WI Governor race
(Illustration by Desirée Tapia)

The Republican candidate for governor claims red-flag laws—designed to protect potential victims—would be used by a “disgruntled ex.” And despite record low unemployment, Michels calls people lazy.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Tim Michels made several eyebrow-raising claims in his one and only debate with Democratic Gov. Tony Evers last Friday evening, including an assertion that Wisconsin has “an entire class of lazy people,” even though more people in the state are working than ever before.

The owner of the state’s largest construction company, who splits time between homes in Connecticut, New York City, and Wisconsin, also made false claims that abortions are being committed “at the time of birth” and Evers favors allowing “a doctor to murder a baby after birth.”

The debate, sponsored by the Wisconsin Broadcasters Association, featured a large panel of journalists, but its one-hour format did not allow for in-depth follow-up questions about Michels’ claims.

For example, on the subject of gun violence, Michels said “I’m going to fix it,” but was not pressed for specifics. Instead, he defended his opposition to red-flag laws, in which a court can hear concerns about the risk of harm posed by someone and temporarily restrict them from possessing or obtaining firearms until the demonstrated risk is reduced.

“Here’s a hypothetical example,” Michels said. “A disgruntled ex could say, ‘My ex, who’s a hunter, has some weapons at home, and I’m afraid of that.’ And without due process, those guns could be confiscated.”

Despite Michels’ willingness to cast doubts on requests for help from domestic abuse victims, experts widely agree that due process is addressed in red-flag laws.

Crime, which has been a principal focus of Michels’ campaign, will also be featured in hypothetical future speeches, were he to be elected—though again he was scant on details.

“I’m going to talk to the bad guys, if you will, on election night in my victory speech,” Michels said. “And I’m going to talk to them and in my inaugural speech, I’m going to let them know that there’s a new sheriff in town and … they’re going to understand if they’re not willing to do the time, they shouldn’t do the crime.”

Education

In a question about education, Michels was not asked for examples when he said, “Parents have come in. They’ve shown me the stuff that is being taught to their kids in school and they’re outraged and they don’t like it.” But for that reason, Michels said he would allow parents to use “tuition money”—his description of state education funding—to attend any school they wish, whether public, private, or religious.

“How are we going to teach race?” Michels began his response to a question. “We’re going to get parents involved. Right now, parents show up to a school board meeting and they’re given the stiff arm. ‘We know what we’re doing. Leave us “educrats” to educate your kids best.’ Parents are screaming right now.”

Michels did not respond to the question of how he would want to change the way students are taught about racial history in the United States. Evers responded that if Americans couldn’t talk about the tough issues in classrooms, “we’re in sad shape.”

Worker Shortage and the Economy

Asked how each candidate would address a labor shortage, Evers responded with details of how to tackle relevant issues such as affordable housing and child care. Michels made the unsubstantiated claim that the issue could be fixed by tackling laziness.

“We’re going to get people off of their couches and get them back to work,” Michels said. “We created an entire class of lazy people during COVID, and it’s time to get them back engaged in our economy, to stop just sending them the unemployment checks, COVID subsidy checks, which I know are now gone. But they were getting them, and that’s how they got lazy.”

Evers responded: “We’ve got the lowest unemployment ever and the highest number of people working ever. Our economy is strong.” The governor pointed to a record $5 billion estimated budget surplus as evidence of how the state economy has been managed properly during the pandemic, keeping businesses and workers afloat, generating revenue, and paying the taxes that led to the surplus. 

Michels did not agree that having a budget surplus is a positive outcome of a successful economy.

“I think that’s an awful thing,” Michels said. “Why? Because that’s your tax dollars. The people of Wisconsin were overtaxed by nearly $6 billion. We are going to do massive tax reform.”

There were no specifics offered by Michels on his definition of “massive tax reform.” Evers put forward a plan for the surplus that included targeted tax relief and a 10% tax cut.

Climate Crisis

Michels made numerous references to being a “businessman” and that “businessmen” and “smart people” would help him write policies about taxes and crime, but that faith in outside experts does not carry over into a rapidly warming global climate and the use of fossil fuels.

“Climate change, you know, there’s a lot of discussion about that,” Michels said. “Has the temperature gone up? Temperature has always fluctuated throughout the history of this world. And we can’t just say that it all happened because of man’s actions in the last 100 years.”

There is nearly-unanimous sentiment among climate scientists about human activity over the past 100 years and its impact on the climate.

Abortion

Pressed on his long-held views opposing women’s reproductive freedom, Michels only very recently attempted to moderate his position by indicating a willingness to accept an exception for rape and incest victims in a state abortion ban. Michels used false claims to try to paint Evers as having views out of the mainstream of public sentiment.

“I am pro-life, and I make no apologies for that,” Michels said. “But I’ll tell you who the real radical is. The real radical is Governor Evers, where he is for allowing abortion as late as at the time of birth, even vetoed the Born Alive bill, which would allow a doctor to murder a baby after birth. That is extreme.”

Health care providers are already legally obligated to keep a baby alive in the extremely rare instance of surviving an attempted abortion procedure. Michels was not pressed to provide examples of any doctors murdering babies after birth or any other evidence to support his spurious claim.

Election Integrity

Michels repeated Republican talking points designed to reduce public confidence in election accuracy and security—despite no evidence ever being presented of irregularities that would affect the outcome of the 2020 presidential election—and he promised to sign a series of Republican bills vetoed by Evers that would make it more difficult for Wisconsinites to register and vote. Evers expressed confidence in the work done by more than 1,800 local elections clerks and many other poll workers, and he did not waver on the question of whether he would certify an election, even if he lost.

“Certification is something the governor does,” Evers said. “They do it in a very specific way. When my opponent says, ‘Well, I’m not sure if the legislature sends me something that says that Biden lost and Trump won. I don’t know if I’m going to sign that.’ Wait, you have to. That’s part of the process. Voting rights are on the ballot. It is radical to say, ‘I’m not sure how this works out or that fraud happened,’ when it didn’t happen.”