Bruce Murphy
Murphy’s Law

Look Out For Tim Michels

He could shake up the Republican primary for governor

By - Apr 25th, 2022 02:08 pm
Tim Michels. Photo from Michels for Governor Facebook page.

Tim Michels. Photo from Michels for Governor Facebook page.

It’s easy to make fun of Tim Michels, the latest Republican candidate for governor.

He hasn’t run for office since in 18 years, since a failed bid to defeat then-Senator Russ Feingold in 2004. That’s a lifetime in politics and he’s been invisible since then. Michels, moreover, is entering the race awfully late, with less than four months to go before the Republican primary. And he made the cardinal error of letting others announce his candidacy before he did.

Former Gov. Tommy Thompson told WISN that Michels was definitely running, back on April 20. That was two days before Michels got around to filing the paperwork for his candidacy and five days before Michels’ announcement today that he is indeed running for governor, turning that into old news.

The Democratic Party of Wisconsin had a field day with all this, with a press release Friday headlined, “Did Tim Michels forget to announce he is running for governor?” The release went on to note the inconvenient fact that Michels is a member of the Advisory Board of the campaign launching group for Republican Rebecca Kleefisch, the 1848 Project, who is seen as the front runner in the GOP primary. It also note that Michels is “a member of the board of Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, the dark money group that endorsed Kleefisch and is running ads supporting her candidacy.”

Michels’ peculiar delay in announcing his campaign meant that the first story in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel was not the usual, positive introduction for a candidate but instead one noting he “will have to address how he will handle work his family business does with the state and how he could avoid conflicts of interest if he is elected. Michels Corp. received more than $660 million in payments from the state over the last five fiscal years.”

But despite all these negatives Michels has to be seen as a threat, not just to Kleefisch and the other Republican candidates, but to Democratic incumbent Gov. Tony Evers. Why? Because he could spend huge amounts of money.

Michels is a co-owner of the family business, the Michels Corp., a privately-held company based in Brownsville, WI, in Dodge County. The company has seen spectacular growth over the last 25 years, growing “from a few hundred employees to a… multi-faceted construction company with more than 8,000 employees,” his campaign announcement crowed.

Just how many facets are itemized by the the company’s website, which lists nine Michels Companies, including Michels Construction, Inc., Michels Power, Inc., Michels Utility Services, Inc. and Michels Pipeline Inc.

“This year’s Engineering News-Record’s Top 400 Contractors list sees Michels earn the 27th spot overall. With more than $3 billion in 2018 revenue, we were able to climb 11 spots from our 2017 position,” the company noted in 2019. The company placed “6th among Petroleum Contractors, 15th among Power Contractors, 25th among the Top 100 Contractors by New Contracts, 29th among the Top 50 Contractors Working Abroad, and 39th among the Top 50 Domestic Heavy Contractors.”

The list of projects currently undertaken by the company nationally and internationally seems endless. Because Michels is a private company, the full details of its profits and net worth of its owners is not as easy to determine, but two things are clear: the company has vastly more revenue than the last time Michels ran for office, back in 2004. And Michels clearly has the ability to self-fund and outspend any other candidate, should he and his finally members want to to do this.

This also turns the disadvantage of entering the race late into an advantage, because it gives his opponents less time to define Michels, while he can spend lavishly on ads selling himself as a political outsider who will reject donations from special interests. “I will not accept any contributions from PACs or lobbyists and I have set a cap of individual contributions to $500,” his campaign announcement promised.

As for Michels’ political invisibility since his last run, that, too, can be turned into a positive. “I’m a businessman and a veteran — not a politician.” Michels declared. “I know my proven, decisive, executive leadership experience is just what we need in Madison.”

All of which might sound like Michels will run as a moderate businessman, but that’s clearly not the case. He is running on the same issues as Kleefisch, Kevin Nicholson and Tim Ramthun, the two other Republicans in the race. All have genuflected to Donald Trump and his Big Lie about a stolen election, while criticizing Evers for his policies to stop the spread of COVID-19.

Michels has said he met with Trump in Mar-a-Lago two weeks ago and “would certainly welcome any support” from the former president.

And he blasted Evers’ pandemic policies, declaring “our economy was shut down unconstitutionally,” and claimed that elections in Wisconsin “are being hijacked by big tech foundations from California.”

The fact that he is both a businessman and veteran makes him seem very similar to Nicholson, as does his criticism of political insiders like Evers. That overlap could help Kleefisch, who did the best in a February poll by Marquette Law School, which found that among likely GOP primary voters 30% support Kleefisch, 8% back Nicholson, 5% favor Ramthun, and 54% have no preference.

But Kleefisch has had problems winning over the state’s pro-Trump Republicans, according to some GOP insiders. Michels probably did test polling before deciding to run, and must have seen enough weakness for the other GOP candidates to decide he can win. That doesn’t mean he will, but the wealthy business owner’s entry into the race all but assures this will be a hotly-fought, barn burner of a primary election.

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Categories: Murphy's Law, Politics

5 thoughts on “Murphy’s Law: Look Out For Tim Michels”

  1. George Wagner says:

    Tony Evers needs to up his game and take it to these Republican clones (so close to clowns) now. Don’t wait until summer. Since they’re all using the same playbook, it should be easy to zero in on elements that are common to all. Here’s a few that the majority of voters support: 1) full throated support for abortion rights 2) full legalization of marijuana 3) free junior college tuition 4) stepped increase in minimum wage to $15/hr by 2024 5) strong support for public schools 6) more progressive taxation on the wealthy 7) environmental stewardship 8) acceptance of Federal Medicaid monies to serve more and cost the state less 8) increase in the state’s public health system to better fight against future pandemics 9) push for voter-owned (not corporate money) election campaigns. Evers should also pitch that he alone stands between sanity and a hard right-wing agenda, since the Republican legislature and their Supreme Court minions actually has rigged the state’s legislative contests. A vigorous progressive campaign will be the only thing saving us from total Republican control. It will energize younger voters who will have to come out in numbers for Evers to win. Finally, dear reader, send Evers some money. He’s going to need it.

  2. nickzales says:

    8,000 employees? 99% white? Somebody should look into this. You have to look long and hard on the company’s Facebook page to find anyone who is not white.

  3. Mingus says:

    Michaels isn’t much different from his Republican opponents. He has come out and said the he would sign many of the bill that were vetoed by Evers. He just hasn’t gotten weird like the rest of his opponents.

  4. RetiredResident says:

    When he ran for senate, I called his office to ask why he’d left the military after 16(?) years when he was so close to 20. Had he hit a promotional dead end and would rise no further? I was assured this was not the case, but rather he had to come home and run the family business.

    I asked who had been running it while he was in uniform and was told his brothers. I asked who was going to run it while he was in Washington. The answer was again his brothers.

    I asked if he could reconcile his “support” for small businesses in light of his ongoing campaign to crush a small family farm in order to turn it into a quarry for his construction company. They gave a hollow talking point and hung up on me.

  5. GodzillakingMKE says:

    Republicans are fascists. They have no ideas other than enriching themselves. This medicore white male is no different.

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