Not on the Ballot, Gard Looms Large in State Senate Primary

John Gard, Credit: Wisconsin Public Television

Lobbyist and former state assembly speaker John Gard won’t be on the ballot in August for the 1st State Senate District Republican primary. But his presence may loom large in the race nonetheless. Gard is involved in the campaign of 24 year old Alex Renard, who announced Tuesday he will challenge State Representative Andre Jacque for the GOP nomination. The seat was left vacant after State Sen. Frank Lasee resigned at the end of 2017.

Renard, Operations Manager at Renco Machine Company, Inc., his family’s business in Green Bay, said in a statement that he’s running because he believes Northeast Wisconsin needs a new, forward-thinking leader…

… serving area residents in Madison with the business experience and understanding to expand opportunity, solve big problems and make our state a place where both families and business want to come and grow,” said Renard. “I am not a career politician and I bring a proven record of creating jobs, along with the urgency and leadership skills to solve the challenges facing Wisconsinites now, rather than leaving them for the next generation.”

Jacque is considered staunchly conservative and may be best known for championing pro-life legislation. But he also ruffled feathers in 2015 for holding a hearing on the repeal of the state’s prevailing wage law in the Assembly Labor Committee, which he chaired at the time. Jacque would later tell Media Trackers that Assembly Speaker Robin Vos punished him for that move by making him the only non-freshman Republican representative without a committee chair in the next legislative session:

“He basically said that there needs to be an example set. My decision to hold the hearing on prevailing wage reform was something that he strongly disagreed with and that there needed to be a punishment. It’s not unexpected in terms of what came about. It’s something that, I understand from my colleagues, that he communicated to the rest of the conference.

It has been communicated by the Speaker that if others were to act similarly to what I did this past session that your chairmanship would be removed immediately. I don’t want to speak for other colleagues who were left without chairmanships they would have liked. I’m the only person who had a chairmanship before that didn’t receive one for the upcoming session. The only others not assigned committee chairs were freshmen, as is usually the case.”

Prevailing wage laws artificially inflate the cost of public construction labor costs. Vos and special interests opposed PW repeal efforts throughout the 2015-16 session. Vos at one point offered his own anemic plan which did virtually nothing. While a full repeal of PW ultimately stalled, a compromise plan put forth by Lasee  passed. A full repeal would pass in 2017.

Gard, meanwhile,  represented labor unions opposing the repeal of prevailing wage. In an interview with Media Trackers, Gard said he and Jacque being on opposite sides of the prevailing wage issue has nothing to do with the 1st State Senate District:

“That is living in the past. I work with a lot of people… I have a lot of connections to Northeast Wisconsin employers. That had nothing to do with this. I’ve supported Andre in the past, which he seems to forget. The guy never picked up the phone and asked for my support. He’s known the district was going to be open. He had a year to lock this thing down and he didn’t do it.”

Jacque told Media Trackers he had no reason to believe Gard would be receptive to helping in his campaign:

“I think it’s fair to say that I had reason to believe that John wouldn’t necessarily be that receptive or helpful if I called for help politically or for fundraising, based on the animosity received(from Gard) last session over prevailing wage and right to work.”

Gard insists that his presence in the Renard campaign has nothing to do with past differences with Jacque. He says he believes Renard is the more electable candidate of the two:

“It’s the same conversation I had two years ago with(now 8th District Congressman) Mike Gallagher.  People are eager to find new blood in politics. As long as I’m still alive, I want to be helpful and encourage people.

Andre is probably frustrated that a number of Green Bay and De Pere people are going to be with Alex. I’ve got nothing against Andre, he should seek re-election. A senate seat is not an entitlement. Alex is a good candidate.”

Jacque says he has a proven track record as not only a solid conservative but as someone who has worked very hard for his constituents.

 “The fact that I have been so active legislatively on so many issues and have not drawn strong opposition; there is no democratic candidate announced right now, speaks to the strength of the work that I have done on conservative issues and reaching across the aisle.

If John Gard thinks I’m less electable because I don’t have the support of John Gard and the operating engineers(a union Gard represents as a loybbist), he’s entitled to that opinion.”

Jacque had previously pointed to Renard living in the 30th senate district and suggested Renard should instead challenge incumbent Democrat Dave Hansen there in 2020. Gard denied that Renard didn’t live in the 1st Senate District:

“That’s the penny ante stuff that Andre has become known for. That’s the kind of stuff that losing candidates say about people. If that’s what they’re going to run on, Alex is off to a pretty good start.”

Jacque was flabbergasted at Gard’s denial:

When did that happen(Renard living in the 1st)? There is no reference to where he lives in De Pere (Renard’s campaign filing with the state lists only a P.O. box). He hosted a fundraiser for Leah Vukmir at his condo in Riverside lofts, just a month ago. That’s where all his parking tickets the last three years have been charged to. I wouldn’t be surprised if he gets an apartment or some sort of residence in the district he can call a district residence. He hasn’t been a long time resident of the district.

A search at My Vote Wisconsin by Media Trackers indicates Renard is registered to vote in the upcoming spring election from the address Jacque indicates; 101 Cherry Street, Green Bay, in the 30th senate district. Several sources have told Media Trackers that Gard recruited Renard for the run. Gard denies that, but says he did encourage him once he learned Renard was considering a run. Jacque says it’s no secret that his independent streak has made him unpopular with some members of Republican leadership in Madison, who would welcome a challenger to him:

“I am proud to have fought for my constituents and the conservative cause, even though it has meant ruffling more than a few feathers among special interests and apparently drawing a primary challenger.  I haven’t gotten to know a lot about Alex Renard because he hasn’t been living or working in the 1st Senate District, but I welcome him to the district and this race. I don’t know everything that people in Madison are telling him, but I will continue to put my trust in the people of the 1st Senate District and work for them, not the Madison crowd.  

Gard twice mentioned Jacque hadn’t reached out to him for campaign help, something Jacque said he found disappointing:

“I’m disappointed that John Gard would in any way intimate that I have been unwilling to have a conversation with him. Because, we certainly have spoken many times. He use to be extremely supportive of my work on social issues. His other concerns override that at this point. That’s disappointing.”

It’s unclear at this point how big an issue electability will be in the general election in November. So far, no Democrat has entered the race.