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Will Kapenga flip on arena?


Waukesha Freeman 6/11/2015 Page A6 Opinion

Will Kapenga flip on arena?

Kapenga keeps ’em — and us — guessing

Is state Rep. Chris Kapenga on the verge of a flip-flop on the proposal to publicly fund a new arena for the Milwaukee Bucks? What will the voters in the special election for state Senate in the 33rd District think?

Last week, Kapenga made it pretty clear that he opposed the public financing deal for the Milwaukee Bucks. He also went a step further and said, “The budget as it’s currently structured today and assuming it includes the arena proposal, would not earn my support.”

That was a pretty bold statement, promising not to vote for the budget if it included the Milwaukee Bucks arena proposal. At the time I believe no other legislator had made such a statement publicly.

That was then.

In an interview on Tuesday with Wisconsin Eye about his campaign for state Senate, Kapenga said that he will possibly vote for the state budget, including state funding for a Milwaukee Bucks arena, if the budget also includes substantial savings from reforming prevailing wage.

Kapenga added, “I never draw a hard line on a single issue.”

I emailed the Kapenga campaign to explain the apparent contradiction and this was the reply: “The budget as it’s constructed doesn’t contain prevailing wage. His statement last week was based on the current status, per the Wisconsin Eye interview he was merely providing a potential pathway for earning his approval.”

Let’s walk through this step by step. Kapenga may be correct when he has said repeatedly the amount of savings in the construction costs from prevailing wage repeal could be more than the state’s proposed contribution. He thinks it would render the question moot.

However, even if the state contribution were eliminated from the equation, the proposed district board governing the new arena will still be raising and extending taxes on hotel rooms and taxi fares. The state will still be collecting debts owed to Milwaukee County, which will be used to pay off borrowing to pay for the arena. The county will still be trying to sell the land next to the arena for $1.

If none of this sounds conservative to you, it doesn’t to me, either.

But that’s not even Kapenga’s new position. In the Wisconsin Eye interview, he said that he would support a state budget even if it included a state subsidy for a new Milwaukee Bucks arena as long as the budget saved more from prevailing wage reform.

So let’s just say it’s fair when Kapenga says he never draws “a hard line on a single issue.” He just draws multiple hard lines on multiple issues and soon his position becomes a scribble.

Kapenga told the interviewer that one of the reasons people in the 33rd Senate District should vote for him is that they know what he is going to do in the Senate due to his Assembly experience. “The other candidates can only say, ‘This is what I will do.’ It is the difference between action and words.”

But as Kapenga keeps talking about the proposed arena for the Milwaukee Bucks, we’re engaged in an asymptotic search for his actual position. We may come close but we’ll never know what it actually is.


One of the interesting problems of early voting is making up your mind too soon. In the special election for the 33rd Senate District, primary election day is June 23. However, you can vote in your municipality right now. Ballots are already being cast.

Let’s say you already voted for Kapenga based upon his previous position opposing inclusion of the Milwaukee Bucks in the state budget. Now you learn he may still vote for the state budget even though public funding for a new arena may be included.

Guess what: It’s too late. The clerk can’t issue you another ballot. Your vote is in the bank for Kapenga. All you can do is hope that he reverts to his original position.

When you’re voting early, buyer beware.

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

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