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High-profile Wisconsinites drop out of Republican convention

Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch and Michael Grebe, former chairman far-right Bradley Foundation, have been replaced as Wisconsin  delegates to the Republican convention in Cleveland later this month, the state GOP announced Friday.

The controversial Kleefisch and Grebe are being replaced by Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald and longtime Republican activist Don Taylor.

They will serve among the 18 at-large delegates who are bound to vote for Texas Sen. Ted Cruz in the first round of balloting because

18 at-large delegates who are bound to vote for Texas Sen. Ted Cruz in the first round of balloting because Cruz won Wiscosin’s primary in April, which was considered then a near-fatal blow to Trump’s campaign.

Of Wisconsin’s 42 delegates, 36 are bound to vote for Cruz at the Republican convention until he releases them or fails to get a third of the vote at the July 18–21 event.

Fitzgerald has been outspoken in urging Republicans to unite behind presumptive nominee Donald Trump.

Kleefisch has said she will support whoever is the nominee. She withdrew as a delegate about a month ago due to scheduling conflicts, said her campaign manager Charles Nichols. Kleefisch will still attend the first three days of the convention, where she will participate in events as chair of the Republican Lieutenant Governors Association, Nichols said. After that she will return to Wisconsin late on July 20 for official state business, he said.

Grebe did not immediately return a phone message seeking comment. Wisconsin Republican Party spokesman Pat Garrett said he did not know why Grebe withdrew.

For the past 14 years, he’s served as chairman of the powerful and influential Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation based in Milwaukee. The $850 million conservative foundation has financially backed public policy experiments in Wisconsin like welfare reform, public vouchers for private schools and curbs on collective bargaining and unions.

Grebe is also a close confidante of Gov. Scott Walker, having previously served as his campaign chairman. Walker is going to the Republican convention as an at-large delegate, but he’s wavered in his support of Trump in recent weeks.

Four alternate delegates were also replaced. Those removed were Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke, former Gov. Scott McCallum, former U.S. Rep. Mark Green and David Karst.

Steineke has been one of the most outspoken critics of Trump in Wisconsin. He had announced earlier this spring that he would not attend the convention given that Trump was the presumptive nominee.

They are being replaced by Trump supporter Van Mobley, Sue Lynch, David Anderson and Jennie Frederick.

Responding to Wall Street backlash, Scott Walker’s sons try making him appear less extreme on same-sex marriage

Gov. Scott Walker’s sons Alex Walker and Matt Walker will appear on CNN’s State of the Union tomorrow, likely to discuss their support for same-sex marriage. Even since the governor suffered a backlash after condemning the Supreme Court’s ruling granting marriage rights to same-sex couples, his sons have been contacting the media to emphasize their support for equality.

The younger Walkers’ campaign began after billionaire hedge-fund manager Dan Loeb declined to donate to the governor due to his extreme opposition to marriage equality, according to Business Insider. Wall Street has become increasingly disenchanted with the Republican Party’s emphasis on social issues, which financial leaders believe has cost the GOP at the polls. And most Wall Street political donors support the right of gays and lesbians to marry.

Thus, Walker’s hardline stance on the issue poses an unforeseen stumbling block to his fundraising efforts.

The sons appear to be sincere: Alex Walker served as best man at the wedding of his mother’s lesbian cousin to another woman.

But despite his sons’ attempts to humanize their father on the issue, Walker is still calling for a constitutional amendment that would overturn the Supreme Court ruling.

Walker has flip-flopped on many other issues since he decided to seek the presidency. For instance, he was strongly opposed to the federal government’s ethanol mandates until he began campaigning in Iowa, whose economy relies heavily on ethanol sales. Then he shifted his stance in favor of government regulations that require fuel refiners to blend a certain volume of ethanol into traditional gasoline.

But Iowa voters are also the reason that Walker will not be able to backpedal on his pledge to fight back against the legalization of same-sex marriage. Walker must win the Iowa caucuses to stay in the race, and adherents to fundamentalist Christian dogma dominate the state’s Republican caucus-goers.

The surrogate campaign by Walker’s sons might, however, help him appear less radical to voters in a general election — if he were to succeed in obtaining his party’s nomination.

In other Walker news, the governor has announced that he’ll sign the controversial state budget passed this week by Republican legislators tomorrow — one day before he formally announces his presidential candidacy.

Signing the $73 billion, two-year spending plan at a business in Waukesha late Sunday afternoon ensures that media coverage will be minimal for the controversial bill.

Also, the soon-to-be candidate announced last week that he’d tapped Mike Grebe, president of the conservative Bradley Foundation to lead his presidential campaign. The foundation has been a strong backer of Walker’s political career.

Grebe told The Associated Press in a telephone interview that Walker asked him to serve as his campaign chairman about 10 days ago.  Grebe has served as chairman of Walker’s gubernatorial political committee since 2010.

The Bradley Foundation has backed a number of right-wing public policy experiments, including welfare reform and voucher schools. Grebe became the foundation’s president and chief executive officer in 2002.

In late May, Walker appointed Grebe to University of Wisconsin board of regents.

Walker appoints son of right-wing Bradley Foundation president to UW Board of Regents

Gov. Scott Walker has appointed the son of a president of a foundation that supports tea party causes to the University of Wisconsin Board of Regents. The board oversees the University of Wisconsin system, setting policies and approving budgets, among other vital regulatory duties.

Walker appointed Mike M. Grebe, son of Michael W. Grebe, president and chief executive of the Bradley Foundation, to the board. The foundation is an essential part of Walker’s “brain trust.” It’s poured millions into promoting such right-wing policies as busting unions, expanding voucher schools and eliminating social welfare programs.

In addition to his association with the Bradley Foundation, Grebe also has served as chairman of Walker’s campaign.

Walker also has appointed Jim Troupis, an attorney who often works for the GOP, as a Dane County circuit judge. The governor says Troupis will fill a seat previously held by Judge John C. Albert, who has retired. Troupis will serve until August 2016.

News analysis | Despite right-wing media smear, Burke and Walker still tied

Three days before Wisconsinites head to the polls to elect their next governor, two final public polls show the race between controversial Gov. Scott Walker and business leader Mary Burke remains a virtual dead heat.

Walker leads by only one point in both polls, well within their margin of error. Both campaigns have acknowledged that their success on Election Day — Tues., Nov. 4 — depends on who turns out to vote.

Public Policy Polling released a survey yesterday that found Walker with a 48–47 lead over Burke. The poll is operated by Democrats and often criticized for favoring that party. But a respected Fordham University study following the 2012 elections showed that PPP was the most accurate pollster in the nation for that year’s races.

Also released yesterday was the final poll from YouGov, which showed Walker leading Burke 42–41. Both polls are consistent with the results of repeated polls over the last two months.

“The final public polls released over the last few days confirm what we’ve known for months — the race between Scott Walker and Mary Burke is all going to come down to turnout,” Democratic Party of Wisconsin Chair Mike Tate said today. “Wisconsin voters need to know this race is incredibly close and their vote will make a difference between four more years of Scott Walker’s failed policies or a new direction with Mary Burke.”

Burke is fighting back with new ads addressing a smear campaign by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and the Wisconsin Reporter, a right-wing publication with ties to the ultra-conservative Bradley Foundation. The foundation’s leader Michael Grebe is also the chairman of Walker’s reelection campaign.

In the 2012 recall election of Walker, the Bradley Foundation was widely condemned for placing billboards in Milwaukee’s predominantly African-American neighborhood that warned voter fraud is a felony. The billboards were seen as part of a coordinated right-wing effort to legitimize the unproven myth that voter fraud is an actual problem.

The Wisconsin Reporter’s smear piece on Burke quoted three GOP operatives who once worked for Trek Bicycle Corp., owned by Mary Burke’s Family. All three said she was fired in 1993 as head of Trek’s European operations.

Denounced as patently false by Mary Burke, current Trek CEO John Burke and others who worked at Trek during those years, the story was nonetheless picked up by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, which has endorsed Walker in the past and seemed to endorse him again last Sunday in an article that was not tagged as an endorsement. The newspaper used it as one of two top cover stories, placing it in a prominent position above its fold and next to a story about an unlikely poll from Marquette University Law School showing Walker surging ahead by seven points among likely voters.

Today, the Journal Sentinel placed a story about Burke’s campaign firing back against the GOP’s smear campaign on the cover. But the story read like an attempt to reignite the false claims for readers who missed the first smear piece. It made no attempt to update readers on negative information about Burke’s accusers that has come to the forefront in the past few days or to speak with former Trek employees who disagree with her critics.

The same pro-Walker Marquette poll headlined by the Journal Sentinel a few days ago had, only a week prior, showed Burke ahead among likely voters; and even the more recent poll showed only one point separating the two candidates among registered voters, although the paper’s editors decided to go with the pro-Walker angle in its headline. That led many Burke supporters to dismiss the most recent Marquette poll as either an outlier or as intentionally manipulated to help its favorite son (even though he failed to graduate) out of a tight spot.

In the Journal Sentinel’s smear piece against Burke, the three bylined reporters spoke only to John Burke to defend his sister, creating the perception that no one else disputed the assertions of the Republican operatives. While the Journal Sentinel article revealed that one of the Republican Burke critics — Gary Ellerman — has posted on Facebook comparisons between President Barack Obama and Hitler, the piece did not mention that he believes Michelle Obama is really a man and that the president is, in his words, a “homo.”

Ellerman, who chairs the Jefferson County Republican Party, quickly deleted his Facebook page after receiving media calls. Ellerman ran as a “fake” Democrat in the 2011 state Senate recall elections.

The Democratic Party of Wisconsin has called on Walker to fire Ellerman from his chairmanship.

Trek dismissed Ellerman for incompetence in 2004, giving him a personal axe to grind, as John Burke charged. Another of the Burke detractors also had reason to retaliate: In addition to being a volunteer on Walker’s campaign, he heads one of Trek’s primary competitors — Specialized Bicycle Components.

All three of the Burke critics who were given a splashy, uncritical treatment in the conservative press are staunch Republicans and Walker supporters who have longstanding political involvement with him. That led Burke to accuse Walker of being behind the smear.

Walker famously acknowledged that he’d considered planting fake protesters to incite violence in the demonstrations outside the Capitol in 2010, and there’s video of him bragging to a mega-wealthy donor that his political strategy is based on “divide and conquer.” Such statements demonstrate his willingness to participate in dirty tricks, such as the 11th-hour revelations from Burke’s right-wing former colleagues at Trek.

In the “divide and conquer” video, he suggests that his goal is to make Wisconsin a “right to work” state, a subject he’s been coy about on the campaign trail as he tries to woo moderates and independents.

Six companies in five years

“The fact is, my track record, is I created six companies in less than five years (at Trek).  I grew sales from $3 million to over $50 million and I did all of this before I was 35 years old,” Burke said on the campaign trail yesterday.

John Burke confirmed that his sister left during a corporate restructuring and that the work she did remains a profitable asset to the company today. In fact, far from firing Burke, Trek asked her to come back to the company two years later to head global forecasting.

None of that was mentioned in the Journal Sentinel story, which took her to task over a snowboarding sabatical that she took as if it was a criminal activity. Burke has repeatedly stated that she worked part time creating trade shows during the two years in question, but she acknowledged that she wanted some time off as well. In forcing her on the defensive over such an odd story that occurred more than 20 years ago, the Journal Sentinel succeeded in trivializing her business achievements, especially since the coverage was not accompanied by side-by-side comparisons with Walker’s activities during that period. Those activitiesincluded being disciplined by Marquette University for breaking its campaign rules in his bid for student body president, quitting college and dealing rumors that he got a Marquette student pregnant around the time he left. That last rumor was initially reinforced by comments posted by Daniel Bice, one of the writers bylined on the Journal Sentinel’s  smear piece on Burke. Bice later said he investigated the charges and was convinced they were not true.

The head of Trek’s German operations joined John Burke and others in praising Burke’s performance in developing the company’s European operations. Both said she established a profitable market, complete with supply-chain and marketing operations, from scratch.

“Mary built the foundation of a business in Europe that continues to pay dividends today,” John Burke told the Wisconsin State Journal. “What’s happening here is people are trying to discredit what Mary accomplished. What I’m saying is ‘No, I was there, Mary accomplished an amazing thing.’ ”

John Burke described the media-coordinated, last-minute smear of his sister as “a highly orchestrated move by Gov. Scott Walker’s campaign.”

“This is what you get with Scott Walker-style politics,” said Burke campaign spokesman Joe Zepecki. “Convictions, arrests, shady donations, secret email systems. This is what the people of Wisconsin are going to reject next Tuesday.”

Among the many related issues missing from all of the right-wing newspaper attacks on Burke’s credentials is the fact that Walker has no business management experience, has run up a budget deficit despite huge cuts in government spending, failed to create more than 40 percent of the 250,000 jobs he pledged in his 2010 campaign, turned down $4 billion in federal aid to the state and made a shambles of both the Milwaukee County Executive’s office and his flagship job-creation organization — the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp.

Ironically, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel contends that WEDC was a smart idea that was terribly managed, and the paper cited the business-experienced Burke saying she would keep the agency but overhaul it as proof that it dosn’t deserve the wrecking ball.

The ‘anti-woman’ card

Burke’s three GOP detractors accused her not only of being fired for incompetence but also of having a difficult “management style,” which is often used as euphemism among misogynists to describe strong, confident women. That characterization, given the lack of high-level women executives in 1993, suggests to many Burke followers that her white male critics didn’t like answering to a young woman with an MBA from Harvard University Business School.

Neither Burke nor her campaign would talk about that hot-potato aspect of the story, illustrating how difficult it is for women to run for public office. If they behave with the same aggression that a male candidate would, they offend men. If they complain about the unequal treatment they’re given due to their gender, then they face backlash for “playing the woman card.”

Numerous anti-Burke comments that Wisconsin Gazette has had to remove from its Facebook page have attacked the candidate for her appearance, while only two commenters out of the more than 30,000 who’ve seen WiG’s supportive Burke posts on Facebook in recent days have slammed Walker over his looks, specifically his large bald spot, which one commenter said is big enough to host a Burke campaign sign.

While no woman candidate wants to play the “woman card,” the “anti-woman card” gets played frequently and sometimes and it can create a backlash of its own. The Republican Party — both nationally and in Wisconsin — is widely accused by progressives for waging what they call a “war on women.” The result has been a wide gender gap among voters.

Walker’s record is as hostile toward women as any governor’s in the nation. He vetoed legislation mandating equal pay for women doing the same jobs as men. He and Assembly Republicans eliminated funding for Planned Parenthood, which provides poor women with STD testing and pre-natal care. Wisconsin Republicans have also eliminated many pre-kindergarten programs, making it impossible for many mothers to work.

Perhaps the most draconian measure that Wisconsin Republicans have taken against women is a state law forcing women who want to terminate their pregnancies to undergo medically unnecessary and invasive ultrasounds that involve placing wands in their vaginas and then forcing the women to look at pictures of the fetal cells in their wombs. Virtually all women’s health experts and groups that oppose government interference with personal freedom have condemned the law in the strongest terms possible.

Walker has denied any involvement in the smear campaign against Burke. He even released a TV ad calling himself sympathetic to women on the issue of abortion, despite opposing abortion even in cases of rape and incest and when the mother’s life is in danger.

The question is will voters fall for the desperate anti-Hail Mary pass to save Walker, who’s divided the state perhaps more than any other governor in history while and presiding over the worst job-growth rate of any governor in the region? Or will voters rally on Tuesday against such sordid tactics and give Burke the edge by showing up to vote in a race so razor-thin that every single vote counts.

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Journal Sentinel story attacking Burke used GOP source who called Obama an anti-gay slur and said Michelle Obama is a man

UPDATED STORY: A source who was quoted this morning in a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel cover story claiming that Democrat Mary Burke was fired from Trek Bicycle has posted bizarre and offensive rants on his Facebook page, including accusations that Barack Obama is a “homo” and First Lady Michelle Obama is a man.

MJS, which has endorsed Gov. Scott Walker in the past, ran the story in which former Trek employees blasted Burke’s alleged incompetence under the headline “Conservative ex-execs say Burke forced out at Trek.” The story appeared in a prominent position under the masthead and above the newspaper fold.

The three accusers are not only die-hard Republicans but also former Trek employees. The article did not state whether they were disgruntled with Trek, but one of them apparently was fired by Trek and another, Tom Albers, now works for a major Trek competitor and has donated to Republican campaigns.

Joe Fadness, the third Burke accuser, is also a Wisconsin GOP operative.

Gary Elllerman, who posted the Facebook rants, is a known Republican dirty trickster who compared Obama’s 2008 “hope and change” slogan to a swastika. The chairman of the Jefferson County Republican Party, Ellerman ran as a fake Democrat in the 2012 recall elections.

“It’s disgusting that the state’s largest newspaper would run a sleazy tabloid hit piece based on blatant lies, but it’s even more reprehensible that their ‘source,’ a Republican Party insider who was fired from Trek for poor performance, is publicly espousing his racist, homophobic beliefs,” said a Democratic Party of Wisconsin spokewoman. “Unless they agree with him, Scott Walker and his Republican Party should immediately denounce Gary Ellerman and call for him to resign his Party leadership post.”

Journal Sentinel blogger Daniel Bice was one of three bylined writers of the story. He posted a blog this afternoon claiming that the writers tried without success to reach Ellerman before publishing the story, which was based on an article that previously appeared in the right-wing publication Wisconsin Reporter. According to Bice, that newspaper is funded by the conservative Bradley Foundation, which is headed by Walker campaign chairman Michael Grebe.

In his blog post, Brice did not defend the decision to present the incendiary story based on personal accusations made by partisan opponents so close to the election. In fact, he presented the extent of bias among his sources under the headline “Democrats pounce on Burke critic’s extreme Facebook posts.”

John Burke, Mary Burke’s brother and current Trek CEO, denied the charges made against his sister by the company’s former employees. He said Mary Burke left her job as head of overseas operations as part of a corporate restructuring.

Burke flatly denied the accusations as “complete lies.”

“Scott Walker is not going to stop at anything,” she said during a Port Washington campaign stop today. “He is a career politician who will do anything to win an election, including lies and smears, dragging a great Wisconsin company through the mud. … This type of lies and allegations frankly shouldn’t be part of politics.”

In the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s recent coverage of Mary Burke, the paper continued to accuse her of leaving Trek to go snow boarding for two years, even though she’s denied it and the paper has no proof that’s all she did during the time in question. Her supporters have expressed everything from outrage to disbelief over the newspaper’s coverage of someting so trivial in its political coverage, as though snow boarding was a derelict activity.

Although Scott Walker dropped out of Milwaukee’s Marquette University before finishing and after being disciplined for unethical campaigning for student body president, the Journal Sentinel only occasionally mentions it when covering the campaign. Burke supporters say that’s a more relevant story for voters than a candidate taking a snow-boarding vacation.

Burke holds an MBA from Harvard University School of Business.

UPDATED story includes Democratic Party of Wisconsin response and snowboarding references.

Journal Sentinel story attacking Burke used source who called Obama an anti-gay slur

A source who was quoted this morning in a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel cover story claiming that Democrat Mary Burke was fired from Trek Bicycle has posted bizarre and offensive rants on his Facebook page, including accusations that Barack Obama is a “homo” and First Lady Michelle Obama is a man.

MJS, which has endorsed Gov. Scott Walker in the past, ran the story in which former Trek employees blasted Burke’s alleged incompetence under the headline “Conservative ex-execs say Burke forced out at Trek.” The story appeared in a prominent position under the masthead and above the newspaper fold.

The three accusers are not only die-hard Republicans but also former Trek employees. The article did not state whether they were disgruntled with Trek, but one of them apparently was fired by Trek and another, Tom Albers, now works for a major Trek competitor and has donated to Republican campaigns.

Joe Fadness, the third Burke accuser, is also a Wisconsin GOP operative.

Gary Elllerman, who posted the Facebook rants, is a known Republican dirty trickster who compared Obama’s 2008 “hope and change” slogan to a swastika. The chairman of the Jefferson County Republican Party, Ellerman ran as a fake Democrat in the 2012 recall elections.

“It’s disgusting that the state’s largest newspaper would run a sleazy tabloid hit piece based on blatant lies, but it’s even more reprehensible that their ‘source,’ a Republican Party insider who was fired from Trek for poor performance, is publicly espousing his racist, homophobic beliefs,” said a Democratic Party of Wisconsin spokewoman. “Unless they agree with him, Scott Walker and his Republican Party should immediately denounce Gary Ellerman and call for him to resign his Party leadership post.”

Journal Sentinel blogger Daniel Bice was one of three bylined writers of the story. He posted a blog this afternoon claiming that the writers tried without success to reach Ellerman before publishing the story, which was based on an article that previously appeared in the right-wing publication Wisconsin Reporter. According to Bice, that newspaper is funded by the conservative Bradley Foundation, which is headed by Walker campaign chairman Michael Grebe.

In his blog post, Brice did not defend the decision to present the incendiary story based on personal accusations made by partisan opponents so close to the election. In fact, he presented the extent of bias among his sources under the headline “Democrats pounce on Burke critic’s extreme Facebook posts.”

John Burke, Mary Burke’s brother and current Trek CEO, denied the charges made against his sister by the company’s former employees. He said Mary Burke left her job as head of overseas operations as part of a corporate restructuring.

Burke flatly denied the accusations as “complete lies.”

“Scott Walker is not going to stop at anything,” she said during a Port Washington campaign stop today. “He is a career politician who will do anything to win an election, including lies and smears, dragging a great Wisconsin company through the mud. … This type of lies and allegations frankly shouldn’t be part of politics.”

Group wants Justice Dept. to send election observers to Wisconsin

The progressive group One Wisconsin Now has asked the U.S. Justice Department to send election observers to Wisconsin for the November general election.

The group wrote to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, noting that election observers were in the state in 2012.

One Wisconsin Now executive director Scot Ross, in the request to the attorney general, said recent changes to state law and the state GOP’s “record of animus” toward select types of voters make it necessary to again dispatch election observers. 

“Republicans in Wisconsin have intimidated legal voters in their neighborhoods, harassed legal voters in polling places and manipulated the rules on voting in pursuit of an unfair electoral advantage for themselves,” Ross said. “Sending federal observers for the November 2014 election makes clear that this behavior is not just un-American, it will no longer be tolerated.” 

Ross said:

• The Milwaukee-based Bradley Foundation, headed by Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s campaign co-chair, underwrote billboards designed to intimidate voters in heavily minority population neighborhoods.

• The state Republican Party conspired with right-wing organizations to conduct a voter-caging scheme.

• Election watchdogs documented cases of harassment and intimidation in polling places by so-called partisan “observers.” 

One Wisconsin Now also said the state GOP, beginning in 2011, used its legislative majorities and control of the executive branch to “manipulate the rules on voting,” including passage of a voter ID law that, if put into effect, could disenfranchise 300,000 legal state voters. More recently, the governor has signed measures to eliminate weekend and restrict evening voting. 

Wrote Ross, “The real voter fraud in Wisconsin today is being committed the Republican politicians manipulating the rules on voting and their partisan lackeys who attempt to carry out schemes to harass and intimidate targeted populations to keep them from voting. The people of Wisconsin have rejected these underhanded tactics in the past and with the help of the federal DOJ we can send a strong message that every legal voter will have the chance to cast their ballot and have their say in November 2014.”