Madison state Rep. Brett Hulsey said Tuesday he’s considering a run for governor, but critics said the declaration was just the latest example of his recent bizarre behavior.
Also fueling the oddball perception was a recent campaign finance report showing Hulsey had recently spent about $1,200 on an old, red convertible and $85.39 on a triathlon in Lake Mills.
Hulsey, who earlier this year said he might leave the Democratic Party and become an independent, said he’s not impressed with the current crop of potential gubernatorial candidates, particularly Madison School Board member Mary Burke.
“She has no chance of beating Scott Walker,” Hulsey said. “In order to be governor you have to be good on the stump. She’s like a shy deer in the headlights.”
Burke didn’t respond to requests for comment.
Hulsey said running for governor is one of the last things he wants to do over the next
year and a half, “but I don’t want Scott Walker turning Wisconsin into Wississippi” and “we need someone who will take him on every issue.”
He criticized Burke’s support for a Madison charter school proposal, saying she and Walker agree on the issue. Burke pledged $2.5 million to the Urban League of Greater Madison-proposed school, but the Madison School Board voted it down before she became a member.
Hulsey told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that Burke had the personality of a turnip.
“I don’t think Brett Hulsey is in any position to make judgments about personality,” Dane County Democratic Party Chairman Mike Basford said.
Basford said Hulsey’s latest statements are part of a pattern that includes his previous statement about leaving the party over a disagreement about Assembly Democrats not offering any amendments to the recent state budget. Hulsey offered an amendment anyway and later criticized Democrats for giving up.
Last year Hulsey was cited for “horseplay” with a child at a Madison beach. He later alleged the citation was politically motivated, possibly because it involved the grandson of an aide to Mayor Paul Soglin, who demanded Hulsey apologize.
Later, in a self-described “suicide mission,” he tried running for Assembly leadership. Then, after Hulsey brought a box cutter to his office to teach an aide self-defense, an aide quit and filed a complaint with Capitol Police because she felt threatened by Hulsey and his “strange behaviors.”
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Spencer Black, who held Hulsey’s seat for 26 years before retiring in 2010, said he’s spoken with at least five people who are interested in running for the seat in 2014.
“(My neighbors) have very strong concerns,” Black said. “The pattern of behavior is unusual to put it mildly and not what they expect of their representative in the Legislature.”
Black said he “would never have dreamed of spending campaign funds” on a car or a triathlon.
One of the interested candidates is Madison Ald. Lisa Subeck. The others have not publicly stated their interest, Black said.
“Since I said I might run, I’ve had a number of constituents contact me urging me to do so and raising concerns about Brett,” Subeck said. “They’re questioning whether he is doing what he was elected to do.”
Hulsey said he hasn’t decided whether he will run for the seat again. In the last six months he reported raising no money, which he said was because the reporting period included the months lawmakers were preparing the 2013-15 state budget.
Two years ago during the budget process he raised $4,654. He said that was different because it was during the collective bargaining protests.
Hulsey said he bought the car for use in parades and likened it to former U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold asking for campaign donations to fuel a van he traveled in across the state. Hulsey provided an email from the Government Accountability Board saying he could purchase the vehicle with campaign funds.
He also said he interacted with constituents before, during and after the triathlon — even though it was held miles outside of his district.
“I am a participant in life, not a spectator,” Hulsey said. “You should know that by now.”
Hulsey said he didn’t seek the GAB’s guidance for that expenditure.
Jay Heck, executive director of elections watchdog Common Cause Wisconsin, said Hulsey’s purchases were not illegal because state law allows funds to be used for a “political purpose.” But “whether it was smart politically to do so is another question,” he said.