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Do voters care where money comes from?


Waukesha Freeman 6/18/2015 Page A6 Opinion

Do voters care where money comes from?

Special interests support Kapenga; Dorow mostly raises donations close to home

Tuesday is Election Day in Waukesha. Again. This time it is the Republican primary in the 33rd state Senate District. When the audio book version of this column comes out I’ll have Bill Murray read it with Punxsutawney Phil making sound effects in the background.

There are two leading candidates for the Republican nomination: state Rep. Chris Kapenga and Waukesha County Technical College Associate Dean Brian Dorow. The winner of the Republican nomination will likely win the special general election. Continuing the “Groundhog Day” theme, this is a rematch of the two candidates. Kapenga defeated Dorow when he ran for state Assembly in 2010. This is also Kapenga’s second run for this Senate seat after an unsuccessful run in 2012.

The special election is necessary because current state Sen. Paul Farrow is resigning in July to assume his duties as Waukesha County executive full time. I’m sure it’s not true that Gov. Scott Walker was reluctant to call the special election because it was “cheaper to keep Farrow.”

Voters making a decision on Tuesday have a hard choice to make. Both Kapenga and Dorow are conservatives. Both are pro-life. Both are in favor of repealing the prevailing wage law. Both are opposed to the Bucks arena deal, although Kapenga stepped back from his earlier promise to vote against the budget if the arena was included.

Republican voters could simply decide it is Kapenga’s turn. A number of analysts, me included, almost assumed Kapenga was going to move up with little opposition. I was looking forward to writing about the special election to replace Kapenga.

Kapenga’s experience as a state representative in Madison works in his favor. It would certainly be a rare upset election, if not unprecedented, for a nonpolitician like Dorow to defeat a sitting state representative for an open state Senate seat in Wisconsin.

Finally, voters could decide that because of Kapenga’s leadership on the right-to-work bill that he deserves a promotion to the state Senate. Predictably, and with justification, Kapenga has made support of right-to-work an important part of his campaign.

As a member of “the CPA caucus,” Kapenga was partially responsible for finding the $648 million University of Wisconsin slush fund. It’s certainly an indicator of the kind of conservative state senator he will be.

However, Kapenga’s experience also cuts against him. Kapenga was among a group of legislators who endorsed arresting federal officials who attempted to implement Obamacare in Wisconsin. The idea is an extreme form of “nullification” of federal laws within a state, a concept discredited before the Civil War. WTMJ’s Charlie Sykes called it an example of “crackpotism” on the right.

Kapenga’s campaign has received quite a bit of special interest support from outside of the district. While raising $140,000 in the last campaign finance reporting period, Kapenga has received contributions from the chiropractors, insurance interests, telephone interests, the realtors, the Tavern League, MillerCoors, the potato growers, the grocers, the pharmacists, the forestry and paper products PAC and, my favorite, the Wisconsin Amusement & Music Operators.

I know what the chiropractors are hoping for. They would like to be considered primary care physicians despite the specialized nature of their care and their lack of medical school education. But does anyone know why potato growers and “amusement and music operators” care about who represents the 33rd state Senate district?

On the flip side, Dorow has raised most of his money from within the district. In a previous column I criticized Dorow for publicly announcing that he would not accept PAC money. Given the hostility to free speech for conservatives under the cover of “campaign finance reform,” I still believe Dorow’s statement was poorly timed and opportunistic pandering. Nonetheless, he kept his promise and raised over $67,000 from mostly within the district.

This difference between the two candidates is also reflected in the endorsements. Kapenga has added a number of Waukesha County endorsements recently, but more of Dorow’s endorsements can actually vote for him.

Just for fun an argument could be made that voters could vote for both candidates. By electing Dorow to the state Senate, voters would still get to keep Kapenga in the state Assembly. It’s a special election so he is not giving up his seat to run.

However, I suspect voters will be less strategic in their voting this Tuesday. The election should be very close.

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

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