boy."

-- By JR Ross

 8:23 PM 

Trump, Wiley part ways

Donald Trump has parted ways with Rick Wiley, the former Scott Walker campaign manager the businessman hired a little more than a month ago as his political director.

Trump's campaign said in a statement Wiley was hired on a "short-term basis as a consultant until the campaign was running full steam." When he was brought it, the move was seen as an effort to professionalize the staff.

But Politico, citing Trump campaign sources, reported Wiley was fired after clashing with aides who predated his hire.

"It is now doing better than ever, we are leading in the polls, and we have many exciting events ready to go, far ahead of schedule, while Hillary continues her long, boring quest against Bernie," Trump's campaign said of its operation. "We would like to thank Rick for helping us during this transition period."

-- By Staff

 3:30 PM 

Ryan aide confirms call with Trump planned for tonight, but no indication about an endorsement

House Speaker Paul Ryan is slated to speak with Donald Trump tonight by phone, his campaign confirmed.

But aide Zack Roday said the campaign gave no "indication the call was about an endorsement."

"The purpose of the call tonight is for the two of them to continue their conversation about unifying the party," he wrote in an email.

There has been intense speculation in the national media about Ryan, R-Janesville, endorsing Trump after the businessman's campaign told several outlets they expected the speaker's backing to come shortly. Ryan's campaign today has pushed back on that suggestion, saying it has not told the Trump campaign to expect an endorsement.

-- By JR Ross

 1:26 PM 

Public Opinion Strategies poll finds Clinton leading Trump by 12 in Wisconsin

A new poll from Public Opinion Strategies finds Hillary Clinton leading Donald Trump by a dozen points among likely Wisconsin voters.

The survey looked at support in Wisconsin for school choice and what voters believe should be the top priorities for the guv and lawmakers. But a six-slide presentation on the poll included one on the expected presidential match up.

It found 43 percent of those polled backed Clinton, while 31 percent supported Trump.

The survey of 600 likely voters was conducted May 10-12 and had a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.

-- By JR Ross

 8:15 AM 

Ryan aide: 'we've not told the Trump campaign to expect an endorsement'

House Speaker Paul Ryan has not told Donald Trump’s campaign to expect an endorsement, an aide to the Janesville Republican said.

National media have cited top Trump campaign sources saying Ryan will endorse the presumptive GOP nominee. 

The two have been at odds in recent weeks with Ryan saying he wasn’t ready to back Trump and wanted to hear more from the businessman. 

“He's also not told anyone he regrets anything,” the Ryan aide said.

At this month's GOP state convention, Ryan said he expected Republicans to eventually rally together. But he said the party wants "real unity" heading into the presidential race and would not put a timeline on when he could get behind Trump.

-- By JR Ross

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

 12:31 PM 

Sanders sends fundraising letter for Bowen

Dem presidential candidate Bernie Sanders today sent a fundraising letter in support of Rep. David Bowen, who is seeking re-election to a second term in the 10th AD.

The Milwaukee Dem is the only Wisconsin superdelegate to endorse Sanders.

According to Sanders' campaign, he sent an email today to his national fundraising list in support of eight candidates running for seats in state legislatures around the country. The others are in South Carolina, South Dakota, Illinois, California, Colorado and Vermont.

In a news release announcing the support, Sanders' campaign manager, Jeff Weaver, said the candidate believes change starts by taking back control of state capitols.

“In their home states," Weaver said, "these candidates are standing up against the wealthy interests and biggest corporations, and putting working families first.”

-- By Chris Thompson

 10:55 AM 

Attorney calls GOP Assembly map worst partisan gerrymander in modern history

The Assembly map Republicans drew in 2011 was one of the worst partisan gerrymanders in modern American history and designed to withstand political swings to ensure a GOP majority for a decade, an attorney for a dozen Dems suing to overturn the lines argued today.

University of Chicago Law Professor Nicholas Stephanopoulos, representing the Dem plaintiffs, said in federal court Wisconsin’s Assembly map stands out from other state plans that have been challenged. In addition to its blatant partisan intent, he said, it was drawn in such secrecy that it violated the “basic responsibility to govern.”

“It was designed to be an egregious gerrymander,” Stephanopoulos said, adding that goal will continue to be accomplished unless the court intervenes to “protect democracy.”

But Assistant Attorney General Brian Keenan countered the maps do not fit the traditional definition of gerrymandering and are, in fact, a reflection of changing demographics, not illegal partisan intent.

He also dismissed concerns raised by Stephanopoulos over the method used to draw the maps. Under that process, Republican aides used a room at a private law firm for their work.

There was limited access to the room for then-Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald and several of their aides. GOP lawmakers were brought in privately for briefing on the changes to their districts, but Dems had no knowledge of the proposed lines until the bill outlining the map was formally introduced.

Keenan noted other maps drawn by lawmakers in states such as Indiana and Pennsylvania, asking if anyone believes the opposite party was brought into the room and had input on how to draw the lines.

He said the facts plaintiffs will raise at trial are illuminating but do not support a constitutional violation.

“This isn’t a result of partisan gerrymander,” Keenan said. “It is a result of the change of political coalitions in this country.”

-- By JR Ross

 8:33 AM 

Walker says his prez campaign on track to retire debt at start of next year

Despite a drop in fundraising for April, Gov. Scott Walker says his presidential campaign is on pace to pay off its debt by the beginning of next year.

"Our plan is still on track to be essentially done with it by the start of the year," Walker told reporters Monday of the $898,676 his campaign owed at the end of April.

Walker's campaign brought in $70,930 last month, down from $128,678 in February and $127,650 in March.

Walker attributed the decline in income to candidates dropping out of the presidential field; his campaign had been leasing its list of more than 300,000 donors. But Walker said that drop-off should be picked up by the campaign leasing parts of its list to statewide and congressional district-level campaigns.

"That's been fairly productive in generating revenue to drive down the debt," Walker said of leasing the list.

Any announcement on whether Walker will seek another term would likely wait until the middle of next year.

I think it will be both after the elections and probably after the budget's completed before we make a decision,’’ Walker said in Milwaukee yesterday.

Walker spoke with reporters in Milwaukee after addressing the Main Street Now Conference, which focuses on improving downtowns and commercial districts.

Walker told reporters $300 million has been invested in Wisconsin communities over last five years through the Main Streets program, to which he attributed 400 net new businesses and jobs gains. He said that investment has also been coupled with historic restoration tax credits to help revitalize downtown areas.

Monday, May 23, 2016

 10:20 AM 

Walker's effort to wipe out presidential campaign debt slowed last month

Gov. Scott Walker's efforts to chip away at his presidential campaign's debt slowed in April as his receipts dropped off more than 40 percent from the month before, according to a check of his latest campaign finance filing.

The report showed Walker still owed $898,676 at the end of April after collecting $70,930 in receipts. 

Since Oct. 1, a little less than two weeks after Walker dropped out of the presidential race, the guv has collected just more than $1 million. 

But his April haul was down from $127,650 in March and $128,678 in April. 

Once again, the bulk of Walker's income last month came from a firm that rents out mailing lists. Walker collected $49,584 from Granite Lists in New Hampshire. 

He also spent $79,656 during the month with $53,641 going to pay off old debts. And he finished the month with $16,789 in the bank. 

His debt payments included another $20,000 to FLS Connect Inc. for the telemarketing and data work it did for the campaign. Walker still owes the firm $260,000. 

Walker's biggest individual donations last month included $2,700 each from: Steven Cotten, CEO of Point 72 Asset Management in Connecticut; Michael Sullivan, the managing director of Point 72; Foster Friess, of Friess Associates in Wyoming; and Paul Singer of Elliot Management in New York City. 

Friess and Singer have donated to Walker's state campaigns. 

-- By JR Ross

Sunday, May 22, 2016

 10:40 AM 

Johnson's personal wealth far outstrips Feingold's

U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson had three investments in 2015 that each were valued at significantly more than Dem rival Russ Feingold's net worth, according to their financial disclosure statements. 

Altogether, Johnson and his wife reported assets of at least $13.4 million and as much as just under $60 million in his annual economic disclosure form. Feingold, meanwhile, reported between $328,000 and $795,000 in assets between he and his wife.

Feingold also listed a salary last year from Stanford University. Johnson's campaign has sought to make an issue out of Feingold's work there.

Because assets are reported as ranges, Johnson's and his spouse's assets could be valued as low as $13.4 million or as high as just under $60 million. Of that total, between $300,000 and $600,000 is attributed to his wife, Jane. 

Johnson's holdings included a 5 percent ownership interest in PACUR, the manufacturing company he helped found three decades ago. 

The report pegged that asset at between $1 million and $5 million. Johnson listed gross receipts from the company of $4.9 million before expenses, and income from the investment of between $100,001 and $1 million. That's up from income of between $50,001 and $100,000 in 2014 on gross receipts of $4.65 million. 

Johnson was Pacur's CEO for 13 years and received $10 million in deferred compensation when he left to run for the Senate. He pumped nearly $9 million of his own money into his 2010 campaign. 

After Pacur, Johnson's other largest source of income was from a commercial rental real estate company he owns with his wife. The report valued the company at between $5 million and $25 million and showed income of between $100,001 and $1 million. Johnson also reported a Charles Schwab & Co. Inc. money market account jointly held with his wife and valued between $5 million and $25 million. 

Johnson reported no liabilities exceeding $10,000. 

Feingold's primary source of income was $150,000 from Stanford University, where he was a visiting professor. 

Feingold also listed $7,079 in income from a state of Wisconsin pension. Feingold was a state senator for a decade before joining the U.S. Senate in 1993. He served 18 years in the Senate before losing the seat to Johnson in 2010. 

Feingold's personal assets range between $30,000 and $100,000, but also include his state pension, for which the value is listed as "unascertainable." Feingold's wife, Christine Ferdinand, was reported as holding assets of between $298,000 and $695,000. 

Feingold's largest assets include a checking account with U.S. Bank and a Marquette University Retirement account, both valued at between $15,001 and $50,000. The report shows his wife holds a savings account with the Bank of New Zealand valued at between $250,001 and $500,000. The report also showed she holds savings accounts with Lloyds Bank of London and the Yorkshire Building Society, each valued at between $15,001 and $50,000, and a New Zealand State Pension, also valued between $15,001 and $50,000. 

Feingold also reported between $50,001 and $100,000 in liabilities in the form of a home equity line of credit with U.S. Bank. 

-- By David Wise

Friday, May 20, 2016

 4:08 PM 

U.S. Chamber updates TV ad to fix line incorrectly saying Feingold spent 28 years in DC

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has updated a TV ad praising U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson and hitting Dem Russ Feingold to fix a line that erroneously claimed the challenger spent 28 years in Washington, D.C.

Feingold was in the U.S. Senate for 18 years until Johnson defeated him in 2010. Prior to that, Feingold spent a decade in the Wisconsin Senate.

Following an inquiry from WisPolitics.com, the ad was updated to say, "Russ Feingold's 28 years in office failed Wisconsin. Why would we ever go back to that?"

A Chamber spokeswoman said it is a six-figure buy running in Green Bay and Milwaukee. The spot is slated to begin tomorrow.

-- By JR Ross

See the revised ad:

 12:40 PM 

U.S. Chamber releases new TV ad hitting Feingold, praising Johnson

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is going up with a new TV ad tomorrow that praises U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson and says there is a “clear choice on leadership” in Wisconsin between the Oshkosh Republican and Dem Russ Feingold.

It also incorrectly says Feingold spent 28 years in Washington, D.C., rather than the 18 he served in the U.S. Senate before losing to Johnson in 2010.

The spot features Johnson and Feingold’s heads imposed on cartoon bodies. It shows Johnson flipping a switch on a conveyor belt as the narrator says for the Republican, it’s about “giving back,” creating jobs, growing the economy and giving people new opportunities. Johnson high fives a worker on the conveyor belt as it fills a truck with boxes. 

It then shows Feingold stopping the truck as it tries to pull away and pushing a wheelbarrow to the back of the vehicle. As the narrator says it’s all about growing ineffective government, raising taxes, increasing spending and expanding Obamacare, Feingold’s wheelbarrow fills with money bags from the truck and then from workers next to the conveyor line. 

“Russ Feingold’s 28 years in Washington failed Wisconsin. Why would we ever go back to that?,” the narrator says to close the spot.

A spokeswoman did not immediately return an email inquiring about the mistake on Feingold's service in Washington, D.C.

The chamber said the ad is part of an eight-figure buy that includes Ohio, Pennsylvania and New Hampshire. The campaigns will run through July.

-- By JR Ross

Monday, May 16, 2016

 11:16 AM 

In federal court, former GOP aide singles out senators he says were giddy over passing voter ID

Former GOP aide Todd Allbaugh testified in federal court today members of the Senate Republican caucus were giddy in 2011 over the prospect of passing voter ID and its impact on their electoral hopes.

Allbaugh added some were “politically frothing at the mouth,” singling out Sen. Leah Vukmir of Wauwatosa and former Sen. Randy Hopper of Oshkosh. He added Sen. Mary Lazich of New Berlin and then-Sen. Glenn Grothman were also among the most enthusiastic members of the caucus during a closed-door meeting in supporting the bills.

“They were talking about impeding peoples’ constitutional rights, and they were happy about it,” Allbaugh testified over the objections of the state Department of Justice.

Allbaugh took the stand as the first witness for the liberal One Wisconsin Institute in its challenge of various election laws Republicans have passed over the past five years.

He said not all members of the caucus were as enthusiastic about the vote. He said his former boss, then-Sen. Dale Schultz of Richland Center, cautioned members about the impact of the bill. He said others were ashen about the vote, pointing to Sens. Luther Olsen of Ripon and Rob Cowles of Green Bay, along with former Sen. Neal Kedzie of Elkhorn.

Allbaugh added Grothman, now a member of Congress, called him “doggedly” after he first publicly recounted the caucus meeting.

Allbaugh today quoted Grothman as saying during the caucus, “Well, you know what? What I’m concerned about is winning. That’s what matters.”

Once they connected, Allbaugh said, Grothman suggested the former aide was not remembering things correctly and “Here’s the thing. I fundamentally believe that Democrats cheat, and I don’t believe our side does, and that’s why we need this bill.”

-- By JR Ross

Thursday, May 12, 2016

 1:01 PM 

Feingold campaign hits back over Tomah VA scandal

Russ Feingold’s campaign today launched a 30-second TV spot hitting back at U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson over recent ads slamming the Madison Dem over the Tomah VA scandal.

The Feingold ad, according to his campaign, is up today in all of the statewide markets where the Koch brothers-created super PAC, Freedom Partners Action Fund, is running the Tomah ads targeting the Madison Dem.

In Feingold’s ad, a narrator starts by calling out the Freedom Partners’ ad, noting it was “so untrue stations pulled it off the air.” Three stations, according to multiple reports, pulled the PAC’s original ad, which has since been revised.

The Feingold ad then cuts to retired Army Reserve member Dave Boetcher, who says, “When it comes to veterans, Ron Johnson’s not telling the truth.”

The narrator then blames Johnson, R-Oshkosh, for not acting on the opioid over-prescription scandal at the Tomah VA.

“Veteran complaints changed hands from one Johnson aide to another in a congressional black hole,” the narrator says while related headlines flash across the screen. “Johnson just made excuses.”

The ad then quotes Johnson, in his voice: “Had this not occurred during an election cycle and this awful lot of turnover, when people are looking at doing job interviews and stuff.”

The ad closes with the slogan, “Sen. Johnson: Not for veterans. Not for Wisconsin.”

Freedom Partners today responded to the Feingold ad by highlighting a nearly two-minute web ad it began running last week as part of its $2 million buy. In the web ad, Tomah whistleblower Ryan Honl goes into more depth on a union president’s 2009 memo related to the scandal.

Honl, as he did in the previous ads, blames Feingold for inaction.

“Russ Feingold had this memo hand-delivered to him, which they all deny now,” Honl says. “His office, you know, his campaign, wants to rewrite history and co-op the union.”

-- By Chris Thompson

 10:51 AM 

Ryan says he's 'very encouraged' after meeting with Trump

House Speaker Paul Ryan today held off on endorsing presumptive GOP nominee Donald Trump but said he was “very encouraged” after meeting with him.

Ryan, who said last week he wasn’t ready to endorse Trump, declined to provide specific details of the discussion. But he said the two had a “very pleasant exchange” and discussed “core principles” of conservatism, from the power of the executive branch to the Supreme Court.

“I believe that we are now planting the seed to get ourselves unified, to bridge our gaps and differences,” Ryan said.

Ryan, noting he met Trump only “for like 20 seconds” in 2012, said the two will continue their discussions, and their policy teams will meet to discuss more details. The two Republicans, he said, won’t agree with each other on every issue -- just as Ryan disagreed with former GOP nominee Mitt Romney on some issues in 2012.

But, Ryan said, it’s important to have frank discussions so the GOP doesn’t go through a “fake unification process.”

“This is a process,” Ryan said. “It takes a little time. You don’t put it together in 45 minutes.”

-- By Polo Rocha

 10:19 AM 

Ryan, Trump put out joint statement

Following their meeting this morning, Donald Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan put out a joint statement.

The statement is:

"The United States cannot afford another four years of the Obama White House, which is what Hillary Clinton represents. That is why it’s critical that Republicans unite around our shared principles, advance a conservative agenda, and do all we can to win this fall. With that focus, we had a great conversation this morning. While we were honest about our few differences, we recognize that there are also many important areas of common ground. We will be having additional discussions, but remain confident there’s a great opportunity to unify our party and win this fall, and we are totally committed to working together to achieve that goal. We are extremely proud of the fact that many millions of new voters have entered the primary system, far more than ever before in the Republican Party's history. This was our first meeting, but it was a very positive step toward unification."

-- By Chris Thompson

 9:47 AM 

Priebus: Ryan, Trump meeting 'was great'

Presumptive GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan have met this morning in an effort to find common ground within the party, according to media reports.

And RNC Chair Reince Priebus, who also attended the meeting at RNC headquarters in Washington, D.C., said it was a success. In a tweet following the meeting, Priebus said, “The meeting was great. It was a very positive step toward party unity.”

Trump and Ryan now are meeting for a second time, according to reports, but that gathering includes members of the House GOP leadership team.

Last week, Ryan, R-Janesville, said he wasn’t ready to endorse Trump, and the candidate fired back he isn’t ready to support the speaker’s agenda. That prompted speculation Trump could ask Ryan to step down as chair of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland in July.

Ryan told WisPolitics.com earlier this week he would abide by the wishes of the nominee.

  -- By Chris Thompson

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

 5:22 PM 

Remington poll: Ryan leads Nehlen 78-14

Paul Ryan has an overwhelming lead on GOP challenger Paul Nehlen, according to a new poll.

The Remington Research Group found 78 percent of likely Republicans in the 1st CD backed Ryan, while 14 supported Paul Nehlen. The firm’s director wrote in an email it was the first survey the Kansas City, Mo., firm has done in the Ryan-Nehlen match up.

Seventy-eight percent of likely GOP primary voters had a favorable opinion of Ryan, while 15 percent did not.

The speaker, who is scheduled to meet tomorrow with Donald Trump, has faced some conservative criticism in recent days after he declined to get behind the expected GOP nominee. Ryan has said he wants to hear more from the businessman before supporting his campaign.

The poll found 41 percent of 1st CD Republicans had a favorable view of Trump, while 43 percent did not. 

The numbers were worse for Sarah Palin, who said over the weekend Ryan was on the verge of losing his House seat and backed Nehlen. Twenty-four percent had a favorable view of her, while 54 percent did not.

The poll of 442 likely GOP primary voters was conducted Monday and Tuesday using automated phone calls. The results were weighted to match expected turnout demographics in the primary, and the margin of error was plus or minus 4.5 percentage points.

The poll was an independent survey and not commissioned by anyone, the firm’s director said.

-- By JR Ross

 8:38 AM 

State Dem Party cuts off Rep. Barnes from 4th SD voter file

The state Dem Party has cut off Rep. Mandela Barnes' access to its data-rich voter file for the 4th SD, rescinding the contract the two had signed in 2015.

The move comes after the Milwaukee Dem formally announced plans to challenge Sen. Lena Taylor in a primary.

Party spokesman Brandon Weathersby said the contract lapsed after Barnes filed to run for the Senate. Weathersby confirmed the party's Executive Committee voted last week that the agreement had lapsed after "an issue was raised" over the deal.

Barnes said Tuesday state Chair Martha Laning told him Taylor complained about the contract, which was signed 11 months ago. Barnes noted his log-in for the voter file included a reference to the 4th SD, and he gave WisPolitics.com a picture to confirm his account. Barnes said it was no secret he was interested in information for the Senate district.

"We have a senator who's in office now who sees a serious challenge and is doing everything in her power she can to protect herself," Barnes said. "That's very unfortunate because competition can be healthy. Competition is something that should be happening on a level playing field."

Taylor was out of state Tuesday at a conference.

Weathersby said the party was working to "rectify the matter" before Laning spoke with Barnes about Taylor's complaint. The sale was executed while Mike Tate was still chair, and Weathersby said Barnes was offered access to other party voter files.

"The DPW knew about the contract approved by the previous administration and noticed that if Rep. Barnes declared to run for State Senate that there would be a conflict between the arrangement with the previous administration and the Party's current rules," Weathersby wrote in an email. "Once Rep. Barnes declared to run for State Senate the arrangement had lapsed and DPW started to make the changes necessary to ensure that we were operating within the Party's rules."

Campaign finance reports show Barnes paid the state party $1,097 for the file. Weathersby said that money was being refunded.

Barnes said losing access to the file will hamper his ability to target voters while doing doors and other efforts ahead of the Aug. 9 primary. Those familiar with the file say candidates cannot simply print off or download the information to hold onto it once they lose access.

"I'm not just some outside dude showing up from wherever and saying, 'Hey, I want to run against an incumbent,'" Barnes said. "I've been an active member of the party, have contributed financially, have contributed however needed. I guess that's the most frustrating part about it."

Monday, May 9, 2016

 5:31 PM 

Kennedy to retire after 33 years as Wisconsin's top elections official

Kevin Kennedy, who has spent the past 33 years as Wisconsin's top elections official, will retire next month as the GAB is replaced by two new entities.

Kennedy, who turned 64 in March, told WisPolitics.com today he decided last year he wanted to retire after 2016. He moved up his timeline after the GOP-led Legislature voted to replace the GAB with the new Elections and Ethics commissions. 

"Once the Legislature made the decision to restructure the agency, I didn't see any reason why I'd want to be part of the new structure, and even if I did, it would have been a very short-term situation because of the timetable I had for myself was already in place," Kennedy said.

Kennedy has become a lightning rod for criticism Republicans have lobbed at the GAB over the past several years, including the agency's involvement in John Doe probes. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, vowed at a WisPolitics.com luncheon in October 2014 that the GAB would not exist in its current format in two years and declared Kennedy "has to go." 

Vos did not immediately return messages seeking comment. 

Kennedy said he never put much thought into whether to apply for a job with the new entities and shrugged off the criticism he has received from some lawmakers. 

"The reality was: On a day-to-day basis, the same people who were knocking us were turning to us for advice and expressing their gratitude for that as well," Kennedy said. 

Kennedy was appointed staff council for the old Elections Board on April 1, 1979, and was promoted to acting director in December 1982. The following August, the interim tag was lifted from his title, and he became director and legal council of the GAB after it was created to replace the old Elections and Ethics boards. 

He will leave state service about a month after Jonathan Becker, administrator for the GAB's Ethics and Accountability Division who is retiring May 31.

Kenney dated his retirement letter to GAB board members April 1 to correspond with the anniversary of his initial hire. He waited until this weekend to send it to board members to make sure the process for selecting the new administrations for the Elections and Ethics commissions was in place.
-- By JR Ross

 5:14 PM 

Ryan unfazed by Palin's criticism he's out of touch with his district

House Speaker Paul Ryan today shrugged off Sarah Palin’s suggestion he’s lost touch with his district, saying “the people here know me very well.”

Palin, the former Alaska guv and GOP VP nominee, suggested over the weekend that Ryan was about to follow former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in losing his seat in a GOP primary.

Ryan told WisPolitics.com he had no comment “on that stuff” and declined to say whether he will debate primary challenger Paul Nehlen this fall.

Palin’s comments were sparked by Ryan saying last week he wasn’t ready to back Donald Trump for president; the Janesville Republican said in today’s interview he was just being candid and honest.

“They know that I care about principles, that I speak my conscience and my mind,” Ryan said of voters in the 1st CD who have elected him since 1998. “I don’t think people here like outside agitation and influence. They want to make up their own minds.”

Ryan also pointed out Ted Cruz won the 1st CD “handedly.” Cruz took 51 percent in the southeastern Wisconsin district, compared to 32 percent for Trump.

Listen to the full interview here.

See more in the PM Update today.

-- By JR Ross

 1:28 PM 

Koch brothers' super PAC out with revised ad slamming Feingold for Tomah VA scandal

A super PAC created by the Koch brothers revised a digital and TV ad hitting Russ Feingold over the Tomah VA scandal after three television stations pulled the original spot.

WLUK and WGBA, both in Green Bay, as well as WMSN in Madison pulled the ads, according to Feingold's campaign. Representatives of those stations did not immediately respond to requests for comment about the original ad.

The Freedom Partners Action Fund is spending $2 million on the ad run.

The original and revised spots feature Ryan Honl, an Army veteran who worked at the Tomah VA after his medical discharge and who has been critical of Dem lawmakers for not doing more about the over-prescription of opioid painkillers at the Tomah VA. In both ads, he says, “Things have been falsified there for so many years. I couldn’t take it anymore, and I blew the whistle.”

But the new 60-second revised spot tweaks Honl’s comments about whether Feingold, when he was a U.S. senator in 2009, received memos regarding prescription drug over-prescriptions at the Tomah VA.

In the original ad, Honl says, “I found out that Russ Feingold got a memo in 2009 that outlined veteran harm. And nothing was done. Russ Feingold ignored veterans’ concerns while veterans were dying at the facility.”

In the revised ad, Honl says, “I found out about multiple memos outlining veteran harm, marked ‘delivered’ to Sen. Feingold. And nothing was done. Russ Feingold could have started an investigation while veterans were dying at the facility.”

As Honl finishes that comment, a headline -- “Report says … Feingold … told about Tomah VA problems in 2009” – flashes across the screen.

The memo has been a point of contention in the race between Feingold and U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson. Feingold’s aides say they cannot find any evidence he received the memo, which was marked “hand delivered.” The memo’s author, a union official, said earlier this year she does not believe it ever reached Feingold. The memo was also used in a radio ad by the Wisconsin Alliance for Reform earlier this year knocking Feingold.

Tom Russell, Feingold’s campaign manager, today said he has not seen the revised ad. But he said he doubts “washing and resubmitting” the original would make it “less false.”

“It’s been clear for months,” Russell said, “that this charge is a bogus charge.”

But Freedom Partners Action Fund spokesman Bill Riggs, in an emailed statement, backed the new ad.

“The substance of the ad is the same -- multiple memos showing veteran harm at Tomah were marked delivered to Sen. Feingold, and he did nothing,” Riggs said. “The idea he had no knowledge of a major scandal unfolding in his state over the course of two years should be alarming to most voters in Wisconsin.”

-- By Chris Thompson

 12:49 PM 

Ryan offers to step aside as convention chair if Trump asks, opposes third-party conservative bid for White House

House Speaker Paul Ryan said today he would step aside as chair of the Republican National Convention if Donald Trump asks, saying “he’s the nominee. It’s his choice.”

Ryan, who said last week he was not prepared to back Trump for president, also said in an interview with WisPolitics.com that he opposed calls for a conservative candidate to mount a third-party bid for the White House, calling such an effort “self-defeating.” Ryan said he preferred for the GOP to unify behind the nominee and said he hoped to personally get behind Trump, with whom he will meet Thursday.

But the Janesville Republican offered no roadmap of how the two men could come together.

“We can’t pretend we’re unified, and then go into the fall half-strength and lose the Supreme Court and the White House and suffer in Congress,” said Ryan, who conducted several interviews today with Wisconsin media.

Trump raised the suggestion over the weekend he would seek to block Ryan as convention chair if the speaker did not get behind Trump’s candidacy for the White House. Ryan declined to say today if he would be comfortable right now serving in that role, several times referring to Trump and his wishes for the convention. He also congratulated the billionaire for winning the GOP nomination, calling it “historic.”

See more in today’s PM Update.

-- By JR Ross

Friday, May 6, 2016

 1:25 PM 

Ryan to meet with Trump next week at the RNC

House Speaker Paul Ryan will meet with Donald Trump next week at the RNC, the Janesville Republican's political office said.

Their meeting will include RNC Chair Reince Priebus, and Ryan's office said Trump has been invited to address House Republicans.

"Having both said we need to unify the party, Speaker Ryan has invited Donald Trump to meet with members of the House Republican leadership in Washington on Thursday morning to begin a discussion about the kind of Republican principles and ideas that can win the support of the American people this November," Ryan's office said.

The announcement comes one day after Ryan said he was not prepared to support Trump as the GOP nominee. Trump responded later that he wasn't ready to endorse Ryan's agenda, and a Trump spokeswoman upped the tension by saying today Ryan wasn't fit to continue as speaker unless he's prepared to back the businessman.

-- By JR Ross

Thursday, May 5, 2016

 5:07 PM 

Kahl won't seek re-election

Dem state Rep. Robb Kahl announced today he will not seek re-election this fall, saying he never approached elective office "as a career but rather as public service."

In his announcement, Kahl, the former Monona mayor, did not mention fellow Dem Jimmy Anderson, who announced last month he planned to run for the Assembly seat. Kahl had previously said Anderson's candidacy would not be a factor in his decision.

Kahl, who was first elected to the seat in 2012, decried what he said are "political impediments that cripple our system.

"Instead of bi-partisan action on the deficit, jobs, public education and health care, we spend too much of our time pushing legislation catering to the extreme views of certain voices in each party, drawing legislative district lines to ensure desired results and raising unlimited donations to oust each other from office," Kahl said. "This has led to an environment where the focus all too often is on winning, not serving."

Kahl becomes the 10th member of the Legislature to opt against seeking re-election this fall.

The other two Dems are Sen. Nikiya Harris Dodd, of Milwaukee, and Rep. Andy Jorgensen, of Milton. The Republicans are: Sens. Rick Gudex, of Fond du Lac, and Mary Lazich, of New Berlin, and Reps. Dave Heaton, of Wausau; Dean Knudson, of Hudson; Tom Larson, of Colfax; John Murtha, of Baldwin; and Al Ott, of Forest Junction.

-- By JR Ross

 4:58 PM 

Trump responds to Ryan: Not ready to support speaker's agenda

Donald Trump hit back at Paul Ryan today, saying he's not ready to support the speaker's agenda.

Trump's presidential campaign released the statement not long after Ryan, R-Janesville, went on CNN to say he's not prepared to support the businessman for president. Ryan said Trump needs to do more to unify the party first.

"Perhaps in the future we can work together and come to an agreement about what is best for the American people," Trump said. "They have been treated so badly for so long that it is about time for politicians to put them first!"

-- By JR Ross

 3:20 PM 

Ryan not ready to back Trump, says businessman needs to do more to unify GOP

House Speaker Paul Ryan said today he is not ready to support Donald Trump for president, saying the expected GOP nominee needs to do more to unify the party.

Appearing on CNN, Ryan said he hopes to eventually support Trump and wants to be part of the process to unify the party. But “I’m just not there right now.”

Ryan said the GOP is the party of Abraham Lincoln, Ronald Reagan and Jack Kemp, his mentor. While the party doesn’t need someone who is Lincolnesque or Reaganesque every four years, Republicans do want to see nominees who at least take their conservative principles and apply them to the country’s problems.

“What a lot of Republican want to see is that we have a standard-bearer that bears our standards and that unifies all the wings of the Republican Party,” Ryan said.

Ryan, R-Janesville, said he had expected the GOP contest to go through June 7, when California holds its primary, so the dynamic is still new to him. But Ryan said he wants to support Trump’s candidacy.

“At this point, I think that he needs to do more to unify this party, to bring all wings of the Republican Party together and then to go out and appeal to all Americans, every walk of life, every background,” Ryan said.

-- By JR Ross

 9:20 AM 

Wisconsin Republicans divided over support for Trump

Wisconsin Republican leaders are divided on whether they will support Donald Trump as the GOP nominee after Trump's rivals ended their bids following the Indiana primary.

Gov. Scott Walker and U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson say they'll support the GOP nominee. Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald wants Wisconsin Republicans to rally around Trump. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos says he'll listen to the businessman's "ideas and see if he can earn my support and the support of other conservatives." And Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke says he's pulling out as an alternate at-large delegate with Trump now on the verge of clinching the nomination.

Walker said Wednesday Trump "clearly" would be a better president than Hillary Clinton and he will support the GOP nominee in this fall's election.

When Walker dropped his own bid for the presidency in September, he called on other GOP candidates to do the same so voters could focus on a smaller pool of candidates "who can offer a positive conservative alternative" to Trump.

But Walker said Trump would be superior to Clinton on Supreme Court nominations, taxes, regulation and the size of government.

"It's very clear, even more so throughout this primary process, that Hillary Clinton's moved radically to the left and that she would make it very difficult for the nation's economy to improve," Walker told reporters in West Allis.

Walker said it wouldn't be hard for him to support Trump after the businessman attacked the guv over his record in Wisconsin and said at a Janesville rally he "sent him packing like a little boy" in the nomination contest.

"The bottom line is: He said some of that stuff before the Wisconsin primary, and the people who know best didn't buy into that," Walker said. "It's one where the voters understand what we've done here and the successes that we've had, and that's why we were elected three times in four years."

Johnson has repeatedly said he would support the eventual nominee and at one point made a crack about "the Ronald [and] the Donald" when asked if he would campaign with Trump.

Still, Johnson also has often said when asked about the presidential race that he was praying the GOP nominee "is a person of integrity, intelligence, ideas and courage."

Johnson spokesman Brian Reisinger said nothing has changed the senator's view.

"As Ron has repeatedly said for months, he intends to support the Republican nominee, but he's focused on the concerns of Wisconsinites -- not national political winds," Reisinger said.

Fitzgerald, meanwhile, argued Trump could be a boost to GOP Senate candidates this fall.

"I like a populist candidate in the parts of the state where we need to do well," Fitzgerald said. "Is Trump going to do well in Dane County? Absolutely not. But is he going to do well in the Fox River valley? Absolutely."

Asked if Trump's past comments, particularly about women, would come back to bite Republicans this fall, Fitzgerald instead focused on Hillary Clinton's negatives. He also dismissed polling -- such as one out Wednesday -- that shows her with a double-digit lead nationally.

"He's not running against nobody. He's running against Hillary Clinton," Fitzgerald said. "Certainly if there's anyone who's got baggage it's the Clintons. Because of this, I think this entire race is kind of reset and the unfavorables of both candidates are high right now. That will change as well as people figure out where they're at."

Vos was an early backer of Marco Rubio before getting behind Cruz ahead of Wisconsin's primary. He noted Trump "wasn't my first choice" and said he would listen to Trump's ideas and decide whether to back him.

"At this time, one thing is certain, Hillary Clinton would be an awful choice for president and a danger to the ideals that most Americans cherish," Vos said.

Steineke, who was an early and vocal opponent of Trump, said he is pulling out as an alternate delegate to the national convention now that Trump is on the verge of winning the GOP nomination.

"Obviously, I've been pretty clear on how I feel about Donald Trump," Steineke said. "I respect the fact that the voters in the Republican primary felt differently. But I think it would be better to turn over that position as an at-large delegate to someone who was excited to go and was looking forward to the prospect of a Trump nomination."

As in other states, Dems upped their efforts to tie GOP candidates to Trump. The liberal Americans United for Change, for example, hit Johnson for his position that the next president should fill the vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court. The group said Johnson wants Trump -- "a racist, sexist, misogynistic, nativist, isolationist, pathological liar who said he would date his daughter if they weren't related and won't rule out using nuclear weapons in the Middle East" -- to make that appointment.

The state Dem Party tweeted Fitzgerald "must not be bothered by the racism, xenophobia & sexism Donald Trump spews."

The party also sent out a series of tweets seeking to tie GOP Sens. Sheila Harsdorf, of River Falls; Luther Olsen, of Ripon; and Tom Tiffany, of Hazelhurst, to a comment Fitzgerald made in one media interview that, "We're on the Trump train now."

 7:53 AM 

Feingold ad hits back at Johnson on Tomah VA in new TV ad

Russ Feingold’s campaign today released a new TV ad that says “Sen. Ron Johnson and his allies aren’t telling the truth about the tragedy at Tomah veterans hospital.”

The spot comes on the heels of an ad from the conservative Freedom Partners Action Fund that features a Tomah VA whistleblower who charges Feingold got a memo outlining the issues at the hospital, but did nothing. Feingold’s camp has said there’s no evidence he ever received the document.

In Feingold’s ad, the narrator says when Johnson’s office learned of the failures at the VA, “he did nothing. The complaints changed hands from one aide to another in a congressional black hole.” 

The narrator then says Johnson admitted they were distracted and plays snippets from an interview the senator gave.

“Had this not occurred during an election cycle ... when there’s an awful lot of turnover ... when people are looking at doing job interviews and stuff,” Johnson says.

The narrator then closes the spot, “Sen. Johnson: not for veterans, not for Wisconsin.”

-- By JR Ross

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

 12:10 PM 

Walker cites Supreme Court, taxes, regulations in saying Trump would 'clearly' be better president than Clinton

WEST ALLIS -- Gov. Scott Walker said today Donald Trump “clearly” would be a better president than Hillary Clinton and he will support the GOP nominee in this fall’s election.

When Walker dropped his own bid for the presidency in September, he called on other GOP candidates so voters could focus on a smaller pool of candidates "who can offer a positive conservative alternative" to Trump.

But today, he said Trump would be superior to Clinton on Supreme Court nominations, taxes, regulation and the size of government.

Still, the guv did not commit to campaigning for Trump this fall.

Walker spoke with reporters in this Milwaukee suburb shortly after news began to leak out that John Kasich was suspending his campaign, hours after Ted Cruz did the same. That leaves Trump a clear path to the GOP nomination ahead of the July convention in Cleveland.

-- By David Wise

 10:43 AM 

Steineke pulling out as alternate to national convention with Trump on verge of nomination

Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke, who was an early and vocal opponent of Donald Trump, said today he is pulling out as an alternate delegate to the national convention now that the businessman is on the verge of winning the GOP nomination.

"Obviously, I've been pretty clear on how I feel about Donald Trump," Steineke said in a phone interview. "I respect the fact that the voters in the Republican primary felt differently. But I think it would be better to turn over that position as an at-large delegate to someone who was excited to go and was looking forward to the prospect of a Trump nomination."

Steineke was an early backer of Marco Rubio but then switched to Ted Cruz ahead of Wisconsin's primary, which the Texas senator won easily after anti-Trump forces coalesced in the state. Steineke was one of 18 at-large delegates the state GOP announced last week, along with Gov. Scott Walker, Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, AG Brad Schimel and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos.

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, who is not a delegate to the convention, meanwhile, said he hopes Cruz releases his Wisconsin delegates so the state can back Trump in a symbolic move.

"I'm hopeful that Wisconsin would get in line with the rest of the states at convention," said Fitzgerald, R-Juneau.

See more in today's PM Update.

-- By JR Ross

Monday, May 2, 2016

 11:20 AM 

Koch brothers super PAC announces $2 million buy hitting Feingold on Tomah VA

A super PAC created by the Koch brothers announced today a new $2 million TV and digital ad slamming Russ Feingold for the scandal at the Tomah VA.

The Freedom Partners Action Fund spot features Ryan Honl, a veteran and whistleblower who has been critical of Dem lawmakers for not doing more about the overprescription of opioid painkillers at the facility.

Honl says in the 60-second spot he went to work at the VA after he was medically discharged following his Army service in Iraq.

“Within a few days, I’m seeing stuff I’m uncomfortable with,” Honl says, adding things had been “falsified there for so many years.

“I couldn’t take it anymore, and I blew the whistle.”

The spot then shows clips from newscasts covering the deaths at the VA that were linked to the prescription practices.

“I found out that Russ Feingold got a memo in 2009 that outlined veteran harm and nothing was done,” Honl says. “Russ Feingold ignored veterans’ concerns while veterans were dying at the facility.”

The memo has been a point of contention in the Senate campaign. Feingold’s aides say they cannot find any evidence he received the memo, which was marked “hand delivered.” The memo’s author, a union official, said earlier this year she does not believe it ever reached Feingold. The memo was also used in a radio ad by the Wisconsin Alliance for Reform earlier this year knocking Feingold.

“All those veterans who have come back wounded and they die at the hands of politicians who look the other way,” Honl says to close the spot. “I just want the voters to know the real story.”

The ad closes with a picture of Feingold with these words across the screen: “Russ Feingold put politics ahead of veterans.”

-- By JR Ross

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