Monday, August 26th, 2019

Dick Leinenkugel, no apologies


Publication: Waukesha Freeman (Conley); Date: Apr 22, 2010; Section: Opinion; Page: 8A

Trouble on tap for Leinenkugel?
Candidate might fall flat

(James Wigderson is a blogger publishing at and a Waukesha resident. His column runs Thursdays in The Freeman.)

When Dick Leinenkugel stepped down as Gov. Jim Doyle’s fourth Commerce secretary, speculation immediately began about whether he would run for governor as a Democrat. After all, it had been rumored for much of last year that Leinenkugel would take on Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett in the Democratic primary.

Then came word Leinenkugel was going to go in a different direction. He is considering running for the U.S. Senate in the Republican primary, hoping to take on Sen. Russ Feingold in November. Leinenkugel is expecting to announce his decision in May.

Local radio talk show host Charlie Sykes said, “I can almost not imagine a worse credential for a Republican candidate than having been sucking up to Jim Doyle for the last few years.” Further down the dial, Mark Belling was even more critical, referring to the three Republicans so far running for the Senate as, “Tweedle Dee, Tweedle Dum, and Tweedle Dem,” the last referring to Leinenkugel.

Republicans should not expect Leinenkugel to apologize for taking the job of Commerce secretary. In a conversation Monday night, Leinenkugel said he did not see the appointment as going to work for a Democrat. He says he saw it as going to work for the state of Wisconsin, and as an opportunity to give back to the state.

In response to the talk radio hosts, Leinenkugel says both Sykes and Belling were demanding the party recruit a candidate that, “has name recognition, the ability to raise the money to win, and is somebody that can win against Russ Feingold. I’m that guy.”

Leinenkugel is being attacked by a candidate already in the race, Terrence Wall. Wall has an Internet ad out that attacks Leinenkugel as a liberal who resided over the doubling of the unemployment rate and 166,900 jobs lost. The ad accuses Leinenkugel of helping to write the last state budget that raised taxes and fees $3.5 billion. Wall has also attacked Leinenkugel for his role in the deal that brought train manufacturer Talgo to Wisconsin.

Leinenkugel does not apologize for his track record, except to point out that he was announced as Doyle’s fourth Commerce secretary on Sept. 5. By the time he took office on the 29th, the financial collapse that caused the recession was in full swing.

But as Commerce secretary, Leinenkugel says he was able to include in the state budget a job tax credit that he says was used to help a Wisconsin business save 275 jobs.

Leinenkugel also said he was able to change the enterprise tax credit to allow job retention to be counted, and this was used to help save the jobs at Mercury Marine. The same credit was used to help Oshkosh Corp. remain competitive enough to win a $3 billion contract, and assist Republic Airways in moving their call center and maintenance to Wisconsin.

As far as Talgo, Leinenkugel defends the deal, saying, “What was I, as Commerce secretary, supposed to do? Tell Talgo we don’t want the jobs?”

Leinenkugel says he’s opposed to building the high-speed train from Milwaukee to Madison right now because there are other budget priorities. But if we are going to have a high-speed rail system, better that the trains are built here in Wisconsin.

Given the choices currently on offer for Republicans: Wall, Watertown small-business owner Dave Westlake and now Leinenkugel, it would be easy to see pragmatic voting for Leinenkugel as the one candidate that can beat Feingold.

But state Sen. Ted Kanavas may be jumping into the contest this weekend. A pro-business, conservative legislator from Wisconsin’s most important county for Republican primary votes could be a formidable opponent.

Oshkosh businessman Ron Johnson is also considering jumping into the race, and it’s believed that he could self-fund his campaign as much as Wall.

If both candidates get in, Leinenkugel will need to ask himself if he will be able to win a Republican primary in the era of tea parties on name recognition.

We’ll see if Leinenkugel can re-brand himself to make an appeal to conservative primary voters. Leinenkugel original, while bold and unapologetic, is not going to go down smooth.


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