Tag Archives: leah vukmir

Far-right extremist Leah Vukmir ‘seriously considering’ taking on Baldwin

Republican state Sen. Leah Vukmir says she was seriously considering running for U.S. Senate before U.S. Rep. Sean Duffy announced he would not be a candidate.

And with the news that he’s out, she is moving forward with evaluating whether to get in. But she says there’s no timeline for when she will make a final decision.

Vukmir lives in Brookfield and has been in the state Legislature since 2003. She is one of several Republicans considering a Senate run next year against Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin.

An evangelical Christian, the state senator has a history of anti-gay rhetoric and collusion with Wisconsin Family Action, the state’s leading opponent of same-sex marriage and reproductive freedom.

In 2010, a year which saw a spate of headline-grabbing suicides by LGBT teens who’d been bullied, Vukmir conspired with WFA to derail the Legislature’s attempt to add anti-bullying language to a school security bill. Julaine Appling, who heads WFA, fiercely opposed the change, because it sought to protect all students from persecution, including LGBT students.

In a Jan. 12, 2010, e-mail, Appling told Vukmir that she was just “checking in” about some testimony that her organization presented characterizing the bullying provision as “dangerous.”

Appling gave her “guarantee” that the provision was being promoted by pro-gay groups, by which she meant it was insupportable.

Vukmir responded that she was “open to your suggestions.”

Months later, she voted against the legislation both in committee and on the Assembly floor.

Vukmir went on to defeat Democratic state Sen. Jim Sullivan in November 2010’s tea party wave elected Scott Walker as governor.

Vukmir, who seems to keep a low profile, stands on the far right of most, if not all, issues. A matchup against Baldwin would be a dual of opposites.

Vukmir has worked to expand Wisconsin’s voucher school program and to eliminate state regulations on almost everything that’s opposed by corporations, including pollution. She was awarded a 10 percent rating by the Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters for the 2011–12 legislative session.

For that same session, she received a zero rating from the League of Humane Voters.

Vukmir opposes government transparency and has supported bills to get rid of government accountability and watchdog groups.

News analysis | Wisconsin Senate approves controversial abortion ban that experts say will have dire consequences for women, doctors and the state

The Wisconsin state Senate has approved a controversial, potentially unconstitutional bill that would ban non-emergency abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy.

The bill’s supporters in the Republican-controlled Senate say fetuses can feel pain after 20 weeks, while opponents argue that the suffering for Wisconsin women would be greater if the measure advanced. The Senate approved the bill on a 19–14 vote along party lines, with Republicans voting in favor.

All of the state’s major medical organizations oppose the law.

Advocates for a woman’s right to choose whether to have a baby say the bill is an attack on sexually active women that’s designed to deflect attention from the Republican-controlled Legislature’s stalemate over a controversial budget bill. The budget slashes popular programs while giving away massive taxpayer dollars to wealthy business interests, including politically connected construction companies that build unneeded highways and the billionaires developing a new arena complex for the Milwaukee Bucks.

The abortion that passed would have minimal impact on reducing the number of abortions in the state.  The most recent information from the state Department of Health Services shows that only 1 percent of abortions in Wisconsin in 2013 occurred after the 20-week mark — in other words, 89 of the nearly 6,500 abortions performed that year.

The vast majority of such abortions only occur when severe fetal abnormalities are detected and the baby is unlikely to survive. Abortions after 20 weeks also are the result of the mother’s life being in grave danger if she continues with the pregnancy.

The Senate’s abortion law will wind up facing expensive litigation. But Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said it’s worth spending hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars defending the law in court regardless of its minimal impact. “Protecting life is something that we shouldn’t necessarily just put a price tag on,” Vos said.

Under the law, doctors who perform an abortion after 20 weeks in non-emergency situations could be charged with a felony and subject to $10,000 in fines or 3.5 years in prison. The fetus’ father could also press charges against the physician. As written, the bill doesn’t provide exceptions for pregnancies conceived from sexual assault or incest.

Sen. Leah Vukmir, R-Wauwatosa, a fervently anti-gay, fundamentalist Christian, said that passing the bill would prevent suffering during an abortion.

“It’s cruel to allow a baby and a mother to go through a process that inflicts that pain, ultimately ending a life,” Vukmir said. “How can we allow these abortions on five-month-old (fetuses)?”

But while the bill’s supporters, who are opposed to abortion under all circumstances, contend that fetuses can feel pain after 20 weeks, science does not support them. The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists says research suggests fetal pain is not possible until the third trimester begins at 27 weeks.

State tea party leaders, however, do not believe in science.

Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Middleton, said the bill disregards a mother’s health. The bill as written says a doctor cannot perform an abortion after 20 weeks unless the mother is likely within 24 hours to die or suffer irreversible impairment of one or more of the woman’s major bodily functions.

“The mother basically has to be knocking on death’s door for the doctor … to legally feel he’s OK to focus on the life of the mother,” Erpenbach said. “You’re going to take a doctor who makes a decision and you’re going to make him a felon.”

Vos said the Assembly could take up the abortion bill later this month or in the fall. He said Assembly Republicans had not yet discussed the measure, but he supported it.

“The bill as it’s drafted, I think, has a lot of merit,” Vos said at a news conference. “I do not certainly support the idea of allowing unborn children who feel pain to be aborted inside the womb.”

Gov. Scott Walker has said he would sign the bill into law.

Fourteen states have passed bans at 20 weeks or earlier, which depart from the standard established by the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision. That ruling established a nationwide right to abortion but permitted states to restrict the procedures after the point of viability — when a fetus could viably survive outside the womb under normal conditions. If offered no legal definition of viability, saying it could range from the 24th to the 28th week of pregnancy.

Courts have blocked bans in Georgia, Idaho and Arizona. Litigation in other states is ongoing.

Associated Press reporters Scott Bauer and Dana Ferguson contributed to this report, as did WiG staff writer Louis Weisberg.

Bipartisan effort in Wisconsin seeks to ban powdered alcohol

Powdered alcohol may be banned in Wisconsin before the product, known as Palcohol, ever hits store shelves.

Following the lead of eight other state legislatures, Sen. Tim Carpenter, a Democrat from Milwaukee, said he hopes to enact a ban before Palcohol becomes available this spring.

“The potential for abuse outweighs quite heavily the need for that type of product,” Carpenter said. “It would just make life a lot less complicated if we just didn’t go there.”

Carpenter said he will seek co-sponsorship from Senate Health and Human Services Committee Chairwoman Sen. Leah Vukmir, a Republican from Wauwatosa. Vukmir on said she had not seen a draft of the bill as of Jan. 21.

Mark Phillips, the owner of the Arizona-based company Palcohol, said on the company’s website that he created the product to avoid lugging liquor bottles on hiking trips. The 1-ounce powder packets can be stirred into water to make one shot of vodka or rum, or a serving of one of four different cocktails, the website says.

Carpenter said people would likely snort the powder to try to achieve an instant high, could sneak the substance into sporting events or high school classrooms, or could mistake the powder for something else and ingest it accidentally.

Carpenter said he hopes to avoid the confusion that came when synthetic hallucinogenic drugs referred to as bath salts were first allowed by the state if they were labeled “not for human consumption,” then outlawed in 2011. He hopes to act proactively to ban Palcohol before Wisconsinites have the chance to abuse it.

Tavern League of Wisconsin executive director Pete Madland said the organization does not see a need for Palcohol and is supportive of the ban.

“I don’t see the upside to it,” Madland said. “I see a big downside.”

Lynne Barbour, a spokeswoman for Palcohol, said lawmakers fail to see the benefits of Palcohol. She said if properly regulated, Palcohol would not be abused. The product’s website says Palcohol could be used on airplanes to reduce liquid weight and maltodextrin — the powder used to absorb alcohol —could be used to make lightweight medicine.

“It confounds us and makes us lose faith in the legislative process that states are banning a product they know nothing about and don’t seek to learn about it before making their decisions,” Barbour said.

Democratic Sen. Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling, of La Crosse, and Assembly Democratic Leader Peter Barca, of Kenosha, said the bill allows a discussion of the risks associated with powdered alcohol.

Sen. Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, and Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke, R-Kaukauna, did not respond to a request for comment.

Kayla Leibl, a medical student at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, said lawmakers should permit Palcohol sales.

“The dangers of Palcohol are hardly different than those of traditional liquid alcohol … regardless of physical form, alcohol will be abused,” Leibl said. “I don’t see a problem with marketing it.”

Chris Rink, 25, of Madison, said banning powdered alcohol could lead to a black market if the product gained enough demand. But he said he would not seek it out if it was sold in Wisconsin.

“I vastly prefer beer over other types of alcoholic beverages and I do not think beer would translate very well into a powdered format,” Rink said.

The bill was expected to be heard by the Senate Committee on Health and Human Services this month.

Meet Wisconsin’s new majority

Now that Republicans control the entire state government, one would naturally expect a different policy direction in Wisconsin. But looking at the extreme views of the conservatives now in charge should give the LGBT community and the state in general some concern about how far to the right that new direction might swing.

Many of us already know about the extreme right-wing positions of legislators such as Leah Vukmir, Glenn Grothman and Terry Moulton. They have earned some of the worst anti-equality records in the Legislature. Less well known is how extreme many of the freshmen lawmakers are on social issues.  

The progressive group One Wisconsin Now has launched meetthemajority.com, a website that highlights the extreme views of many new state legislators. The Democratic Party of Wisconsin also recently announced an effort called One Term Watch, which is aimed at holding Republican freshmen legislators accountable.  

There is a wealth of right-wing freshmen legislators, typified by a couple of examples. For one, consider new state Rep. Kathy Bernier, R-Chippewa Falls. Asked in an interview with Wisconsin Eye to give her top priorities, the first thing she mentioned was getting rid of the domestic partner registry.

In a telling profile of Rep. Andre Jacque, R-Green Bay, he is listed as having been a volunteer for the 2000 presidential campaign of the notoriously anti-gay Alan Keyes, who rejected his own daughter when she came out as a lesbian.  

Wisconsin Family Action, an organization that exists solely to fight LGBT equality and a woman’s right to choose, endorsed both of these freshmen, along with nearly every other incoming Republican freshman lawmaker. WFA sponsored the constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage in 2006. The group also fought bullying legislation in 2009 and is now pursuing a lawsuit to rescind the state domestic partner registry established last year.

Aside from LGBT issues, many of the new Republican state legislators hold extreme views on other social policies. Incoming state Sen. Pam Galloway, R-Wausau, declared in 2009 that the federal government’s Medicare program was unconstitutional. New state Rep. Roger Rivard, R-Rice Lake, subscribes to Glen Beck-style conspiracy theories and has cautioned that our country is “on the path to a godless society.” On immigration policy, he says, “Just being born here should not be a ticket to citizenship.”

As this new legislative session begins, we will find out if this group of Republicans is truly focused on the economy and jobs, as promised during the campaign, or if they will simply serve as soldiers in an unnecessarily hostile culture war. Whatever road they choose, they will be establishing legislative records for which the public must hold them accountable.

Do you want a partner or a pretender?

The Wisconsin Gazette ran a story on Oct. 7 profiling a few LGBT supporters of Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker.  The story highlighted Walker’s simultaneous alliance with some of the most rabidly anti-equality forces in the state.

One of the more interesting parts of the story was the strained effort by Walker’s handful of LGBT supporters to explain away him trying to get in bed with both sides. Some suggested Walker was open to them personally and “would not pursue the conservative social positions he’s adopted on the stump.” This does not comport with reality, because Walker’s track record is decidedly against equality.

Just last year Walker vetoed a proposal to simply study the feasibility of providing health insurance benefits to the same-sex partners of gay and lesbian workers. He has promised to eliminate the year-old state domestic partner registry if elected governor.  That registry gives same-sex couples 42 of the 200 basic rights that heterosexual couples receive when they get married. Hospital visitation and inheritance are only two of the rights Walker is prepared to rip away.  

Walker’s running mate Rebecca Kleefisch says she’d govern according to her own narrow reading of the Bible.  Given her extreme views, it’s understandable that Walker is trying to shield her from debates and the media.  Before joining Walker on the ticket, she told a radio audience that same-sex relationships were like having a relationship with an inanimate object or an animal.

Walker is also putting forward a false image on other policies. He claims that he is the best person to fix the state’s fiscal challenges, but a recent report shows that after eight years with Walker as county executive, Milwaukee County is on the verge of bankruptcy.  Walker talks about lower taxes and spending, but his own budgets over the years have proposed a total increase in the tax levy of $39 million, along with a 35-percent increase in government spending.

Walker’s poor management has led to preventable and repeated crisis at the county’s mental health complex, hundreds of millions of dollars in deferred maintenance in Milwaukee County parks, people in need going without assistance, and the literal crumbling of county structures and buildings.  

In total contrast to Walker, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett has been a steadfast partner with the LGBT community.  He fought against the 2006 marriage amendment, he stood against efforts to take away existing domestic partnership benefits, and while serving in Congress he opposed the discriminatory “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. Unlike Walker, Barrett has not only been supportive of LGBT families behind-the-scenes, but he has also proven himself publicly through actual policy.   

Barrett also has partnered with other elected officials and business leaders to create jobs and improve communities. Milwaukee’s Menomonee Valley used to be a wasteland, but because of Barrett’s efforts it has become a vibrant incubator for jobs.. The Public Policy Forum recently described Mayor Barrett’s proposed 2011 budget as “responsible” while they described Walker’s as “risky”.  

Whether we are looking at issues of equality or fiscal management, the contrast between Walker and Barrett is clear. On Nov. 2, will we choose a real partner like Barrett or a constant pretender like Walker?

Vukmir silent on the stump about gays

“All eyes in the nation are on us,” state Rep. Leah Vukmir warned the audience seated in Wauwatosa West High School’s auditorium. It was one of the few statements made during the ensuing 90-minute debate on which both Vukmir and her opponent, incumbent state Sen. Jim Sullivan, agreed.

The race in Wisconsin’s Fifth Senate District is very much in the political spotlight. Observers consider it to be a bellwether of Tea Party clout, as embodied by Vukmir. Many believe the Legislature’s partisan fate will turn on which candidate prevails in this west suburban district, meticulously gerrymandered by Republicans to unite some of Waukesha and Brookfield’s reddest neighborhoods with the far blue reaches of Milwaukee and purple patches of Wauwatosa.

With such perceived high stakes, money has poured into both Vukmir’s and Sullivan’s coffers. Media attention has been high. But despite the fanfare, turnout at the Oct. 12 debate was sparse, and the exchange between the candidates was strikingly dispirited.

Vukmir hammered absently at Tea Party talking points – lower taxes, less government, new leadership. She repeated Sullivan’s record of voting “with Gov. Jim Doyle 99 percent of the time” so frequently and robotically that people eventually began to snicker.

Ironically, the debate’s few moments of energy came from Sullivan, the establishment candidate. But while he occasionally bristled with facts, his face betrayed growing irritation. Like so many other seasoned elected officials who’ve been paired against off-the-wall challengers this year, Sullivan seemed mostly perplexed.

The debate provided a rare chance to see Vukmir at a non-scripted event and on the same stage with her opponent. She has campaigned door-to-door in her district, but has mostly avoided debates, press events and interviews.

The debate questions, presented by two panelists, covered a wide range of issues, including clean energy (he’s for it, she’s against it), high-speed rail (he’s for it, she’s against it) and stronger penalties for drunk driving (he’s for them, she’s against them).

One subject that never arose, however, was LGBT rights. Outside the auditorium, the day’s top news story was the federal injunction issued against the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” ban, the most significant development on the controversial policy since its inception in 1993. But apart from a reference to the ethics of embryonic stem cell research, none of the major social issues of the day were discussed, despite their central role in the Bible-wielding Vukmir’s candidacy – and despite being a major point of differentiation between her and Sullivan.

The Milwaukee Press Club, which moderated the debate, declined to use questions about the candidates’ positions on equality that were submitted by WiG. The closest the event came to addressing Vukmir’s social views was a terse pre-debate exchange between her and WiG over her posting of biblical verses on the home page of her campaign website.

Wauwatosa and parts of Waukesha are home to a growing LGBT population, as evidenced by the active gay and lesbian suburban groups in the area and the election this year of an openly gay man to the Waukesha Common Council (although the City of Waukesha is not included within the Fifth Senate District’s meandering contours). The race between Sullivan, a pro-equality candidate, and Vukmir, who’s so far to the religious right that she voted against anti-bullying legislation, would seem a natural to draw the interest of LGBT voters in the area. But there were apparently none in the audience on Oct. 12.

Sullivan’s supporters had hoped the high stakes in his race with Vukmir would inspire LGBT voters throughout the Milwaukee area to get involved with his campaign. But their support for Sullivan has been surprisingly lukewarm, despite his outreach to the community. The race has apparently failed to attract LGBT involvement beyond the usual core of moneyed gay and lesbian political donors.

By contrast, LGBT supporters played a key role in Sullivan’s 2006 defeat of former state Sen. Tom Reynolds, a religious zealot who tried recruiting a gay Senate page into an ex-gay ministry. Unlike Reynolds, however, Vukmir has avoided any such public antics. In fact, just as she did at the Oct. 12 debate, Vukmir seems to have relegated her social views to the closet for this race, despite publicly insisting that the Fifth Senate District is “very conservative.”

Vukmir declined to fill out the Wisconsin Family Council’s 2010 election questionnaire, which included an item asking about support for the state’s domestic partner registry. Her reticence seemed odd given Vukmir’s cozy behind-the-scenes relationship with Wisconsin Family Action. That group was behind the state’s constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage and is behind the current legal challenge to the state’s domestic partner registry. Vukmir consulted with WFA’s anti-gay president Julaine Appling about how to vote on the anti-bullying law.

With polls showing Vukmir and Sullivan statistically tied, LGBT support might yet make the difference in the race, but only if future forums don’t enable Vukmir’s strategy of silence on social issues.

Is Leah Vukmir a big teen bully?

Over the last few weeks, we have seen a series of tragic student suicides all over the country. Many of them involved the bullying and harassment of young people because of their actual or perceived sexual orientation.

Although this issue recently has gained national attention, the staggering rate of suicide among LGBT youth is not a surprise to anyone who’s been paying attention. Studies consistently show that LGBT youth are four times as likely to attempt suicide. The rate jumps to 8.4 times if they have been rejected by their families.  

The Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network estimates that nearly nine out of 10 LGBT students experienced harassment at school in the previous year. That’s why this group and others have made it a top priority to create a supportive infrastructure for LGBT students, including anti-bullying legislation that protects all students from persecution.   

Earlier this year, bullying language was added to a school security bill in the Wisconsin Legislature (Senate Bill 154).  Why would anyone oppose legislation that sought to protect all students from bullying? One person that we might ask is the head of the rabidly anti-gay group Wisconsin Family Council, Julaine Appling.  She actively lobbied against the bullying language in the bill.

And one legislator she succeeded in influencing was state Rep. Leah Vukmir, R-Wauwatosa, who’s campaigning to unseat state Sen. Jim Sullivan.

In a Jan. 12 e-mail, Appling told Vukmir that she was just “checking in” about some testimony that her organization presented regarding the bullying provision.  She went on to claim that the bullying provision was “dangerous.”

Appling also gave her “guarantee” to Vukmir that the provision is “promoted by the pro-gay group GLSEN and others.” Appling then give Vukmir some “alternative language” for the legislation. Vukmir responded that she was “open to your suggestions.”

Months later, Vukmir voted against the legislation both in committee and on the Assembly floor. The floor vote came only one day before the National Day of Silence, which is a student-led event to bring attention to anti-LGBT name-calling, bullying and harassment in schools.  

Vukmir’s opponent in the Fifth Senate District voted for the anti-bullying and school security legislation. In fact Sullivan’s fair-minded approach to public policy has rightfully earned him the endorsements of the Wisconsin Gazette, Fair Wisconsin and the Human Rights League PAC.  Sullivan’s positive solutions-based approach to legislation is far superior to Vukmir’s extreme brand of reactionary politics.  

Together we can work to curb this terrible trend of bullying LGBT students.  Hopefully in the process we can also convince the victims of such abuse that the world is a much better place with them in it.  But need honest partners in the state Legislature who make decisions based on sound policy and the common good rather than on their own brand of extreme ideology.

Do I believe in democracy?

Here’s a suggestion for this election season: Before you consider your views on any particular policy or issue ask yourself, “Do I believe in democracy?”

If you answer yes, as I assume nearly all Americans would, then let me propose that the life’s blood of democracy is honesty. We rightly demand it of our politicians, of our candidates.

Which brings me to a so-called “push poll” being conducted for the benefit of Leah Vukmir, a candidate for Wisconsin Senate in the 5th Senate District.

According to Wikipedia, “the push poll is a form of telemarketing-based propaganda and rumor mongering, masquerading as a poll. Push polls may rely on innuendo or knowledge gleaned from opposition research on an opponent. They are generally viewed as a form of negative campaigning.”

You may have already received the call purporting to be a poll. It includes such outright lies as saying Sullivan voted for a $5-million scoreboard that in fact he DID NOT vote for.

It’s also noteworthy that the “pollsters” refused say who paid for the call, which is illegal.

Jim Sullivan has a clear record of serving his constituents on safety, fiscal responsibility and economic development. His opponents are using a devious tactic to sow confusion and doubt about his record, for the simple reason that the record shows Sullivan has served his constituents well, and his opponents must rely on deceit to defeat him.

If Leah Vukmir does not loudly and clearly denounce this tactic being used on her behalf, she is party to deception – a subversion of the democratic process – and does not deserve the support of those of us who value our American, democratic form of government.

Greg Walz-Chojnacki, Wauwatosa

Editor’s Note: Democrat Joe Sullivan is a pro-equality candidate seeking re-election. Republican Leah Vukmir is a harshly anti-LGBT state representative seeking to unseat him.

Extreme Vukmir confidential

Republican state Rep. Leah Vukmir, D-Wauwatosa, is currently running for the 5th District state senate seat against incumbent Democrat Sen. Jim Sullivan.  All indications point to this being the highest profile race for the state legislature this year.

Republicans have invested large amounts of support in Vukmir because they view this race as their key to taking back control of the Senate. But did they invest in a candidate who is too extreme for this moderate/conservative-leaning district?

Leaked e-mails from Vukmir’s office provide many examples of extremism that is of particular interest to the LGBT community. For instance, Julaine Appling, the rabidly anti-gay leader of the Wisconsin Family Council, wrote to Vukmir on Jan. 12 to say she was “checking in” with Vukmir about testimony that her organization presented on a bullying provision in Senate Bill 154 (the education omnibus bill). Appling claimed the legislation’s language was “dangerous.” She maintained the bill was being  “promoted by the pro-gay group GLSEN and others.”

Appling offered to help Vukmir with some “alternative language” for the legislation. Vukmir responded by saying she was “open to your suggestions.” A few months after this e-mail exchange, and only one day before the National Day of Silence, the bullying legislation passed without Vukmir’s support. She repeatedly voted against it both in the education committee and on the Assembly floor.

This example of Vukmir’s chummy relationship with far-right leaders is reflected throughout her official e-mail record. There are frequent exchanges between her office and anti-LGBT organizations, including:

Family Research Council (FRC):  Since the early 1990s, this organization has emerged as the leading conservative organization championing so-called “traditional family values.” The group was founded by the notoriously anti-gay Dr. James Dobson. FRC is so far to the right that it even attacked President George Bush for his “implicit endorsement of the homosexual political agenda.” FRC has called for boycotts of Disney because of the company’s “gay-friendly” policies.  FRC officials often refer to an imagined agenda to “indoctrinate” children to the “homosexual lifestyle.”

National Prayer Network (NPW):  This self-described “ministry” is headed by the Rev. Ted Pike. Its Web site – “truthtellers.org” – consists of some of the most over-the-top anti-gay rhetoric imaginable. NPW warns of the “dangers of hate laws” and admonishes its followers to help “stop the pedophile-protecting Hate Bill.” It also addresses what it calls “sodomite adoption” as being “disastrous for kids.”  The group’s favorite legislative targets include the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell.”

Vukmir’s close affiliation with extremist groups should be alarming not only to members of the LGBT community but to 5th District residents in general.  She’s a poor fit for moderate and fair-minded voters.

Racing against the right | Jim Sullivan faces another anti-gay candidate

Although there are higher profile races on the ballot in Wisconsin this year, it’s the contest for a state Senate seat in Wauwatosa that could have the greatest impact on the state’s LGBT residents.

State Rep. Leah Vukmir, a Tea Party activist, is challenging moderate Democrat Jim Sullivan in the 5th Senate District in November. Vukmir’s victory would set the stage for Republicans to regain control of the Legislature, according to political analysts, putting socially conservative lawmakers at the helm of the state’s legislative agenda.

Both parties have identified Sullivan as the No. 1 legislative target in 2010, and his race with Vukmir is expected to draw big bucks from coffers on both sides of the aisle.

The darling of talk radio host Charlie Sykes, Vukmir has routinely taken positions reflecting his radical-right agenda. She opposed the “Compassionate Care for Rape Victims Act” and was one of only 14 Assembly members to vote against funding to eliminate the state’s DNA crime lab backlog. The latter vote put her to the right of ultra-conservative Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen.

Most recently, she voted against a law to curb the predatory practices of payday lenders. Sullivan authored the Senate version of the bill.

Vukmir’s legislative record helped earn her a place on Milwaukee Magazine’s list of the state’s 10 worst legislators last year. The political group One Wisconsin Now has branded her “Wisconsin’s Michelle Bachmann-in-training.”

Vukmir also has been outspoken about her fundamentalist Christian vision for Wisconsin. Several months ago, the homepage of her campaign website featured numerous biblical quotations, but they’ve since been removed.

Vukmir declined WiG’s request for an interview.

For Sullivan, a supporter of LGBT equality, running against Vukmir is in many ways a replay of his 2006 race, when he narrowly defeated far-right incumbent Tom Reynolds. Also a religious fundamentalist, Reynolds was so obsessed with anti-gay fervor that he tried recruiting a gay Senate page into an ex-gay ministry.

“For whatever reason, that was a big part of (Reynold’s) world view,” Sullivan says. “To me, it was him indulging in his idiosyncrasies. This is a position of public trust, and you’re supposed to represent all of your constituents. Leah’s clearly coming from the same place. She’s somebody who’s decided she can make her way in politics by hewing to a hard-right ideological line.”

The LGBT community’s support was vital to Sullivan’s victory, and it will be again, says Dennis Kohler of HRL-PAC. In addition to endorsing Sullivan, the group is staging a May 17 fundraiser for him.

“We want to maintain a pro-equality state senate, and Jim Sullivan is a good candidate who’s very supportive of pro-equality legislation,” Kohler says. “His is a key race in maintaining our pro-equality majority. I’m hoping LGBT individuals and our allies will support this race any way they can.”

Sullivan says he’s relying on the community’s support in what is shaping up to be another tough race. “I hope the leadership that I’ve provided over the past four years has warranted that support,” he says.

He adds, “When Democrats are in charge, a lot of legislation that’s hurtful to the LGBT community never sees the light of day.”

Sullivan voted against the budget that contained Gov. Jim Doyle’s provision to create a domestic-partner registry in Wisconsin, but only because it gutted funding for a regional transit system and delayed reconstruction of the Zoo Interchange, he says. He believes the subsequent closure of the interchange’s Highway 45 bridge due to excessive damage vindicated his concerns.

Despite his vote on the budget, Sullivan says same-sex couples have a “fundamental right” to the same legal benefits and responsibilities as heterosexual couples.

Sullivan worries that Tea Party radicals such as Vukmir have marginalized moderate Republicans and intimidated Democrats into inaction. As a result, he says, the Legislature failed to pass a bill promoting clean energy jobs at a time when Wisconsin should be working to cultivate renewable energy sources.

In addition to the new payday lending law, Sullivan was behind legislation mandating transparency in health care costs, strengthening penalties for drunk driving and cutting taxes on retirement accounts. He was named Legislator of the Year by the Wisconsin Professional Police Association.