Bruce Murphy
Murphy’s Law

The Lt. Governor Nobody Wanted

Few on Scott Walker’s team wanted Rebecca Kleefish to win or had any respect for her. Yet she could be the next governor.

By - Oct 7th, 2014 09:43 am
Lt. Governor Rebecca Kleefisch

Lt. Governor Rebecca Kleefisch

When the results of the 2010 Republican primary for Lieutenant Governor came in, most GOP insiders were shocked at the results. Few expected Rebecca Kleefisch to win. The smart money was on Brett Davis, who was backed by much of the Republican establishment, including members of Scott Walker’s inner circle. But Kleefisch not only won, she crushed Davis, with 46 percent of the vote to his 26 percent; three other candidates split the rest of the vote.

That left Walker with a problem he didn’t want. His top aide Keith Gilkes had declared that “we are not touching anything to do with Kleefisch,” calling her “radioactive,” in emails to then-Milwaukee County Executive Walker’s staff members (included in documents released from the John Doe investigation of Walker). Walker aide Kelly Rindfleisch dismissed Kleefisch as “fluff” and after she skipped one political forum, wrote “I hope she keeps missing them. And topples over on her high heels.” Said another Walker staffer, “I cannot see how anyone can take this woman seriously.”

One Republican who worked on the Kleefisch campaign described her as  a very weak candidate who was “not very smart… she would try to memorize facts.”

Yet this is the person just a heartbeat away from the governor. Walker, who wants to run for president, has refused to promise he’d finish a four-term for governor, should he win reelection, so it’s possible Kleefisch could one day be called on to succeed him. Some Republicans now praise Kleefisch for her growth as a public official, and Walker has called her a “trusted ally and lieutenant,” but she’s mostly been invisible in his administration, even as questions about her abilities continue to be raised.

How did Kleefisch — a weak candidate with no experience in government — win office in the first place? “We had Scott Jensen as our strategist and we followed his strategy exactly,” says Kleefisch’s campaign aide.

Jensen, the former Republican Assembly Speaker, and a very shrewd candidate handler, said he’d been asked by Republican insider Brett Healy to meet with Kleefisch, the wife of Rep Joel Kleefisch (R-Oconomowoc), who had served as a WISN-TV newsperson from 1999-2004.

“I actually thought from the beginning she had a chance to win,” Jensen says. “Though a lot of my friends didn’t agree. She began with a million dollar advantage [her years of TV exposure] that the other candidates didn’t see. The lieutenant governor primary is a low-visibility election and she had a big advantage in name recognition.”

“We essentially had a good communicator with no money,” Jensen adds.

All the money was going to Davis, a six year Republican veteran of the assembly. “There were five candidates in the race, but none of the other four could raise any money,” says the Kleefisch aide. “Everyone was getting the message that Davis was the guy, and was Walker’s choice.”

Much of Walker’s secret email system at the county courthouse was devoted to his campaign for governor and the Davis campaign. Walker aide Rindfleisch told people she spent half of her time as a county aide on political campaigns, including that of Davis.

Jensen’s strategy for Kleefisch was simple: (1) court conservative talk radio hosts; (2) appear before Tea Party groups; (3) Focus the campaign on the “golden triangle,” from Green Bay to Waukesha (and Washington and Ozaukee counties) to the Kenosha border, because “that’s where Republican primaries are won,” he notes.

WTMJ conservative talker Charlie Sykes got aboard the Kleefisch bandwagon with a vengeance. “She was a regular on his show and did a video blog for Charlie which he would post,” Jensen recalls.

The strategy worked remarkably well. “Walker’s team was shocked when she won. We were all shocked,” says the Kleefisch aide. “Nobody wanted her. They kept her as far from Walker as possible.”

Jensen, Kleefisch’s champion, says that from early in the campaign, he was “impressed with what a quick learner she was and how disciplined she was.”

But Walker’s staff clearly didn’t share that feeling, and with good reason. During the 2010 campaign, she declared that gay marriage was “a slippery slope” to people marrying animals and inanimate objects: “Can I marry this table or this, you know, clock? Can we marry dogs?” Kleefisch asked.

During the 2012 recall election, Kleefisch did a bizarre flip-flop on the issue of rape, condemning Missouri Republican Todd Akin’s suggestion that women don’t get pregnant from “legitimate rape.” As she put it, “Rape is a rape. I don’t know how you can categorize it, and it’s disgusting that Todd Akin would have tried to categorize it.” Then, when asked about Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), who co-sponsored a bill with Akin that allowed an abortion exception only in cases of “forcible rape,” Kleefisch offered this response: “Well, I think there is a way to have a more forcible rape, the same way there are different types of assault.”

Walker didn’t exactly rush to assign any duties for Kleefisch, but two years into his term he asked her to tour the state with Revenue Department Secretary Rick Chandler, holding closed door discussions with selected taxpayers seeking their thoughts on tax reforms. Meeting with a group of business people, Kleefisch asked them, “We want to know how we can love you more.” No, I am not making this up.

In a revealing article on Kleefisch by the Wisconsin State Journal, Walker, after calling her a trusted lieutenant, declined to comment on what sort of governor she would make.

Former Republican Lt. Gov. Margaret Farrow, an early Kleefisch supporter and mentor, wasn’t much more reassuring. She said “it was iffy” whether Kleefisch had the skill set to take over as governor three years ago. But now, Farrow said, she’s ready. “She’s done a complete vertical learning jump and she worked very hard at it,” Farrow declared. Methinks that qualifies as damning with faint praise.

State Sen. John Lehman, D-Racine, the only announced Democrat running for lieutenant governor, told the State Journal voters should be concerned about the possibility of Kleefisch becoming governor.

“I think that’s important for the citizens of Wisconsin, to realize they really have a neophyte coming in as lieutenant governor,” Lehman said. “She was not the first choice and she had a learning curve and she’s doing some things that are not good for all the citizens of Wisconsin.”

That last part seems quite inaccurate. Kleefisch is doing very little, good or bad, for the citizens of this state. She remains a public official without portfolio, the Lt. Governor that nobody wanted.

Categories: Murphy's Law, Politics

22 thoughts on “Murphy’s Law: The Lt. Governor Nobody Wanted”

  1. PMD says:

    Is there any real reason for the position of Lieutenant Governor to exist? Do we really need it? Sure doesn’t seem like it.

  2. Mike Bark says:

    Well, you could actually elect Mary Burke as governor and it seems her best attribute is she’s not Scott Walker and she seems pretty good at avoiding having a job.

  3. PMD says:

    As opposed to Scott Walker and his decades of experience in the private sector.

  4. wisconsin Conservative Digest says:

    The same people that re telling us that Becky is dumb told us how dumb Reagan was. Guess what, they know people and are smart when you let people underestimate them.
    I will b that Scott was not very happy about the things that they were saying about her, he is not like that.
    Scott is not a naasty person, his opponents are though.

  5. PMD says:

    If he isn’t happy with what is being said about her, why isn’t he out there defending her, clearly and loudly?

    Have you interviewed her or had conversations with her WCD?

  6. WTMJ conservative talker Charlie Sykes got aboard the Kleefisch bandwagon with a vengeance. “She was a regular on his show and did a video blog for Charlie which he would post,” Jensen recalls.

    OMG — he has no shame.

  7. Wisconsin Conservative Digest says:

    It was said 4 years ago and he did not know of it. They have worked together very well. Scott works well with other people.

  8. Mike Bark says:


    I’m not a huge fan of career politicians, but at least you could see the path that guys like Scott Walker or Jim Doyle took to the governor’s office. Each guy had extensive experience in government. It should also be noted that each guy basically had a job for the entirety of their adult life. Mary Burke? Not so much.

    The Democrats have had a chance to get rid of Walker, but they haven’t been able to send out a good candidate. So you’ll have to resort to questioning the intelligence of the Lt. Governor. I forgot all the articles Bruce was writing about Barb Lawton when it was pretty well known that Doyle wasn’t thrilled with her.

  9. Tom D says:

    PMD, if there were no Lt. Governor, who would be in charge if the sitting governor died or resigned? While legislative seats can sit empty awaiting special elections, the top spot cannot. If there were no Lt. Governor, either the state Legislature would have to appoint somebody (which could take time) or there would be some other succession plan.

    To see how badly a succession plan can work, look at New Jersey, which never had a Lt. Governor until 2010. Until then, the president of the NJ State Senate acted as governor when needed. (He–they were always men–also kept his State Senate position, thereby wielding legislative and executive authority simultaneously.)

    After two elected NJ governors resigned within 3 years (one to take a Cabinet post and the other due to a sex scandal), it was such a mess (8 governorships within 5 years, 5 governors in January, 2002, alone) that NJ created a Lt. Governor position starting in 2010.

  10. wisconsin Conservative Digest says:

    I know Becky Kleefisch and also Mary Burke. While Mary Burke haas pretty much been handled a silver spoon for her mouth Becky has not. She has survived cancer, fought her way into a very tough business and is damn smart. If Burke and Becky debated, Becky would make mince meat out of her.

  11. tim haering says:

    She’s got spirit, like Lawton. But she fits right in the modern lineage, with Schreiber, McCallum and Lawton. Abraham and Martin and John. LOL. Dion needs to pen her a theme song. Has anybody here seen my old friend Becky? Tell the truth: IN your heart, you take her over Walker in a heartbeat, even if it’s because you believe her an easy opponent. You’re on a roll, Bruce. Save some wit for post-debate commentary. Peace!

  12. Wisconsin Conservative Digest says:

    Big difference here. McCallum sat and did nothing for years when if he would have went to Tommy and asked for jobs he would have gotten them. He did not. Becky has helped Walker wherever she could.

  13. PMD says:

    Mike it just seems to me that sometimes people will throw out the “career politician” label selectively. Or they’ll say someone lacks private sector experience and act as if that’s a total disqualifier, and then completely ignore that sentiment when it comes to a politician they like.

    I doubt anyone believes they can turn out the vote by criticizing the Lieutenant Governor. How many voters in the state can even name her, or know that it’s a her?

    How well do you know them WCD? Like, did you meet them once, or do you have extensive in-person conversations with them on a regular basis? Big difference.

  14. wisconsin Conservative Digest says:

    I have worked with Becky for long time with all of our projects. When I was running bike races I worked with Trek and Mary. Nice person, everyone at Trek is great but compare the two. Becky is much more politically literate . She can handle herself very well. that is from her TV work.

  15. Scott says:

    The LG nobody wanted? More people voted for Kleefisch in the recall, when she was on the ballot independent of the Governor, than for any other LG in state history. Your headline is off by 1,301,739 Wisconsinites. No LG has ever earned that many votes on their own.

  16. PMD says:

    So WCD, if she is indeed as smart and capable and politically literate as you say she is, why isn’t Walker defending her far more vocally and forcefully, while unequivocally declaring her ready to be governor?

  17. Craig Peterson says:

    What a terrible hack job. Talk about being a sexist jerk! Have you questioned the competency of John Lehman? Whose own party would giggle and ask him to sit down when he spoke on the floor of the legislature. Bruce, you try to minimize her electability by not mentioning she ran independently from Walker in the recall election and won easily. I guess it didn’t fit your narrative. My read was you were talking to a disgruntled employee but never mentioned that. At least that would have put the comments in context and let the readers decide the credibility of the source..

  18. Wisconsin Conservative Digest says:

    He does not have to, she can stand on her own and it is not an issue that people are concerned about.
    Only a few nutcase Leftist who do not have any issues to work are talking about it.

  19. PMD says:

    Yeah I agree it’s not an issue of critical importance and of course he doesn’t have to comment on anything he doesn’t want to, but it does seem odd that, in an article about her, he called her a trusted lieutenant while declining to say anything about her readiness to be governor. If he thinks highly of her, you’d think he’d say so. His refusal to comment indicates a lack of confidence in her.

  20. wisconsin Conservative Digest says:

    Go to bed, sleep it off.

  21. PMD says:

    Pot, meet kettle.

  22. TL says:

    Rebecca is a strong woman, and doesn’t have to count on Governor Walker to defend her, she is quite capable of defending herself.

    Shame on the author for continuing the democrats war on women.

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