Steven Walters
The State of Politics

6 Wisconsin Pols to Watch in 2022

Their decisions could decide what kind of year it is.

By - Jan 3rd, 2022 11:26 am
Rebecca Kleefisch. Photo from the State of Wisconsin.

Rebecca Kleefisch. Photo from the State of Wisconsin.

What kind of political year will 2022 be? That may depend greatly on the the actions and statements of these six politicians:

Gov. Tony Evers. A former state superintendent of public instruction, cancer survivor and euchre player, the 70-year-old Democrat doesn’t apologize for his “gosh, folks” style. It’s who he is, and he won’t — and can’t — change now. Evers has been challenged at every turn during his three years as governor: by Republicans’ laws that limited his powers before he took office, by two Covid pandemic waves that no one could have predicted, and by GOP legislative leaders who have ignored his budgets and calls for special-session action on issues like gun control.

You’ll find Evers and his cabinet secretaries on the road this year, taking his case for reelection to voters struggling to keep their families healthy, to keep their kids in classrooms and to earn enough to keep up with inflation. He’ll keep reminding voters of his vision for Wisconsin, how he has spent $2 billion in federal pandemic cash to keep the state’s economy humming and how Republicans want to manipulate voting laws to stay in power. And, yes, he did sign a $2-billion tax cut into law, after Republicans added it to the state budget.

The Democrat’s chances of winning a second term depend on how well he and his close-knit band of East Wing aides defuse the next political landmines. He’s also hoping for a version of Kamala Harris – a popular Milwaukee Democrat to be his running mate as lieutenant governor.

Former lieutenant governor Rebecca Kleefisch: Kleefisch, 46, the best organized Republican candidate for governor, is proud to have been a part of the major changes – including Act 10, right-to-work and concealed carry laws – that Gov. Scott Walker and Republican legislators passed between 2011 and 2018, when Evers defeated Walker.

Candidate Kleefisch has embraced controversy, with such statements as this: Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm should be fired. As governor, she will not “raise your taxes” and would sign new limits on abortions. “One year ago, Kenosha burned while Tony Evers failed to lead…Lives were lost and small businesses were burned because our governor sided with rioters.”

Kleefisch and her husband, Joel, who became a lobbyist after serving 14 years in the Assembly, live in the Town of Concord in Jefferson County. They have two daughters.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos. Now the longest-serving Assembly speaker in state history, and the most powerful Republican in the Capitol, what’s left for the 54-year-old Vos to achieve this year?

Plenty: Defeat Evers. Elect enough Assembly Republicans to override any vetoes, if Evers is re-elected. Give first-round approval to a constitutional amendment setting statewide standards for elections or replace the State Elections Commission, which oversees elections. Keep a Republican in the U.S. Senate.

Vos has no desire to higher office but must anoint a successor at some point. Don’t expect him to retire next year, however. He’ll run again to achieve the goals of a Republican governor elected in November or to continue blocking the Evers agenda. In a year-end holiday greeting news release, Vos promised that he and Assembly Republicans will soon be announcing bold new goals for 2022.

Assembly Democratic Leader Greta Neubauer. At 30, Rep. Neubauer is the youngest caucus leader in either party since 1943, and a leader of the LGBTQ caucus. In social media posts, the self-described “progressive” says her vision is a Wisconsin “where all can thrive,” and state government must do more to achieve that goal.

Specifically, the Racine Democrat said in a December post, Wisconsin must fix “a critical shortage of childcare, provide additional resources for mental health and support people to have the flexibility they need to stay in the workforce while caring for their family through paid family leave.”

In April, Neubauer praised the budget Evers proposed for “expanding BadgerCare, raising the minimum wage, addressing the impacts of climate change, reducing our persistent racial disparities in K-12 education, supporting small businesses [and] providing undocumented people the opportunity to get a drivers’ license.”

Republicans killed all those changes.

Republican U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson. Johnson will make news announcing he will seek a third term and even more news if he doesn’t run. If he runs, whoever emerges from the village of Democrats running will focus on Johnson’s support for former President Trump, how he would change voting laws and his statements about the seriousness of and treatments for Covid.

Milwaukee’s next mayor, still to be decided. In April, Milwaukee will get its first new mayor in 18 years. She or he faces big, newsworthy challenges: Reducing the number of homicides (197 in 2021), random shootings that kill children in their homes or on front porches, inner city joblessness, a growing structural deficit and underfunded pension, and getting Capitol leaders elected in November to recognize Milwaukee’s unique needs.

Steven Walters started covering the Capitol in 1988. Contact him at

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