Everyone Wants to Be Lt. Governor
10 candidates in all, including just two Democrats. Who stands out?
The election mailer from Roger Roth is dramatic, with a huge headline “Secure Our Elections Now!” and an image of a ballot box locked with heavy chains. The other side of the mailer lists five positions supported by the Republican state senator and Senate President, each preceded by the image of a lock, including “Ban Ballot Harvesting; Eliminate Ballot Drop Boxes; Close Voter ID Loopholes; Stop Big Tech From Interfering in Elections” and “Punish Election Fraudsters.”
Never mind that none of those first four, ominous-sounding problems has been proven to result in any illegal votes. As for punishing election fraudsters, there are already laws on the books to punish them, which does happen in the few cases of fraud that occur. But if you’re unconcerned about such technicalities, and want a candidate who really believes in the Big Lie, Roger Roth is your man.
Roth is one of eight, yes eight Republicans running for the position. Is it something in the water? The latest Marquette Poll did show Republicans were more enthusiastic about the election, but this is a veritable tsunami of excitement. The list includes Republicans from all over the state, but not exactly all over the ideological spectrum.
Besides Roth, who is from Appleton, the GOP candidates include Sen. Patrick Testin of Stevens Point, David Varnam, mayor of Lancaster, in southwestern Wisconsin, Jonathan Wichmann, the owner of JMW Innovation, a marketing firm based in Franklin, Will Martin, CEO of Wisconsin Diversified Investments, a government agency consulting firm based in Racine, Kyle Yudes, a small-business owner and insurance agent from Eau Claire, Cindy Werner, an army veteran and ambassador of the Fredrick Douglass Foundation based in Milwaukee, and David King, the founder of Wisconsin God Squad — a Christian community-building organization in Milwaukee — who has run unsuccessfully for several elected positions.
Remarkably, three of the candidates are African American, in what may be a first for a Lt. Governor primary of either party. The large number of candidates may reflect a party whose leadership has lost control and any candidates feel like they have a chance. But their views are uniformly conservative. Five of the eight GOP candidates, for instance, expressed support for elimination of the state income tax in a debate cosponsored by WisPolitics.com. Several of the candidates supported making the state’s 1849 ban on abortion even more restrictive, while none expressed support for less restrictions. And several have talked about election fraud.
Some of the other ideas backed by candidates include universal school choice (Roth, Varnom, Werner), cutting the size of government (Martin, Yudes), making adoptions easier (Werner, Varnom), getting more police officers on the street (King), ending the taxation of retirement income (Martin), eliminating voting machines (Werner) and using paper ballots only (Wichman).
If there is a moderate in this bunch that person is hiding it very successfully. Testin has in the past pushed to legalize medical marijuana, but in a primary where everyone is competing to sound the most conservative, he’s not promoting that issue.
For all the talk about issues, the Lt. Governor position is one that rarely involves much policy work, other to serve on commissions or task forces at the behest of the governor. The main job of the Lt. Governor is to serve as governor should the incumbent resign, be removed from office or pass away. And of course to help the governor get elected on a joint ticket in the general election.
While the Republicans are awash in candidates for this office, Democrats have had trouble attracting anyone. Back in May of 2021 Urban Milwaukee reported that Gov. Tony Evers had been trying to convince Milwaukee County Board Chair Marcelia Nicholson to run for Lt. Governor. When she turned him down Evers tried to recruit Sen. LaTonya Johnson of Milwaukee. Both Nicholson and Johnson are younger Black women from Milwaukee who would have brought diversity in four ways to the Evers ticket. Their candidacy could also have helped drive the election turnout of Black Milwaukee voters. But Johnson, too, turned Evers down.
As it turned out, just two Democrats have filed to run. Sara Rodriguez is a first-term member of the State Assembly representing Waukesha County and western suburbs of Milwaukee in a district that was before 2020 represented by a Republican. But the newly gerrymandered legislative map by Republicans has greatly lowered her chances of getting reelected to that district, so Rodriguez has instead aimed higher, for the post of Lt. Governor.
Prior to joining the Legislature, Rodriguez held executive positions in health care, including as vice president of clinical services at Honeywell Life Care Solutions, vice president of health services and integrated health care management at Advocate Aurora Health and as a CDC epidemic intelligence service officer.
The other Democrat, Peng Her, also has an impressive background: He has served as vice president of promise zones and partnerships for the Urban League of Greater Madison, an outreach specialist for the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and as CEO of the Hmong Institute, which works to address gaps in education and health care access. Her’s family fled Laos and immigrated to the United States in the 1970s.
Her served on Gov. Evers transition team in 2018 and in 2019 Evers appointed him to the Governor’s Early Childhood Advisory Council.
There seems to be little difference between the two candidates on the issues. Both strongly support abortion rights, more funding for the schools and expanding and improving childcare services in the state, all positions the majority of voters are likely to support. You couldn’t say that about most of the positions taken by the GOP candidates.
But Rodriguez has previously won political office whereas Her has failed in two past attempts. Rodriguez clearly looks like the favored candidate among Democratic officials and her campaign site lists a long list of endorsements.
By contrast Her’s website lists no endorsements. The might not hurt In the Republican Party, where the pro-Trumpers are at war with many Republican officials. But in the Democratic Party, Rodriguez’s long list of endorsements will makes her hard to beat in the primary.
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