MADISON, Wis. (AP) - With majority control of the Wisconsin Senate at stake, the current Republican and Democratic leaders sparred Tuesday over whether a GOP candidate once appeared drunk on the floor of the state Assembly.
Republican Rep. Dale Kooyenga is running to replace GOP Sen. Leah Vukmir for a seat representing suburban Milwaukee. It is one of a handful of seats Democrats are targeting as they try to wrest majority control away from Republicans. Democrats need to pick up at least two seats to take majority control.
A group opposing Kooyenga called the Wisconsin Leadership Committee has been running digital ads and sending mailers to voters in the district alleging that he once appeared drunk during a debate in the Assembly in 2015. Lawmakers on the night in question had drinks together at a bar across the street while the Capitol was evacuated for a bomb threat.
Reporters wrote about the unofficial “beer summit,” and pictures circulated of lawmakers, including Kooyenga, quaffing beers and posing for pictures with constituents.
The Wisconsin Citizens Media Cooperative wrote a blog post at the time and posted a link to WisconsinEye video of Kooyenga giving a floor speech later that night. Footage of debate from that night is still viewable on WisconsinEye.org and clips of Kooyenga speaking circulated on Twitter.
Democratic Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling, speaking at a Wispolitics.com luncheon on Tuesday, said it’s a “fact” Kooyenga appeared drunk. She also referenced Kooyenga’s stealing of an anti-Republican sign from a Capitol protester in 2017 and a subsequent legal settlement over the incident.
“None of our candidates paid a $30,000 fine for looking at a sign and taking it from the Capitol,” Shilling said. “None of our candidates have appeared on the floor after they’ve had too much to drink.”
Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald appeared to be taken by surprise.
“Oof, I don’t know where to go from that one,” he said.
Later, Fitzgerald called the attacks against Kooyenga questioning his sobriety that night in 2015 “about the dirtiest kind of politics.”
“I think it’s ridiculous and outrageous what she said,” Fitzgerald said of Shilling’s comments after the forum. “She has no proof of anything.”
Kooyenga did not reply to a message seeking comment. He faces Democrat Julie Henszey in the race for the state Senate seat that represents much of Waukesha County and a portion of western Milwaukee County.
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, who was among those drinking at the bar, said there was “no chance” Kooyenga was drunk that night and said it was a “bold-face lie” to accuse him of that.
“That just shows Dale must be winning or they wouldn’t be talking about those kinds of issues,” Vos said.
On other topics:
- Fitzgerald said he didn’t know if the Legislature could follow through on Walker’s promise to have the state fund two-thirds of K-12 schools’ education costs. It would take about $130 million per year. Walker’s Democratic opponent, Tony Evers, is also calling for two-thirds funding as part of his proposal to increase funding for schools by 10 percent. Both plans lack details about how they would be paid for.
- Fitzgerald said he has talked with Assembly Speaker Robin Vos about the Legislature returning in December for a second lame-duck session to take up legislation. Lawmakers already plan to return in November to consider a $100 million tax break bill for Kimberly-Clark Corp.
- Shilling said if Democrats take control, one of the first bills they will pursue is enacting nonpartisan redistricting reform. Fitzgerald said the Legislature should draw political boundary maps, no matter which party is in control.
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