Republican State Representative Dale Kooyenga says he “categorically denies” an allegation that he was inebriated during a state budget debate three years ago. Democratic Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling made the allegation Tuesday during a forum with Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald. Kooyenga, who is running against Democrat Julie Henszey of Wauwatosa for the seat state Republican Sen. Leah Vukmir is vacating to run for U.S. Senate, pushed back against the allegation in response to an email from Media Trackers seeking comment:
“This is a desperate approach because they don’t have me on the issues, I’ve effectively argued the merits of our policies that help families, seniors and young professionals. This is the politics of personal destruction and my constituents know my character. We’re going to run a positive issues based campaign.”
The allegation stems from an incident in 2015 where some lawmakers went across the street from the Capitol for beers following a bomb scare. Kooyenga acknowledged to Media Trackers that he had one beer but said he was not intoxicated when he returned to the Capitol. The allegation is also in a mailer sent in the senate district from a group called The Wisconsin Leadership Committee. The Journal-Sentinel reported that the group reported to Wisconsin election officials it was spending $84,000 in online ads against Kooyenga and three other Republicans running for the state Senate. The Journal-Sentinel also reports that the address and phone number provided by the group belong to the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee in Washington, D.C.
Following Shilling’s comments, someone affiliated with Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin tweeted out video clips of the Kooyenga comments in question. The Journal Sentinel described the clips as showing Kooyenga speaking in “a slow and slightly slurred cadence.” A source speaking on background told Media Trackers that one of the story’s writers, Patrick Marley, was present when Kooyenga was speaking that day. Our source pointed out that Marley likely would have written a story about the episode back then had he noticed anything off about Kooyenga’s speech.
Media Trackers reached out to Marley, asking if he was indeed there and whether he detected anything noteworthy about Kooyenga’s speech at the time. Marley’s response, in-part, said: “We wrote the story because the head of the Senate Democrats made this accusation multiple times in a public forum. If the GOP leader had made a similar claim about a Democrat, we would have handled it the same way.” Marley’s response also included comments about Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald’s response to the controversy. He did not address Media Trackers’ question about whether he was there and if he noticed anything about Kooyenga’s speech patterns at the time.
Media Trackers reached out again to Marley; he told us his initial statement was the only comment he wanted to make on the matter.