“I’m your Lt. Governor. I know my job.”
Rebecca Kleefisch offers coy banalities while “On the Issues with Mike Gousha.”
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.
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.
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.