Republican voters in the 1st Senate district have a difficult choice ahead of them on Tuesday, May 15.
Two conservative candidates are vying for the Senate seat that was vacated at the end of the year when the highly vulnerable former Senator Frank Lasee took a position in Gov. Scott Walker’s administration. Walker was forced by three judicial rulings to call special elections for the empty 1st District seat and the 42nd Assembly seat, where another Republican took a job in the Walker administration.
In this corner we have three-term Assemblyman Andre Jacque, 37, representing the 2nd Assembly District within the 1st Senate District. Some say he is the most conservative member of the legislature, and he is probably best known for his anti-abortion stances, as well as several other moves that have caused his legislative colleagues to passively oppose Jacque’s candidacy by endorsing his challenger. While not a single one of his colleagues has spoken against his candidacy, they have extolled the virtues of his opponent.
And in this corner, 24-year-old Alex Renard, a fourth-generation member in a family business in Green Bay, Renco Machine Co.
Here is a quote from a joint statement endorsing this political newcomer from five sitting legislators, including our own Rep. Joel Kitchens, and two retired lawmakers: “Alex is a proven conservative leader with the knowledge and experience to get things done. His conservative principles, his fresh perspective, and his determination to take action make him an ideal candidate. We firmly believe that Alex is the most capable candidate in the race for Wisconsin’s 1st State Senate District…”
Some maintain that Renard’s campaign was launched with the help of Republican insiders who wanted to stop Jacque from being elected to the Senate in the staunchly Republican district (the fact that Renard wasn’t even living in the district when Lasee resigned in December might support that supposition).
Everything about this race is historic. It took three judicial slapdowns of the Walker administration before the elections were even called. All three times a different judge said the administration’s defense of the two districts going without representation for that length of time was absurd.
So now we have the primary on Tuesday, and the special election on June 12, where Tuesday’s Republican winner will face off against Democratic candidate Caleb Frostman, who last month resigned from his position as executive director of the Door County Economic Development Corporation to make a run for a political office that has been owned by Republicans for 41 years.
But what makes this race even more interesting is that whoever wins next month, and probably whoever loses, too, will run again for the same office in the November election.
Both Jacque and Renard say it only makes sense that they are in for the double run, no matter what happens on May 15. Filing deadline for the November election is June 1.
What makes things even more interesting – young Alex Renard has won the considerable financial backing of the Republican Party, yet without the approval of longtime Republicans such as former 1st District Assemblyman Garey Bies, whose letter about his problems with the conduct of this race is also in this issue.
Yet Jacque is not without his supporters, including many town board chairs and supervisors in the district and much of law enforcement throughout northeast Wisconsin, including Door County Sheriff Steve Delarwelle and Kewaunee County Sheriff Matt Joski. And on his team is former Sen. Alan Lasee, the man who held the 1st Senate seat from 1977 to 2011. He serves as Jacque’s campaign treasurer.
Renard presents himself as the conservative outsider. So does Jacque, and he points to the non-endorsement by his colleagues as testament to his true outsider status. We recently sat down separately with both candidates.
At 37, Andre Jacque is amused to be the “graybeard” in the race for the 1st Senate District seat.
“I’m still considered part of the millennial caucus, the future caucus,” he said.
What is not so funny to him is that his primary opponent is calling himself a conservative outsider when Jacque considers himself to be the true conservative outsider.
“To be called a career politician or some of the rhetoric that’s flying around there, I’m as far away from a creature of Madison as you can get,” he said.
Jacque also points out that his Republican challenger only recently moved into the 1st Senate District.
“My primary opponent essentially moved into the district to run against me. I think that’s maybe more of a result of other factors in terms of people wanting somebody that is a little less independent,” he said. “One of the greater frustrations of this race, I have an opponent with significant resources running on generalities. There are not a lot of specifics on where he stands. He’s not tied to a particular stance on any particular piece of legislation. I look at having my reputation and conservative record as a strength. People know where I stand. I will be able to explain where I stand on every issue.”
Jacque got his start in politics behind the scenes, working on Mark Green’s successful 8th Congressional run in 1998. Even before that, he admits to being addicted to C-SPAN, where you can watch the slow process of government happen.
“I’ve always been both a policy wonk and a political junkie,” he said.
That interest led him to working behind the scenes on the campaigns of others. Jacque also admits that he was an introvert.
“I could write a speech, but I didn’t want to be the one delivering it. I was always kind of a shy kid,” he said.
But at one point he realized that the greatest way to make change is not by giving advice to other people running for office, but to run for office himself.
“Politics has also brought me out of the my comfort zone in a good way,” he said. “It forces me to engage with people in a way that has helped me to better understand where people are at and find solutions to real world problems. I see it as a way to give back, a way to make an impact for your neighbors, and I use that term broadly for the people of northeastern Wisconsin.”
Jacque refers to his parents as heroes, and he conducts himself as though his mother were watching.
“I just try never to do anything that would make my mom cringe,” he said.
But he has certainly caused some of his legislative colleagues to cringe. Five sitting northeastern lawmakers and two recently retired legislators endorsed Jacque’s opponent.
“It’s been no secret that I’ve ruffled some feathers and stepped on some toes down in Madison, and I don’t apologize for that,” Jacque said. “I represent myself honestly and respectfully to my colleagues. I’m not necessarily going to play some of the political games or go along just to get along. As far as any of the endorsements, my opponent is saying that he is a conservative outsider that’s endorsed by the Assembly majority leader and the chair of the Finance Committee. If you look at some of the issues, I think that shows who the real outsider conservative in the race is, and I think it’s me.
“All across the board, I’m not beholden to a particular person or group,” he continued. “The way you have to conduct yourself in office is the way my mom always taught me – act as if everybody is always listening, that way you’re not pandering to one group or another. Personally, vote or act as if the only thing that depends on it is your conscience.”
Alex Renard is obviously proud of his family history and the Green Bay-based fabrication business that he was born into. He started out in the business at the age of 15 with a summer job of cleaning toilets and washing walls.
In 2011 Renard’s father, Rick, bought the business from his parents, Donald and Sandra. The purchase included consolidating from three locations to one.
“Shortly after that, I was put in charge of the floor and redid the management team,” Renard said.
Last spring Renard’s father was diagnosed with cancer for a second time (he is now clear). Alex Renard was put in charge. He called the management team together and told them no matter what, they had to deal with things internally and not bother his father as he recovered. He also told them that he wanted to prove himself by making the company better than it was when his dad left it in his hands.
He said the company has been able to enter some new markets and add some new equipment and has invested nearly $3 million back into the business in the past three years. The employee numbers grew from the mid 50s to 76 people.
“I want to get us up to 80 by the end of the summer,” he said.
Renard is the first member of his family to enter politics.
“I want to bring a revitalized approach to leadership,” he said. “Someone who is not a career politician, someone who is not looking to be a career politician, someone who will listen to people, that brings private sector experience and also to seriously bring people together,” he said.
Asked why he thinks his challenger’s legislative colleagues endorsed him instead of their colleague, Renard said, “I think they recognize my ability to accomplish and get things done, someone they can work with and someone who will work with constituents, not someone trying to build a career or a resume but someone to help the people in the district.”
Renard has issued several press releases stating his Madison outsider status and how he wants to work for government reform.
“Everyone talks about government reform. I want change to start with me,” he said.
He said the first bill he will introduce if elected is to deny pay to
legislators if they are unable to pass a budget.
He also pledged to return his entire 2018 legislative salary to the state and not claim any per diem for the year. (A state Senator receives an annual salary of $50,950 and a per diem of $113 for food and lodging expenses for each day spent in Madison.)
“The State Senate has gone home for the year and I don’t think it’s right to take salary and claim expenses until they reconvene next year,” he said.
Renard said he would also like to see a Constitutional amendment to put term limits on the position of governor and legislator.
“This isn’t just campaign rhetoric,” Renard said. “This is me and what I plan to do down the road.”
Renard refers to himself as the conservative outsider candidate, but so does his Republican opponent. How are they different?
“I think some of the stances we take,” he said. “I’m running as a conservative outsider, someone from the real world, someone from the private sector. I think my job creation experience, proven experience does that, the stance I’m taking and the promises I’m making.”
He points to the Sparsity Aid Bill that Gov. Walker signed in March that increases payments per pupil from $300 to $400 beginning in the 2018-19 school year.
“My primary opponent voted against the sparsity aid bill that thankfully passed,” Renard said. “Children are our future. Education is incredibly important.”
He would also push for better rural broadband service.
“I think the state really needs to step up in the rural areas,” Renard said “The lack of broadband and internet is truly killing small town Wisconsin. I grew up in small town Wisconsin. The state needs to do more there.”