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Outside spending in superintendent race tops $1 million

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Spring primary

Voting at the Chazen Museum of Art in the February primary. 

Outside spending in Wisconsin’s race for state superintendent has topped $1 million, the most ever spent by special interests trying to influence the officially nonpartisan race, the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign said Monday.

The group tracks spending on political campaigns, including the one to be decided Tuesday. The race for Department of Public Instruction secretary pits Pecatonica school district superintendent Jill Underly against former Brown Deer superintendent Deb Kerr.

Underly has the backing of the state teachers union and a wide array of Democrats, while Kerr is favored by many conservatives, including former Gov. Scott Walker.

To date, $797,600 has been spent by groups supporting Underly or opposing Kerr. The American Federation for Children, a group that supports private school vouchers which Kerr also favors, has spent $209,000 to help her in the race, according to the Democracy Campaign.

The biggest spender helping Underly was the liberal group A Better Wisconsin Together, which has put $778,000 into the race. Planned Parenthood Advocates of Wisconsin spent $16,295 and the state teachers union, Wisconsin Education Association Council, spent just over $110 on postcards for Underly.

The previous record high for spending by outside groups in this race was nearly $694,000 in 2009, the year that now-Gov. Tony Evers was first elected state superintendent.

The state superintendent seat is open for the first time in more than a decade after Evers, who won statewide elections to head the agency for three consecutive four-year terms, assumed Wisconsin’s highest office. Current state Superintendent Carolyn Stanford Taylor was appointed by Evers in January 2019 after he won the 2018 governor’s race. She did not seek election this year.

Also on the ballot are county and municipal races and referendums, several school spending referendums and a couple of special elections for the Legislature.

In Madison, all 20 City Council seats are up for election. Of those, 11 are contested.

Madison voters are also being asked to weigh in on four referendums relating to the future composition of the council. The referendums ask whether the council should stay part-time with members paid about $13,700 or move to full-time, to be paid between $45,000 and $71,000; stick with 20 members or be increased or decreased; change from two-year to four-year terms; and have term limits of 12 consecutive years.

The referendums are advisory, but a strong showing on any or all of the questions could influence what council members do.

In the legislative races, Republican state Rep. John Jagler, of Watertown, faces Democrat Melissa Winker for the 13th Senate district vacated by Scott Fitzgerald when he was elected to Congress in November. Jagler was first elected to the Assembly in 2012. Winker previously ran for Assembly in both 2018 and 2020 but lost.

In the 89th Assembly District, which includes the city of Marinette, Republican Elijah Behnke faces Democrat Karl Jaeger. Behnke owns a cleaning business and is a former youth pastor, while Jaeger ran for the seat in 2020 and lost. That seat was open after Republican John Nygren resigned from the Legislature.

Polls open at 7 a.m. Tuesday and close at 8 p.m.

The Wisconsin Elections Commission strongly encourages voters to wear face coverings at polling places due to the COVID-19 pandemic, though they are not required.

Voters must show a photo ID, though the address on the ID does not have to match a voter’s current address in a poll book. Voters are allowed to register at polling places if they also present proof of residency, such as a utility bill.

More information on registration status and polling places can be found at



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