Closing in on the Wisconsin DPI Primary

Tony Evers is running for re-election as Wisconsin’s State Superintendent of Public Instruction. Mr. Evers is a shoo-in for advancing to the April general election, the question remains who gets to challenge him. While technically a nonpartisan position, conservatives have been jockeying for a Superintendent more in line with their reform efforts.

Earlier in the year, some former Walker personnel backed John Humphries, a self-described “progressive” who signed a recall petition for the Governor but has since come to support Act 10. Meanwhile, a host of Republican state legislators and county parties have been backing Dr. Lowell Holtz, who has made his conservative leanings obvious.Since conservative voters will ultimately decide who advances out of the open primary, the typical fight of “not far enough” vs “too far” is playing itself out.

On Wednesday, Mr. Humphries claimed that Dr. Holtz offered to drop out in exchange for a promised $150k gig in his administration, and that he offered the identical package if his opponent were to drop out. Attempting to back this up, he publicized the document he alleged Holtz gave him. Holtz countered by providing his own copy of the document, which differs slightly in its section headers. Neither of the PDFs explicitly says “dropping out”, which has become the fight between the two: Humphries insists his meeting and the paper was part of a pre-primary deal, Holtz insists it was a suggestive thing to get them to co-operate and support each other, regardless who won.

This whole affair is wonderfully absurd: who types out and prints this? It’s like something out of a bad television series, except the plotters usually have the decency to write it on a napkin or with invisible ink. But, such is the way with the often overlooked sleeper race. With potentially big money waiting on the sidelines, whomever emerges will need to work quickly to coalesce support if they want to deny Mr. Evers a third term.

The Spring Elections, which have seen some notorious battles like the Kloppenberg-Prosser battle of 2011 and the Supreme Court referendum in 2015, are otherwise quiet this year. Despite the expiration of Supreme Court Justice Annette Ziegler’s term, no liberal justice bothered to step forward, so she enjoys a full ten-year term unchallenged. The DPI position is the last statewide one with any real authority that isn’t working in lockstep with the Walker Administration and Republican legislature. Backers of Humphries and Holtz intend to change that, and they have six weeks to do so.