Here's the Republican governor candidates' take on big Wisconsin issues — including inflation, reckless driving and where 'up north' begins

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Wisconsin's Republican candidates for governor are in the home stretch before the Aug. 9 primary.

There are four candidates in the field: Adam Fischer, Rebecca Kleefisch, Tim Michels and Tim Ramthun. The winner meets Democratic Gov. Tony Evers in November.

Here's a little bit about the candidates:

Adam Fischer

Fischer, 45, is running for governor after working as a police officer and real estate agent. He lives in Oak Creek.

Rebecca Kleefisch

Kleefisch, 47, is seeking the governorship after serving eight years as lieutenant governor in the administration of former Republican Gov. Scott Walker. She lives in the Town of Concord in Jefferson County with her husband, Joel, and has two daughters.

Tim Michels

Michels, 60, is running for governor after co-owning Michels Corp., the state's largest construction company. Michels unsuccessfully ran for state Senate in 1998 and for U.S. Senate in 2004. He lives in Hartland and maintains a family home in Greenwich, Connecticut. He has three children with his wife, Barbara.

Tim Ramthun

Ramthun, 65, is a state lawmaker representing Assembly District 59 in the Kewaskum area and is the vice president of the Kewaskum School Board. Ramthun lives in Campbellsport with his wife, Carolann. He has two children and eight grandchildren.

Who is leading the field?

Recent Marquette University Law School polling shows Kleefisch and Michels effectively tied in popularity among Republicans surveyed, at 26% and 27%, respectively. Ramthun received support from 3% of those polled. Fischer received less than 1% support. A large portion of the Republicans surveyed, 36%, had not yet made up their mind about whom they would support at the time of the poll in June.

More: How, where and when you can vote for Wisconsin’s August primary election and who is on the ballot

The candidates' take on six issues facing Wisconsin

We asked the candidates six questions about issues facing Wisconsin — including the always controversial question of where "up north" begins. Here are their answers. Editor's note: Some responses were edited for brevity.

As governor, how would you address a surge of reckless driving in Milwaukee?

Adam Fischer, Republican candidate for governor of Wisconsin
Adam Fischer, Republican candidate for governor of Wisconsin

Fischer: The dramatic increase in crime throughout our nation can be directly attributed to not enforcing the laws that are already on the books. As a former police officer, I know how to enforce the law. What good is a law unless it’s enforced? As governor, I will enforce the laws already on the books and I will work with law enforcement and the judicial system in Wisconsin to expedite court cases and hold those accountable that break the law.

Kleefisch: Crime will not stop until criminals know their actions will have consequences. I will work to tie judges’ hands with strict sentencing guidelines for violent criminals and increase penalties for reckless driving. District attorneys like John Chisholm, whose actions have resulted in this skyrocketing lawlessness, will be fired. The judges I appoint will actually be committed to enforcing our laws and not misguided liberal social dogma. I will also hire 1,000 more cops and ensure the city will use funds on law enforcement and not coddling criminals.

Michels: Milwaukee's crime problems include a lot more than just reckless driving. My company has invested in the revitalization of Milwaukee with the R1VER project in Bay View because Wisconsin cannot prosper if Milwaukee is not prospering. But crime is out of control. John Chisholm needs to go. Lawbreakers need to be prosecuted. People need to be safe in every neighborhood in Milwaukee, and the state.

Ramthun: Reckless driving, in part, is a result of too many people believing that they don’t have to obey the law. As we have seen in Wisconsin and throughout the nation in recent years, an increase in both verbal and physical attacks against the police. Rather than attack law enforcement, we need to increase law enforcement funding — not just to reduce crime but to ensure that everyone is driving in a manner that is safe for them and others and hold people accountable for violation of law when it is not followed.

What specific policies would you push for to curb the effects of inflation?

Fischer: Governors have limited power to address inflation. However, part of the costs of doing business are the costs associated with complying with onerous regulations imposed by state, local and federal governments. As governor, I cannot address federal regulations, but I will reduce the regulatory burden imposed by the state on our businesses. In addition, given the high cost of fuel, as governor, I will put a pause on the state gas tax to temporarily ease the burden on consumers and businesses alike.

Republican candidate for governor Rebecca Kleefisch.
Republican candidate for governor Rebecca Kleefisch.

Kleefisch: We need to make Wisconsin affordable again. Inflation ballooned because of Tony Evers’ and Joe Biden’s actions. We need more workers to address supply chain issues and worker shortages that contribute to higher prices. Welfare reform will allow more workers into the economy, and work must pay. We’ll enact transformational income tax reform and eliminate taxes on retirement income so families can fight inflation at home. I will cut the cost of child care and hold the line against raising the gas tax, unlike Evers and Tim Michels have both advocated doing.

Michels: First, I will lower taxes to help Wisconsinites keep more of their own money, this will help pay for Bidenflation. I will reject efforts to raise gas taxes or any other initiative that would grow the cost of government. Tony Evers and Joe Biden are two peas in a pod. Moreover, Evers is banking on national Democratic donors, so he is incapable of pushing back against the Biden administration's reckless spending. I won't be timid.

Ramthun: A major contributor to inflation in our state and the nation is the rising oil prices we are facing. As a nation, we should grow our production of oil by restarting projects such as the Keystone Pipeline. We should also focus on Wisconsin as we have our own pipelines. We can increase production and additionally look into expanding the pipelines we already have. Get our oil production and usage back under control and the benefits will follow.

The massive gap in academic achievement between Black and white students in Wisconsin has persisted despite significant changes to the state’s K-12 landscape, including the expansion of private school vouchers and the adoption of the Common Core State Standards. Is closing this gap important to you and, if so, what specific new proposals do you have to address it that have not been tried before?

Fischer: How about holding administrators, teachers and students accountable for their performance? When was the last time an administrator was fired for underperforming? Or a teacher? I recently saw the grading scale in one Wisconsin public school district — All you needed to get an “A” was 80%. A “B-” was 60%. When I went to school 69% was failing, but now it’s a “B-”? That’s appalling. It’s no wonder our kids are underachieving academically — nobody is accountable.

Kleefisch: First, I’ll fire Tony Evers, who has been in charge of state education, protecting the status quo with the unions for 13 years. We haven’t tried that in a while. I believe in lifting all students up, regardless of race or the achievement gap. Truly empowering parents is my plan. Passing a universal school choice program and curriculum transparency and breaking up MPS is a strong start. Prioritizing teaching life skills and critical thinking — not Critical Race Theory  — will also help make our schools more successful.

Tim Michels, co-owner of the Brownsville-based Michels Corp. and a U.S. Army veteran, has entered the Republican field for Wisconsin governor.
Tim Michels, co-owner of the Brownsville-based Michels Corp. and a U.S. Army veteran, has entered the Republican field for Wisconsin governor.

Michels: Yes, closing the achievement gap is important to me, but Milwaukee students of every color are being poorly served by a public school system that continues to fail generation after generation. I encourage everyone to go to to see my plans for education reform, including Universal School Choice and an emphasis on early literacy. Literacy is the passport for all future education. We need to get all kids reading at grade level, that's the first step in improving schools.

Ramthun: When it pertains to education, Wisconsin is facing a problem similar to other states in that schools and educators are increasing the focus on radical racial and gender ideologies. We have numerous examples in our state, such as a school district in Eau Claire, of schools teaching students tenets of critical race theory, radical gender ideology, and 1619Project. We need to ensure that our schools are teaching students important life skills to help them succeed in life so they find meaningful purpose and can contribute to society. We have no business teaching students ideas that conflict with the values of their parents. We should prioritize our resources to ensure all students receive a proper education. I also feel that the introduction of Common Core State Standards is a contributing factor.

Former President Donald Trump claims his 2020 election loss was due, in part, to widespread voter fraud in Milwaukee. Do you believe he is correct?

Editor's note: Widespread voter fraud did not occur in Milwaukee in 2020.

Fischer: Yes, he is correct.

Kleefisch: Did not answer yes or no.

Michels: Did not answer yes or no.

Ramthun: Did not answer yes or no.

What proposals do you have to lure new residents to areas outside of southern Wisconsin?

Fischer: That’s a question better addressed at the local government levels. We live in a society where we’re free to live where we want. In addition, infrastructure within some communities may not support large increases in population and traffic. As governor, I will work with those communities willing and able to accommodate growth.

Kleefisch: Wisconsin is a great place to live, work, and play. First, I will re-implement the state Talent Attraction Program, which was successful at targeting workers open to moving to Wisconsin and put special emphasis on veterans as they left the Armed Forces. We also need to prioritize broadband throughout the state — not just in urban areas. Wisconsin was given billions of dollars to deploy broadband across the state. Evers has been slowly and clumsily deploying these funds. I will provide for a statewide auction, using better mapping to close gaps.

Michels: I want to make Wisconsin the best place to learn, work, raise a family and retire. If we work together we can leverage our work ethic, our natural resources and our public and private sectors to make this happen. Public safety is a key concern. All communities need to be safer. Our schools need to better prepare our kids for the real world. This includes post-high school tracks that do not include a four-year degree.

State Rep. Timothy Ramthun listens after speaking at a rally supporting the legally impossible act of overturning Wisconsin's 2020 presidential election Tuesday, February 15, 2022 at the Capitol in Madison, Wis.
State Rep. Timothy Ramthun listens after speaking at a rally supporting the legally impossible act of overturning Wisconsin's 2020 presidential election Tuesday, February 15, 2022 at the Capitol in Madison, Wis.

Ramthun: We need to expand more opportunities throughout the state, and we have several options to promote this effort. We need to expand greater internet access throughout the state until our rural communities have the same options as our urban centers. We need to cut the red tape and encourage more businesses to move into our state. Additionally, when people think of a great tourist state, they think of Florida. Why can’t we do the same in Wisconsin? We can build up a great tourism infrastructure here that would rival any state. Lastly, I have a plan and am pushing for the removal of public school funding off property tax bills.

Where does 'up north' begin in Wisconsin?

Fischer: Up North is a Wisconsin phenomenon. If you’re a true Wisconsinite, you know where Up North begins.

Kleefisch: Depends on who you ask! Everyone is entitled to their own opinion. "Up North" is more of an idea than an actual line across the state. It’s kind of like the feeling you have at any of Wisconsin’s great supper clubs when you order a brandy old-fashioned with a fish fry or prime rib. Personally, I believe it’s north of Highway 64.

Michels: I've called Wisconsin home for almost 60 years now, the only other question that draws more heated answers is "Who's the greatest Packers quarterback of all time?" I'll go with Highway 29.

Ramthun: Wisconsin is a beautiful state no matter where you are. For me, "up north" implies the Northwoods, rural places for hunting, fishing, camping and outdoor recreation that is easier to experience where there are areas allowing for these offerings. Lake access helps yet to me, "up north" is more a state of mind than an actual geographical location.

More: Where does 'up north' Wisconsin begin? We might never answer the question, but here are 5 possible ways to define it

Election day

Polls are open 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. on election day, Tuesday, Aug. 9.

Early voting (in-person, absentee voting) ends Saturday, although many municipal clerks scheduled Friday as the last day.

A valid voter ID is required at the polls and for in-person absentee voting. Valid IDs include a Wisconsin driver's license, Wisconsin ID issued by the Department of Motor Vehicles (free), military ID or U.S. passport.

If you're not registered to vote you can register at the polls Aug. 9 with a valid ID. 

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This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Wisconsin Republican governor candidates' address 6 big issues