Who Is The Real Tim Michels?
Pragmatic businessman or right-wing idealogue? His policy statements offer clues.
In running for Wisconsin governor, Tim Michels has played two distinct roles. When broadly defining himself, it is as a pragmatic, successful businessman. When things get to specifics, however, he emerges as a right-wing, MAGA-oriented ideologue. Both the debate between Michels and Governor Tony Evers and Michels’ campaign website offer evidence of Michels’ quick jumps from one role to the other.
At the debate, Michels opened his presentation by expressing the belief that the best decisions are made at the local level—that Wisconsin’s counties, villages, towns, and cities know best what the needs of their constituents are. Yet on his website, Michels proposes an amendment to the Wisconsin Constitution, which he calls the “Voter Uniformity Amendment.”
The amendment’s title suggests that it would likely impose a set of uniform requirements on every voting district. Thus, early voting would not be allowed in a district unless every other district, no matter how large or small, also allowed it at the same time. Despite Michels’ praise of local decision making, it appears that he is comfortable with making Wisconsin’s tradition of local control a thing of the past.
On Michels website, the topic of election administration is introduced with the claim: “Our plan is simple, we need to make it easier to vote, and harder to cheat.” It then proceeds with a list of 13 bullet points. None of these would make voting easier or more secure. By contrast, several of the bullet points would make it harder to vote for one group of voters or another. Examples include the banning of drop boxes and increasing the obstacles to absentee voting by indefinitely confined voters. Other bullet points would seem to make it easier for partisans to harass poll workers.
Something of the same pattern is evident on the issue of crime. As Molly Beck has reported, Michels “is focusing his argument against a second term for Evers almost entirely on crime, blaming the governor for not doing more to address a skyrocketing number of violent offenses in Milwaukee.” Yet when asked during the debate whether he supported universal background checks or red flag laws, he responded by referring to Marathon County:
“I tell you, I was up in Wausau this week and I spoke with officials at the Marathon County Sheriff’s Department. They told me that three-quarters, 75%, of recent homicides were stabbings. Those weren’t gun violence. It was knife violence. The left always just wants to take away guns and thinks that’s the problem.”
In Milwaukee, gun deaths are very much a function of geography. Milwaukee has 15 aldermanic districts, each with about one fifteenth of the city’s population. Yet the districts vary widely in their number of homicides—all the way from one to 41.
If Michels is serious about tackling Milwaukee’s homicide rate, he needs to accept reality: the data shows guns are an integral part of the problem. Otherwise, he is operating in fantasy land.
At several points Michels has supported spending more state money on things like additional police and upping the shared revenue payments to local governments. At the same time, he’s suggested he would be open to a flat tax to replace Wisconsin’s graduated income tax.
The attraction of a flat tax to a certain class of multimillionaires is understandable but hardly admirable. Moving from a graduated tax to a flat tax shifts the financial burden of government from wealthy people to those with less income. At a time when income inequality seems to be growing, this seems like unwise public policy.
At the same time a truly flat tax in which everyone pays the same percentage of income is bound to raise less money than a graduated class if it aims to avoid impoverishing already poor people. Given Michels’ admirable desire to hire more police and increase shared revenue payments, there seems to be a basic contradiction: the flat tax would likely result in less money for policing and other services, not more.
The explanation, I think, is that Michels and much of the Wisconsin MAGA Republican establishment is thoroughly committed to the proposition that everything in state government is a mess. To acknowledge good news would undercut that proposition.
The challenge for voters is to decide which of the two Tim Michels will emerge next January if he is elected governor: the pragmatic businessman he claims to be or the right-wing ideologue. I fear it would be the latter.
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