Gotcha Politics Already at Play in State Senate Special Election

The special election for Wisconsin’s 10th state Senate district only a week old and already the opposition research drops are coming in hot and heavy. That’s because Monday saw the release of not one, but two stories in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel targeting state Rep. Shannon Zimmerman (R-River Falls).

The first was a column by political investigative reporter Dan Bice, who reported that Zimmerman was touting his vote for the recently passed state budget when he announced his candidacy. While there’s hardly doubt Zimmerman supports the budget, he couldn’t actually vote for the measure. At the time of the vote, Zimmerman was stuck at the Amsterdam airport.

The 45-year-old businessman was stuck at the airport in Amsterdam, where he had gone on a business trip for Sajan Inc., his language translation business. Many flights had been grounded in Holland’s capital that day because of poor weather conditions.

On the roll call for final passage of the budget in the Assembly, Zimmerman was recorded as the only state rep to be absent for the vote. The bill passed on a 57-39 vote.

Zimmerman showed up a day later on Sept. 14 and read a statement into the legislative record about what he would have done had he been in Madison.

“Please record in the Assembly Journal that I would have voted ‘aye’ in support of Assembly Bill 64, the Wisconsin state budget, and a brighter future for all Wisconsinites,” Zimmerman said, according to the Assembly Journal.

While Zimmerman’s claim he voted for the budget is wrong and should be corrected by the state representative, much of the Bice column reads like an attempt to play “Gotcha.” It could potentially play a minor role in how Republican primary voters view Zimmerman, but there’s little to no actual news value to the reader.

Continuing the Journal Sentinel’s day of gotcha was a clear opposition research dump possibly (if not likely) handed to them by the liberal activist group One Wisconsin Now. In a story by Madison bureau chief Patrick Marley, the paper tries to make a mountain out of a molehill from a joke Zimmerman made in 2013 as a private citizen.

Video of businessman Shannon Zimmerman’s attempt at humor at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls surfaced this week as he makes his bid for the state Senate. The comments were made three years before Zimmerman, a Republican from River Falls, was elected to the Assembly in 2016.

Toward the end of the 2013 lecture, an audience member asked Zimmerman what language is most difficult to translate.

Zimmerman, a founder of the translation services company Sajan, said all languages are challenging and then joked that sometimes his employees’ language can be tough to translate.

Then he said, “It’s woman, right? Sometimes she says this, but she means this.”

His comment drew initial laughter and a loud “Whoa!” from one audience member, video of his lecture shows. Zimmerman clapped his hands together and laughed.

If you watch the video in its full context (59:30 to 1:00:36), the line is clearly meant as a joke; a rather common one used by both men and women for what it’s worth. But with today’s post-Harvey Weinstein environment of super-charged allegations of sexism and sexual harassment, liberal activists at One Wisconsin Now jumped on the video hoping someone in the media would give them the free media they desired.

Joanna Beilman-Dulin, research director for the liberal group One Wisconsin Now, said Zimmerman’s comments were inappropriate.

“At a time when more and more women are speaking out about sexual harassment and abuse they’ve experienced, Shannon Zimmerman’s statement that women shouldn’t be believed is unacceptable,” Beilman-Dulin said in a statement.

What Marley, or One Wisconsin Now fail to point out is the blatant political game being played here. While clearly this is an attempt to weaken Zimmerman electorally with women, Marley not once tells readers there might be some kind of coordination going on between One Wisconsin Now and the state Senate arm of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin.

Does that sound like a leap of faith? Perhaps, but when you consider that OWN’s former research director, Jenni Dye (Twitter handle “@legaleagle”) is now the executive director of the State Senate Democratic Committee, the conclusions practically jump to themselves.

SSDC is in charge of finding candidates and helping them get elected. And as Marley’s own Twitter account shows, Dye is someone he’s quite familiar with.

Zimmerman is one of two Republicans seeking the seat of outgoing state Senator Shelia Harsdorf (R-River Falls), who was recently named by Gov. Scott Walker to be the secretary of the Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection (DATCP). Also running for the seat is state Rep. Adam Jarchow (R-Balsam Lake). Democrats running for the seat include St. Croix County medical examiner Patty Schachter and Dunn County resident John Calabrese.

Democrats have long claimed the 10th is a “swing seat” in past, but such a result as yet to materialize as Republicans have won the seat with over 57 percent of the vote in the 2016 and 2012 presidential elections, as well as a 2011 recall election. Primaries for each party will be held on December 19, with the general election scheduled for January 16.