Three Republicans vying to challenge Democratic newcomer for open Senate seat

Three Republicans — Rep. Janel Brandtjen (R-Menomonee Falls), Rep. Dan Knodl (R-Germantown) and Van Mobley — are vying for the GOP nomination in the competitive race for Wisconsin’s 8th Senate seat. The winner will face Democratic candidate Jodi Habush Sinykin in April. 

The seat, which represents parts of Washington, Ozaukee and Waukesha counties — often referred to as the WOW counties — and northern Milwaukee suburbs, was vacated in December by Sen. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills), who had represented the district since 1992. 

Republicans are seeking to continue the tradition of Republican representation for this suburban seat in the upcoming election, especially as it will determine whether Republicans regain a supermajority in the state Senate. 

Brandtjen, well known for her endorsement of former President Donald Trump’s false claim that he won the 2020 election and for supporting legally impossible efforts to decertify Wisconsin’s 2020 election results, said she decided to run for the open seat because of her concern for the republic and the future of Wisconsin. 

“I’m concerned about my children’s future in Wisconsin. I’m concerned about Wisconsin having a future,” Brandtjen told the Wisconsin Examiner. “My goodness, we have a lot of issues we need to work on in the state.”

Brandtjen says the Legislature could do more to address the lack of “transparency” in state agencies, including the Department of Public Instruction and the Wisconsin Elections Commission, about their spending and policies. 

Brandtjen says education issues include the moderation of content being taught to students, certain school policies related to students’ pronouns and a lack of focus on the “rights of parents.”

There are also many election issues, Brandtjen says, citing drop boxes and an incident in which a Milwaukee Elections Commission employee fraudulently requested absentee ballots dedicated to military members and had them sent to her house. The employee was subsequently fired and charged with a felony for requesting the ballots. Brandtjen says the person shouldn’t have been capable of requesting the ballots in the first place.

The Wisconsin Elections Commission has found no evidence Wisconsin’s election systems have ever been compromised. Recent high-profile efforts to prove the system was vulnerable to fraud were immediately detected and the people who impersonated others to request absentee ballots were caught.

Brandtjen says the Legislature should utilize hearings and subpoenas to investigate how agencies are spending money and implementing policies.

“[Subpoenas are] a power that the legislators have… You are required to come in and explain these issues, how you are using your agencies, how you’re spending your money. These are all transparency questions,” Brandtjen says. “I think having a more transparent government, having them be held accountable for their agencies, having them be held accountable for what they are currently doing is incredibly important. We don’t want government to become over us, we want it to be something that works for us.”

Brantjen called divisive

Rep. Janel Brandtjen (R-Menomonee Falls) official portrait | Wisconsin State Assembly

First elected to the Assembly in 2015, Brandtjen has served as chair of the campaigns and elections committee, where she used her position to bolster false claims about the 2020 election.

Brandtjen, who supported Assembly Speaker Robin Vos’ opponent during the 2022 election cycle, has been on the outs with the rest of the Republican caucus in recent months. The caucus voted in November 2022 to bar her from attending closed caucus meetings. 

Vos (R-Rochester), commenting on the action, said Brandtjen isn’t trusted by the caucus and is unqualified to hold her job. The top Republican leader didn’t place Brandtjen on the Assembly’s elections committee this session, instead opting to put her on the corrections committee and government accountability and oversight committee.

Brandtjen says all of this is just retribution for her support of another candidate in the last election cycle, and she’ll continue with her work nonetheless.

“Good ideas should always move to the top of the list, regardless of who comes forward with them,” Brandtjen says. “We can continue with the name calling, but I’m going to continue to do my job more than ever. I love my community. I love my state, and it’s certainly not going to stop me from talking to people, working with people, which I’ve been continuing to do since.”

Some Republicans are working to block Brandtjen from winning the nomination, saying she is divisive and could lose the seat for Republicans. Former state Sen. Randy Hopper was running for the open seat, but quickly dropped out of the race and endorsed Knodl in an attempt to stop Brandtjen from winning the nomination. He said Brandtjen’s nomination could put Republicans’ chance of winning in the general election at risk. 

An anti-Trump Republican group is running an ad that urges people to vote against Brandtjen in the upcoming primary. Citing previous statements by Vos, the ad calls Brandtjen “inept,” “unqualified” and says that she “spends her time tearing others down and dividing the state.”

“She’s not fighting for us. She’s promoting herself,” the ad asserts.

Knodl cites ‘good working relationships’

Rep. Dan Knodl Rep. Dan Knodl

Knodl, who was first elected to the Assembly in 2009, says he wants to continue on the work of Darling, and that his previous service in the district and relationships with other lawmakers place him in the best position to do so. 

“To get things accomplished, you’ve got to have those relationships in place,” Knodl says. “In the Assembly, you’ve got to get 50 votes and in the Senate you’ve got to get 17, so it can’t just be the one individual putting things out there.”

Not only has he developed relationships with his Assembly colleagues, he says, but he has developed relationships with sitting state senators, serving with 12 of the current Republican state senators during his time in the Assembly. 

Knodl has announced endorsements from several former and current Republican state senators including Sen. Kathy Bernier, Sen. Mary Felzkowski, Sen. Romaine Quinn, Sen. Rob Stafsholt and Sen. Duey Stroebel. 

“I have very good working relationships in place, better working relationships than the other [candidates],” Knodl says. “And that’s really what it comes down to.” 

Knodl is serving this session on the jobs, economy and small business development committee; the regulatory licensing reform committee; and as chair of the government accountability and oversight committee.

Knodl has introduced several bills this session including a bill that would eliminate Wisconsin’s personal property tax, one to recognize Feb. 6 as Ronald Reagan Day in Wisconsin and another that would require the Department of Transportation to print “Not Valid for Voting Purposes” on new driver’s licenses issued to non-citizens with the purpose of helping to “protect the integrity of our elections.” The lawmaker also supported false claims that Trump won the 2020 election and signed a letter asking former Vice President Mike Pence to not certify Wisconsin’s 2020 election results. 

Alongside Brandtjen, Knodl is also a coauthor on Republicans’ recent flat tax proposal.

Apart from lowering Wisconsin’s taxes, Knodl says education and crime are his top priorities, and that people can expect more legislation from him focused on those issues. 

The issues are related, Knodl says, citing decreasing reading and math scores and an increase in youth crime including reckless driving and vehicle theft. He supports policies that would, as he puts it, “detain and train” young people who are involved in crime. 

“All kids can learn, they just need the right environment to be able to receive that education,” Knodl says. “That’s what it would require is a detention facility school, that they’re there — could be year-round — where they can then learn and get their life on the right track, so they can prosper as they grow older. Otherwise, they’re on a track of being in trouble and committing crime. That cycle’s got to be broken.”

Knodl says state dollars could go towards retrofitting vacant buildings to serve as facilities. He says funding for the detention facilities could also be similar to current “school choice” programs, where vouchers funded with public dollars are used to support a student’s attendance at private and charter schools.

Mobley’s ‘outsider’ campaign

Van Mobley | Photo courtesy Village of Thiensville Van Mobley | Photo courtesy Village of Thiensville

Van Mobley, village president of Thiensville and a professor at Concordia University, is the third candidate on the Republican primary ballot next week. Mobley, serving his fourth term in local government, is positioning himself as a Madison outsider. 

“The people of the 8th Senate District want and deserve a Senator who is rooted in the community, not in Madison,” Mobley said in his campaign announcement. “They want a Senator who leads – particularly when times are tough. They want a Senator who brings people together.”  

Recently, Mobley has called for the elimination of Wisconsin’s income tax, saying that the $7 billion surplus represents a prime opportunity to get rid of the tax altogether. He said the recent proposal by Republican leaders to transition Wisconsin to a flat income tax over the current progressive tax system is a “half-measure.” 

“We need to eliminate the state income tax completely,” Mobley said in a statement. “States like Florida, Texas, and Tennessee eliminated their income tax, attracted new residents, and saw economic growth. I want the same for Wisconsin.” 

The winner of the Republican primary will face Democratic newcomer Jodi Habush Sinykin, an environmental lawyer and small business owner, in the general election. She says the suburban district is purple, and people are looking for someone who can get things done instead of getting mired in partisan politics.

Sinykin says she’ll work across the aisle 

Jodi Habush Synikin | Screenshot of campaign ad via YouTube Jodi Habush Synikin | Screenshot of campaign ad via YouTube

“It’s not as red versus blue, as people might think,” Habush Sinykin says. “What I am hearing across the district is whether people identify themselves as largely Democratic, or largely Republican, all of them are feeling increasingly frustrated that Wisconsin has legislators representing them in Madison, who are not moving forward for Wisconsin that are not reaching solutions.”  

Habush Sinykin, who is leading the Republican candidates in campaign fundraising, says the best way to address stagnancy in the Legislature is to put new people in office. 

“If folks want there to be a change in how the legislature is functioning for themselves, we need to put new people in. We can’t keep putting the same people back in power and expect different results,” Habush Sinykin says. Her experience building coalitions will help her work across the aisle to accomplish new solutions, she adds. 

With a compressed campaigning season, Habush Sinykin is looking to put her name out to voters and connect with them as quickly as possible. In addition to knocking on doors and connecting with local organizations, her campaign recently launched TV ads in the Milwaukee area: one focuses on her family’s textile company and the other highlights the difference between her views and Brandtjen’s on reproductive rights. 

The issue of reproductive rights is broader than just abortion access, Habush Sinykin says.  

“It’s not just OB-GYN and emergency room doctors who are extremely concerned about Wisconsin’s position because they fear that providing care that is needed might put them at risk of losing their license, but it is also doctors in other fields like cardiology, who are recognizing that Wisconsin in this position is making them have difficulty recruiting talent and doctors to their programs, which is cutting off Wisconsin’s pipeline of the next generation of doctors which is desperately needed.” 

She says there are also businesses and prospective employees who are looking to move to states where access to health care is protected for women and who may opt not to come to Wisconsin because of the state’s 1849 abortion ban. 

In addition to reproductive rights, Habush Sinykin says supporting public safety is a top priority for her. 

The Republican primary is next week  on Feb. 21, and the spring general election is on April 4.



originally published at https%3A%2F%2Fwisconsinexaminer.com%2F2023%2F02%2F13%2Fthree-republicans-vying-to-challenge-democratic-newcomer-for-open-senate-seat%2F by Baylor Spears

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