A quintet of Northeast Wisconsin Republican state representatives are explaining why they chose to endorse a political newcomer over fellow Rep. Andre Jacque in the Republican primary for the vacant 1st district state senate seat. In a rare move, State Representatives Jim Steineke (R-Kaukauna), Joel Kitchens (R-Sturgeon Bay), John Nygren (R-Marinette), David Steffen (R-Howard), and John Macco (R-Bellevue) announced they were endorsing 24 year old Alex Renard. The move raised eyebrows among many political observers.
Renard has no political experience and records appear to indicate that he only recently moved into the district. So, why endorse a political newcomer over an Assembly colleague? Media Trackers asked all five and received responses via text and email. The one common theme is the desire for an outsider vs. a longtime politician. Here are their responses:
John Macco:Both candidates are fine individuals. I’ve worked alongside Andre and have done doors with him. And I’ve known Alex and his family for several years. Our only real “superpower” as a legislator is the power to convene, the ability to work together with other legislators, bureaus, agencies and stakeholders, both in and outside of one’s own caucus. To respect various thoughts and work together to move the district and our state forward.Alex’s experience in building a business; coordinating with vendors, union and non-union shops, bureaucratic red tape, taxes and payroll demonstrate the skill-sets needed to be an effective senator. Alex is a big thinker. Alex is devoted to investing back into and preserving our community.He serves as president of the Neville Museum board, an avid outdoors man and conservationist, all issues dear to Door and Kewaunee counties. I think Alex has the skills, background and polices we need to win in a tough election.Jim Steineke:I believe it’s more critical than ever that we have candidates with real experience creating jobs and running a business. The type of perspective Alex has will bring a renewed energy to the Senate and improve upon an already strong conservative caucus.
John Nygren:I think it’s his non-governmental experience in business that gives us the best chance to win. I see it as a similar situation to the Gallagher race. If you look at the history of our area elections in tough years, outsiders tend to win. I think he can also raise the money needed to win.Media Trackers then asked: “…you don’t believe Andre can raise the money to win?”Answer: I think that is an issue, yes. More about Alex’s positives than Andre’s negatives.Joel Kitchens:I think Alex is an impressive young leader who will bring a fresh perspective that is needed in Madison. He showed great maturity and character when he assumed a leadership role in his family’s manufacturing business when his father became ill.
Asking the question of “Which candidate would be a better State Senator?” is like asking “Who is a better football player – Brett Favre or Reggie White?” I mean, is there really an answer to such a question? Similar to the Green Bay Packers, there are certain needs that require certain players to put a championship team on the field.Alex Renard provides fresh leadership and is a collaborative, goal-oriented businessman. These qualities will greatly enhance the State Senate, assist with passing our shared conservative agenda and likely be the most appealing to voters looking for results.
Privately, several Republican insiders, as Nygren pointed out, say Jacque’s either unwillingness or inability to take fundraising seriously raises grave concerns about Jacques ability to compete with Democrat Caleb Frostman in a general election. The same sources say Jacque has burned bridges with GOP caucus members and doesn’t understand the value of relationships.
Jacque has said he believes his willingness to stick to his conservative beliefs, even when they are at odds with what leadership wants, is what has alienated other Republicans in Madison. Jacque bucked Assembly Speaker Robin Vos in 2015 by holding a committee hearing about the repeal of prevailing wage. After that, Jacque was the only non-freshman member of the Assembly Republican caucus not to chair a committee.
Jacque responded to a Media Trackers’ request for comment via email:
I am humbled by the outpouring of support for my candidacy from conservative citizens across the 1st State Senate District and the many colleagues and the local elected officials who have endorsed my campaign. I am pleased to be well ahead in fundraising compared to what past victorious Republican open seat candidates have raised before their primaries. I am proud to have worked hard for the citizens of the 2nd Assembly District and held firm to my principles during my time in office.
I have respectfully reminded my colleagues of hard truths and the promises we have made to voters, and I do not regret my actions on behalf of the conservative cause, regardless of the repercussions. I have been told by some Republican officials that my primary opponent’s greatest asset, other than his extensive financial resources, is that his name is not attached to any particular conservative piece of legislation that has passed or been discussed in the state legislature, which gives him an advantage in the general election. I am proud to stand by my record and the conservative accomplishments I have been a part of and look forward to letting the voters decide who the Republican candidate for the 1st Senate District should be.
The State Senate failed to vote last month on a Jacque bill that would have made sexual abusing animals a felony in Wisconsin. The bill unanimously passed the Assembly. It was in response to a serial horse molester in Northeast Wisconsin who, convicted only of misdemeanors, continues to attack animals. Former Senate President Mike Ellis told Appleton radio host Josh Dukelow that the bill failed to get a floor vote because it would have given Jacque an important accomplishment on which to campaign for the senate seat.
Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald hasn’t commented on Ellis’ claim. Senate President Roger Roth told Media Trackers he doesn’t believe the claim is true, pointing to other Jacque bills that did get a senate vote.
Meanwhile, a mailer paid for by the Republican Party of Wisconsin promoting Renard’s candidacy went out to voters in the 1st senate district Thursday.
The mailer says: “Paid for by the Republican Party of Wisconsin as an in-kind campaign contribution to Friends of Alex Renard.” Alec Zimmerman of the RPW told Media Trackers that “this is regular practice and an available service to all GOP candidates in the primary. We did this for both candidates in SD-10 as well when they decided to take advantage of it.”
Zimmerman is referring to candidates in a Republican primary for a special election in the 10th district last year. Renard and Jacque are squaring off in a primary for a special election to be held in June. It’s possible they could face off again in an August primary for the regular general election to be held in November.