“I’m your Lt. Governor. I know my job.”

Rebecca Kleefisch offers coy banalities while “On the Issues with Mike Gousha.”

By - Oct 22nd, 2015 01:27 pm
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Mike Gousha and Lt. Governor Rebecca Kleefisch. Photo by James Xavier.

Mike Gousha and Lt. Governor Rebecca Kleefisch. Photo by James Xavier.

Mike Gousha can be a pretty tough interviewer, but that was not the case yesterday afternoon when Lt. Governor Rebecca Kleefisch went “on the issues” with him at Marquette Law School’s Eckstein Hall. As a result we didn’t learn anything new about the woman who was all set to succeed Gov. Scott Walker should his now-aborted run for presidency have actually succeeded.  

About 200 people filled the lecture hall, most of them retirement age along with a smattering of students. Kleefisch was coiffed, stylish and pretty. Sitting close to the handsome Gousha, it felt more like a Kohl’s fashion shoot than a symposium.

Kleefisch is a former small-business owner and television news reporter and she’s adept utilizing her on-camera skills. At times, it was like listening to a commercial for coffee or facial cream.

Back when Kleefisch ran for Lt. Governor, the Walker campaign folks were working to elect her Republican opponent Brett Davis. 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. 

As a Kleefisch aide told Bruce Murphy, “Walker’s team was shocked when she won. Nobody wanted her. They kept her as far from Walker as possible.” 

But Gousha didn’t ask Kleefisch about this, or about her 2010 comment about gay marriage that it was “a slippery slope” to people marrying dogs and inanimate objects: “Can I marry this table or this, you know, clock?” Kleefisch asked.

Some Capitol observers have suggested Kleefisch was marginalized by Walker in her early years as Lt. Governor, but that too, didn’t come up for discussion. On the contrary, we were left with the impression from Kleefisch that the Walker administration wouldn’t be where it is without her marketing of their views and legislation, and her ability to see things as your average mom sees things. “The governor saw from the beginning we’d be partners and I wasn’t going to need a lot of coaching,” she declared.

She also stressed her role as a marketing guru for the administration. “A chief marketing officer can play a big role in an administration,” Kleefisch noted. Gousha asked Kleefisch about her trade mission to Japan and she embarked on a tangential riff about the importance of giving gifts to business leaders from other countries.

Kleefisch knows how to work an audience with her big smiles and empathetic nods. Kleefisch turned to the audience when she explained her transformation from a soccer mom to a Walmart mom to a security mom, whatever that means.

And she waxed business-like in explaining her style of public service: “Not only are you our customers. You’re our shareholders,” she said. “I want to continue to be your lieutenant governor as long as I’m blessed to do so.”

In a rare attempt to be tough, Gousha asked Kleefisch if Walker’s critical comments about China and taking them to the woodshed may have hurt trade relations. She gave a muddled reply, something about the way China understands human rights.

Gousha is a master interviewer. If this were an election-time encounter, he’d probably pursue her for answers. But this was the powder-puff version of an interview. He threw Kleefisch big, fat softballs and Kleefisch swung weakly (if at all) in response.

Consider this scintillating exchange:

Gousha: “Would you like to be governor at some point? Whether it’s 2018 or sometime in the future?

Kleefisch: “Speculating is a lot of fun and I’d hate to prevent anyone here from continuing to speculate. I’m your Lt. governor. I know my job and I know my constitutional duty.”

Gousha: “But surely, if you’re the Lt. Gov, it’s something that has crossed your mind. I’m not saying you have to announce here but have you given it some thought?”

Kleefisch: “I’m your Lt. Governor and you kind, wonderful people have trusted me with that job. Not once, not twice but three times. I know my job and I understand my constitutional duty.”

When Gousha informed Kleefisch that 57 percent of Wisconsin residents think the state is heading in the wrong direction, Kleefisch’s reply was barely responsive:

“I don’t know if it’s a reflection of Wisconsin or part the whole country,” she said. “Most people are getting their news from Facebook. We need to be talking about things that matter with our neighbors.”

When Gousha asked about minimum wage Kleefisch offered this tidbit of wisdom: “First jobs are incredibly important to get a second job. Mom and dad won’t withhold your allowance. They won’t fire you for not doing your chores. Bosses will.”

At that point you could sense Gousha struggling to keep a straight face. He then asked her why she went into politics.

“I have two girls and you reach a point when you realize yelling at the television isn’t the best way to deal with things,” Kleefisch said. “They don’t seem to hear you when you yell at the television. Maybe we need a ‘me’ in public policy. We decided this was my calling the Lord led me to.”

A “me” in public policy? No, she wasn’t asked to explain what that one meant.

Taking the long view at one point, Kleefisch said, “I’d like to leave (office) when there are more good days. Leave when it’s more efficient.” The more efficient comment was another head scratcher, though it was offered with another warm look towards the audience.

Whatever you think of that style, it’s gotten attention and won praise in some quarters. In May 2014, the Washington Post named Kleefisch one of 40 rising political stars under the age of 40. That image was left quite untarnished by this interview.

Categories: Politics

20 thoughts on ““I’m your Lt. Governor. I know my job.””

  1. SteveM says:

    James,
    Thank you for that picture…Gousha’s facial expression is a real keeper. He’s a class act and was very kind to her. I just wish she’d be as kind and step aside in the future and allow someone with credibility assume the role.

  2. Sam says:

    Say what you will about Scott Walker, but thank god he is in good health.

  3. Null says:

    Whatever your opinion of the Lt. Governor, this article needs a serious rethink. Leading off with an extensive discussion of a female public figure’s appearance, complete with an unflattering photograph, is deeply inappropriate. If the public figure in question were either male or more politically palatable to the author, I doubt there would be as much discussion of fashion shoots, hair style, or facial cream. Avoiding analysis in favor of recycling prior negative coverage is its own sin, but at least make the effort to criticize on substance (or lack thereof, in this case) rather than trafficking in stereotypes.

  4. Frank Galvan says:

    She’s our Sarah Palin.

  5. Kevin Baas says:

    @Null
    While, like you, I found the introduction (first 3 paragraphs) at the very least — uninteresting, the author was certainly not short on substance in the body of the article.

    For example, the very next paragraphs talk about Walker and his staff’s relation to her, and a rather silly slippery slope fallacy she made against civil rights. Both clearly very substantive.

    Sounds to me like you didn’t read anything past the preamble.

  6. Null says:

    @Kevin Bass: I agree that those are substantive criticisms, but they are recycled (as evidenced by the links to prior UM stories covering them). Mr. Xavier doesn’t get into the substance of the event his is supposedly writing about until six-and-a-half paragraphs deep into his article. Granted, he does make some good points regarding the blandness of Kleefisch’s responses at that point (though that is more a critique of Gousha that the Lt. Governor).

    Whatever the merits of the author’s later discussion, however, he deserves to be called out for the misogyny evident in that opening section. “Uninteresting” is not the word I would choose to describe it.

  7. BB says:

    Gousha’s not a “journalist.” Hasn’t been one for some time. He long ago fell in with the establishment (Republican) and is really only a glorified M.C. for MU law school events.

  8. Kevin Baas says:

    @Null
    I can see that, re: recycling. But I don’t think the point of bringing up that old news was to present something new. The point of bringing up that stuff was to show examples of what Gousha could have asked about — and would probably have been far more interesting and informative — but didn’t. The point was that it wasn’t just softball questions for lack of any thing interesting to ask — there were interesting questions that could have been asked. It was to show the disparity between what people were probably interested in and what was asked.

  9. Null says:

    @Kevin Bass: I don’t get it. I’ve already conceded that there was some legitimate content later in the article. Are you saying that means we let the author off the hook for the misogyny? Do you not think the lead-in was misogynistic?

  10. Kevin Baas says:

    @Null
    i felt the lead was a little misogynistic, yes. I’m not talking about the lead in my previous comment there. I was talking about what you called “recycled”. I was explaining how the author’s intent there was to show that Gousha had a number of more interesting questions he could have asked, but didn’t.

  11. Jake formerly of the LP says:

    What a complete bubblehead. Very Palin-like with no real opinions past generalities and non-sequitirs, which is problably why Gousha went soft on her. Then again, Oconomowoc Barbie is the person who asked WMC’s CEOs “What can we do to love you more?”, so why should we be surprised?

    And Null’s lame deflection game of fauxtrage over the references to her appearance is so obvious, but it does underscore the real reason those middle-aged white guys gave Kleefisch their vote in the 2010 primary. Hint: It wasn’t her deep thoughts on subjects….and is very reminiscent of a certain someone in the Fall of 2008. I’m guessing Kleefisch will also be about as electorally successful on her own as post-2008 Sister Sarah has been.

  12. Alene says:

    As far as saying Kleefisch is an average mom. Not exactly. I don’t know any average moms who were newscasters and who are Lt. Governors. The average mom’s viewpoint is very different from hers. You really need to think about those types of statements before you make them. None of you can possibly have the same viewpoint as the average citizen due to your jobs and status in society.

  13. Null says:

    @Jake: I’m not outraged, either faux or otherwise. I’m simply saying that political persuasion does not matter: anti-woman statements should be called out. I happen to think that the Lt. Governor is a political hack and a policy lightweight who hasn’t articulated an original thought about governing the state in her career. That critique could just as easily be leveled at the Governor, but no one would think to call him “Wauwatosa Ken” along the way, nor would they assume that middle-aged housewives voted for him because they think he has sex appeal. That differential treatment is sexism. So consider yourself called out as well, Jake. If we’re going to stand up for women, we have to stand up for all of them.

  14. Kevin Baas says:

    “None of you can possibly have the same viewpoint as the average citizen due to your jobs and status in society.” On the contrary, most of us do have the same viewpoint on the major issues of the day: i’m speaking for example of gun control, unlimited campaign contributions for corporations (citizens united), etc. the public is on the order of 90% united on those issues. (yet older republican congressman always take the 10% nearly unanimously.)

    The fact that she is a lt. governer is not contrary to the average mom statement. the avg mom statement was that “for a lt. governer, she seems a lot like an average mom.” I wouldn’t agree with that statement, though – it’s an insult to average moms. I think if you pick any mother at random they’d probably do a better job than Kleefisch. They’d at least be able to answer the questions they were asked. And in all probability they’d share the same viewpoints as the average citizen far more than any GOP politician.

  15. Marie says:

    While I’m not fond of people calling out women’s appearances, the author showed appropriate parity here:

    “Sitting close to the handsome Gousha, it felt more like a Kohl’s fashion shoot than a symposium.”

    Given Gousha’s history in TV, it seems OK to note their similarities. However, his chops as an interviewer/journalist may have been oversold here. Affable, but not exactly hard-hitting in these forums.

    As for Kleefisch, this merely confirms her vacuousness. Also, there was no mention of her face-for-radio husband, state Rep. Joel Kleefisch (he of cammo–as-formal-wear fame). So as the spouse of a politician, she may have thought of public office before “the Lord” called her to it–unless she’s referring, in retro fashion, to the status of her husband as head of the household…

    We also thank Charlie Sykes for his role in her ascent to this lofty perch (f not power).

  16. Ken says:

    The Koch Bros may have a winner here. Me thinks. Looking forward to her visit to Riverwest. The dawgs will be howling!

  17. progressive_resistance says:

    I’m still waiting to feel my attraction to my coffee table and ditch my wife of 8+ years that Kleefish promised if same-sex marriage was legalized.

    Still waiting….

  18. Osh549 says:

    Um, Miss Kleefisch, we are NOT your CUSTOMERS, we are your BOSS’S. The sooner you elected rubes realize that the sooner we can get this state straightened out from the mess that you all have caused it.

  19. As far as saying Kleefisch is an average mom. Not exactly. I don’t know any average moms who were newscasters and who are Lt. Governors. The average mom’s viewpoint is very different from hers. You really need to think about those types of statements before you make them. None of you can possibly have the same viewpoint as the average citizen due to your jobs and status in society.

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