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As expected, former Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch announces bid for governor in 2022
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As expected, former Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch announces bid for governor in 2022

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In an expected move, former Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch on Thursday formally announced her gubernatorial bid for 2022 with a campaign focused on hiring more police officers, lowering taxes and ousting incumbent Democratic Gov. Tony Evers.

The Republican and former TV news anchor, who spent eight years in office with former Gov. Scott Walker, is expected to face a contested GOP primary next fall, but Kleefisch made clear Thursday that her sights are already set on unseating Evers, who is seeking a second term after defeating Walker in 2018.

Speaking to more than 100 supporters at Butler’s Western States Envelope Co., where her father used to work, Kleefisch, 46, targeted “weak leadership” from Evers in his first term, pointing specifically to the governor’s efforts last year to close schools and limit some business activity to mitigate transmission of COVID-19. She also criticized his administration’s slow distribution of unemployment benefits to out-of-work Wisconsinites during the worst of the pandemic and his response to the Kenosha riots last summer after Jacob Blake, a Black man, was shot by police.

“That is weak leadership, that is incompetence and that is the chaos that has resulted, my friends,” Kleefisch said. “He may shut down our schools, he may shut down our economy, he may shut down our churches, but today we begin to shut down Tony Evers.”

In a video announcing her candidacy, Kleefisch highlighted campaign priorities including “hiring more cops and deploying police into high-crime areas,” banning sanctuary cities and deploying the Wisconsin National Guard to the nation’s southern border.

Several of Kleefisch’s priorities mirror those unveiled last week by the 1848 Project, a nonprofit advocacy group she launched in 2020. Other policy ideas listed by the group include some that have fired up the party’s base recently, such as banning critical race theory from classrooms and shifting responsibility for election rules from the Wisconsin Elections Commission to the state Legislature.

“(Kleefisch’s) record isn’t a mystery to anyone and she has only become more radical since leaving office,” Evers’ campaign spokesperson Sam Roecker said.

Democratic Party of Wisconsin chair Ben Wikler said in a statement Thursday that Kleefisch “has fully embraced radical extremism — spreading misleading information about COVID-19 and vaccines, buying into conspiracy theories about the election, and using inappropriate, inflammatory rhetoric that disqualifies her from being governor.

“Kleefisch is the wrong person for this moment,” Wikler continued. “She wants to drag Wisconsin backwards to the failed days of the Scott Walker era, and has shown she can’t be trusted to follow science and listen to the experts in a crisis.”

The buildup

Kleefisch’s formal announcement follows months of significant hinting that she would join the race. In late August, Kleefisch changed her lieutenant governor campaign committee into a gubernatorial campaign committee, a step required for her to collect donations for a 2022 campaign.

After serving eight years under Walker, Kleefisch spent about nine months as executive director of the Women’s Suffrage Centennial Commission, a Washington, D.C.-based group commemorating women’s suffrage.

As lieutenant governor, Kleefisch served with Walker during the 2011 passage of Act 10, which drastically limited collective bargaining for most public employees while saving billions in reduced state and local government spending. Like Walker, Kleefisch withstood a 2012 recall that followed Act 10’s passage and is the only lieutenant governor in the nation to survive such a recall.

Citing those victories, along with her experience as a cancer survivor, Kleefisch described herself as a fighter while drawing comparisons with former President Donald Trump, who won Wisconsin in 2016.

“There were people who said it could not be done, but instead Donald Trump became one of the most successful policy presidents of our time,” Kleefisch said.

Kleefisch also chaired the Wisconsin Coalition Against Homelessness, which in late 2017 proposed a series of bills that would provide $7.5 million in new spending over two years to combat homelessness in the state. Despite receiving strong support in the state Assembly, only one of the eight bills — to provide $1 million in added funding to support emergency homeless shelters over two years — has come to fruition.

Last Friday, Kleefisch announced she would be departing her role as president of the 1848 Project. Democrats have criticized the organization as a way for Kleefisch to “hide donors, abuse the tax code, and avoid the scrutiny that comes from being an announced candidate.”

“Rebecca Kleefisch has been campaigning for governor since last year — so she knows the rules, she just doesn’t think they apply to her,” Devin Remiker, interim executive director of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin, said in a statement.

Other names

Among Republicans, Kleefisch joins small business owner and entrepreneur Jonathan Wichmann, who also is running. Republicans Adam Fischer, James Kellen and Leonard Larson Jr. also have filed paperwork to run.

Other Republicans considering a gubernatorial run include former businessman and four-term state Rep. John Macco, R-Ledgeview, who has filed paperwork likely setting the stage for a 2022 campaign, as well as Bill McCoshen, who served in former Gov. Tommy Thompson’s administration, and former Marine Kevin Nicholson, who ran for U.S. Senate in 2018.

Nicholson on Wednesday reiterated previous comments that he plans to run for either governor or U.S. Senate, but is awaiting a decision from U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, who has yet to declare if he will seek another term in 2022.

“Ron Johnson needs to decide if he’s running for re-election,” Nicholson said. “Our society is dangerously off kilter, this is not a time to play games, and I’ll run for one of these offices because we need people capable of doing hard things to lead.”

“Republican candidates in Wisconsin have now lost 11 out of the last 12 statewide elections,” Nicholson added. “Insiders, their endorsements and back room deals aren’t going to win general elections in 2022, and I advise the Republican establishment in Wisconsin to remember that, or risk learning the hard way again.”

The state primary will be Aug. 9, and the deadline to register as a candidate for the 2022 general election is June 1, leaving plenty of time for more names to be added to the ballot. The general election is Nov. 8, 2022.

Year in review: The top Madison-area stories of 2020

It started out well enough. The Badgers were making a late-in-coming run at the Final Four. Hometown insurance behemoth American Family announced it was boosting its starting minimum wage to $20 an hour. Madison East Siders welcomed a new Pinney branch library.

The first two and a half months of the year feel like a different era, when news of a strange new virus infecting people in China was safely tucked away in the back pages of the newspaper and the heart-breaking images of a white Minneapolis police officer kneeling on the neck of a 46-year-old Black man had yet to go viral.

Then came March and successive waves of closures, cancellations, lockdowns, furloughs, layoffs, infections and deaths. If the subsequent uprisings over the killing of George Floyd weren't enough to remind America that it has plenty of work to do to overcome racism, the shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha tragically emphasized the point. And a divisive presidential election carried the tone of the year at the end.

While it may not be a year to look back on with particular fondness, 2020 no doubt is one to remember. Here's a look back at some of the top stories in the Madison area as they occurred.

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It marked the fourth consecutive loss in the Rose Bowl for UW, and the first time since 2013 that the program lost its final two games of the year.

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Madison police spokesman Joel DeSpain said Sunday the victim who officers found in an apartment at 1905 McKenna Blvd. shortly after 2:30 p.m. Saturday was a 20-year-old African American male.

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With the Green Bay defense failing to lay a hand on 49ers running back Raheem Mostert for much of the first half and the Aaron Rodgers-led offense committing two turnovers and failing to convert a third down yet again during a scoreless first 30 minutes, the Packers dug themselves a 27-0 halftime deficit on their way to a demoralizing 37-20 loss.

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Gutierrez, superintendent of the school district in Seguin, Texas, was announced Friday as the Madison School Board's pick to lead the district.

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The person returned to Dane County Regional Airport after a trip to Beijing Jan. 30 and went directly to UW Hospital's emergency room, officials said.

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This weekend's performances at the Alliant Energy Center will be the last with elephants in Dane County as a contract between the circus and the venue expires. 

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Tony Evers said he vetoed the legislation, which uses surplus revenue, because it doesn't invest in the state's schools. 

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Despite no Wisconsin cheeses finishing in the final top three, state producers dominated the competition, earning 45 gold medals out of 132 categories.

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This decision is unprecedented for Wisconsin's largest university and taken to slow the spread of COVID-19 coronavirus.

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The closure order, to take effect no later than 5 p.m. on March 18, affects nearly 1 million Wisconsin children in grades K-12 in public and private schools.

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One was a man in his 50s from Fond du Lac County; the other was a man in his 90s from Ozaukee County.

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David A. Kahl, 53, is charged with first-degree intentional homicide.

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Tony Evers’ “safer at home” order represents a shift from the governor's position last week, when he said he did not plan on issuing such an order.

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Most voting locations saw few lines and smooth operations. But other places, notably Milwaukee, experienced significant delays, chaos and conditions that made it impossible for some voters to cast a ballot.

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Jill Karofsky's win over Dan Kelly cuts the court's conservative majority to 4-3, giving liberals a chance to take back control in 2023.

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The U.S. Air Force announced the final selection of the Wisconsin Air National Guard’s 115th Fighter Wing, capping more than three years of study and deep community division over the planes, which come with the promise of jobs and new construction but also noise and pollution.

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While applauded as a good first step, Democratic members, as well as public safety and health officials, have criticized the bill for not allocating more state funding to respond to the pandemic.

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For 30 years, "Ms. Milele" was the publisher of UMOJA magazine and a prominent leader in Madison's black community. She was "short in stature but mighty in force." 

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Free community testing for COVID-19 started at the Alliant Energy Center in Madison on Monday morning.

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Gov. Tony Evers and legislative Republicans will need to work quickly to come up with a replacement plan.

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The Vilas Zoo, Goodman Pool, beaches and movie theaters are among the places not opening yet.

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There were signs early Sunday that the violence was spreading into other parts of the city.

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"It’s clear they have important process issues to work out," the candidate said.

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School Board President Gloria Reyes said the decision to pull police from Madison's four main high schools is effective immediately. 

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The Madison School Board chose Carlton Jenkins, a superintendent of a suburban Twin Cities school district, over another finalist for the job. He starts Aug. 4.

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As a Dane County public health order requiring face coverings in all indoor spaces outside the home took effect Monday, businesses offered mixed views on mandates, though for many retailers it was business as (the new) usual.

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There was no update on the second victim from the shooting at Schroeder Road and Chapel Hill Road Saturday night. 

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Travis M. Christianson, 44, is tentatively charged with first-degree intentional homicide.

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Republican President Donald Trump also has caused controversy for saying he might deliver acceptance speech at White House.

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The girl was in a car that was struck by gunfire late Tuesday morning on East Washington Avenue.

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The conference decided — after meetings between presidents and athletic directors, and outcry from players, coaches, politicians and fans — to cancel the fall sports season and will attempt to move football to the spring semester.

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"The video that came out of Kenosha is absolutely horrific. I don’t understand how people can watch it and not be here," one Madison protester said. 

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The fifth-seeded Heat finished off an upset of the NBA’s best regular-season team Tuesday, topping the Milwaukee Bucks 103-94 in Game 5 of their East semifinal series — while Giannis Antetokounmpo, the league’s reigning MVP, couldn’t play because of a sprained right ankle.

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UW-Madison is pausing in-person instruction for at least two weeks and quarantining more than 2,200 students living in two dorms.

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Police are not recommending charges against Althea Bernstein, saying there is a difference between someone trying to deceive law enforcement and not being able to corroborate a report of a crime.

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The alternate care facility at State Fair Park in West Allis may begin taking patients Thursday.

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A small crowd Downtown Saturday morning before the race was called turned into hundreds of people honking horns, cheering and waving signs after Biden was declared the winner, while some Trump supporters turned out in protest.

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"We understand the eyes of the world will be on these Wisconsin counties over the next few weeks,"  Wisconsin Elections Commission administrator Meagan Wolfe said.

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St. Mary's and Meriter expect to get vaccine soon.

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The flurry of activity caps off a tumultuous post-election saga in Wisconsin that has now concluded.

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A look back at the year 2020 through the lens of Wisconsin State Journal photographers John Hart, Amber Arnold and Steve Apps

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