Construction company CEO Tim Michels is likely to run for governor, although no one is certain whether he will announce Thursday or next week – although the buzz is growing. However, if he does launch a campaign, he needs to answer key questions important to many conservatives, namely about his positions on right to work, prevailing wage, the gas tax, the “Scott Holes” campaign against former Gov. Scott Walker, and unions.
Especially unions. A 2015 article in the Daily Reporter called Michels Corp. “one of the largest union companies in the state.” That article was headlined, “Will the construction industry take vengeance on GOP in 2016?”
We sent these questions to Tim Michels through his company. If we get a response, we will publish it. Later in this story, we will outline the facts that are driving concern among some conservatives over these topics.
1. What is your position on Right to Work legislation?
2. What is your position on prevailing wage?
3. Do you support unions? What percentage of employees working for your company are union workers?
4. Do you support Act 10?
5. Did you have any involvement in the “Scott Holes” campaign and what?
6. Can you explain your ties to the union, Operating Engineers 139 Local? How many of your employees belong to it?
7. Your company has had more than $1.3 billion in state contracts since 2008. How would you isolate yourself from that as governor?
8. Who is pushing your candidacy? There are rumors that road builders’ lobbyists like John Gard are urging you to run. Are the “road builders” behind your candidacy? Is this so? Does it matter?
9. Do you believe Scott Walker mismanaged the transportation budget? How as governor would you be different than Scott Walker on transportation funding?
10. Do you support raising the gas tax? Indexing?
11. Is there anything you want voters to know on these topics?
12. Is it true you are the largest union employer in the state? Is that good or bad?
13. How many jobs has Michels Corp. created for the state since you helped lead it?
14. Do you agree or disagree with the statement that your campaign would be pushed by the roadbuilders?
15. What is your position on the Paul Castle Right to Work lawsuit? Why was he fired?
16. Michels Corp is on the board of WTBA, the Wisconsin Transportation Builders Association, which supported Governor Evers’ gas tax hikes and indexing. Do you support their agenda?
17. The Wisconsin Contractor Coalition lobbied against four bills in 2016, and all were related to prevailing wage or Right to Work. Why would you want to be affiliated with such a group?
We look forward to the answers.
To be sure, when he ran for U.S. Senate against Russ Feingold, Tim Michels articulated a host of conservative positions, according to a 2004 article in the Eau Claire Leader-Telegram. He supported the Patriot Act, opposed gay marriage, did not support extending the assault weapon ban, was opposed to embryonic stem cell research, said he did not support any exceptions to abortion because “from conception to natural death, life is a gift from God…”, supported making President Bush’s tax cuts permanent, and said he supported the No Child Left Behind Act.
However, there are those who see a Tim Michels’ campaign as part of roadbuilders’, lobbyists’, and some unions’ continuing efforts to derail the collective bargaining reforms and transportation funding/gas tax positions of former Gov. Scott Walker, and, now, his lieutenant governor, Rebecca Kleefisch. Walker’s son is a key strategist on Kleefisch’s campaign, and the former governor has endorsed her. There are others who believe Walker sacrificed good governing on transportation funding issues for a “no tax increase ever” headline.
Tim Michels should clearly explain his position.
A Tim Michels’ candidacy would certainly shake up the race in a big way, for both Kleefisch and former Marine Kevin Nicholson especially. To be sure, they both have their own challenges; Kleefisch would need to get back independents Walker lost in the past election and struggles with authenticity at times, perhaps the result of a persona honed on broadcast television. She has not sealed the deal, as evidenced by the other candidates constantly jockeying for position.
Nicholson has been unable to gain major traction in polls and is angering some base conservatives with his attacks on the party; big spending for him is anticipated and could change the calculus. Both also have their positives; Kleefisch has a tenacity and consistency on conservative values and has raised millions of dollars. Nicholson is a combat veteran who could have real crossover appeal. Tim Ramthun is out there in the wings too.
On paper, Tim Michels has got a lot of positives. He’s CEO of one of the largest construction companies in the state (43rd largest construction company and one of the top 10 utility construction companies in North America, according to Michels Corp’s website). It is a family-owned company with deep ties to Wisconsin and is a proven job creator.
He’s never been a politician in an era when that plays, although he’s unsuccessfully tried to be one before (losing a Senate race to Russ Feingold, most notably). He’s a former Army Ranger. He has two master’s degrees and spent 12 years in the Army. He’s a big GOP donor who could possibly get Donald Trump’s endorsement (which is important in a GOP primary). Sure, he has a one-off donation to former Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle, but that was many years ago.
His company bid to help build the border wall, helped reconstruct I-94, and was chosen to perform some of the FoxConn construction. His firm was picked to help build the Keystone XL pipeline, and he urged Biden to restore it. Michels was involved in building northern Wisconsin’s Line 5 oil-and-gas pipeline.
The company gets some mixed reviews on online sites, which isn’t surprising for a company that large, although the reviewers make one thing clear: “At Michaels pipeline it is a union company…” and “Michels pipeline company is a union outfit…” and “Union contractors, hired through union hall.” But another commenter wrote, “Hires both union and non union employees for their work.”
Employing 8,000 people, Michels Corp. describes itself as “one of the largest, most diversified utility contractors in North America.” Michels’ father started the company in 1959. It’s headquartered in Brownsville, Wisconsin.
Some questions people throw out about Tim Michels strike us as easily dispensed with; for example, people have pointed out that he’s been away from politics for about 18 years (last running for U.S. Senate). However, he can simply argue that he was out creating jobs while Evers damaged the state and isn’t a career politician. It’s an anti-establishment era.
However, there are a number of questions that Tim Michels should answer if he wants to be the GOP’s nominee against the failed Evers’ administration as we outlined above. We are not picking a horse in the GOP primary for governor; however, we are committed to educating Republican primary voters about their choices, especially when it comes to their adherence to conservative principles. Not vetting candidates is what got us Brian Hagedorn.
Here’s the information causing concern:
The Wisconsin Contractor Coalition
Tim Michels should explain his association with the political and policy organization, the Wisconsin Contractor Coalition. And he should explain his positions on prevailing wage and right to work.
What is the Wisconsin Contractor Coalition? Its website once explained that it is an informal group of businesses “united in their support of Wisconsin’s Prevailing Wage Law.” That group of businesses has included the Michels Corporation.
Prevailing wage is a concept supported by unions because it grows their power, making it harder for companies to pay non-union workers less in a competitive environment.
The Wisconsin Contractor Coalition lobbied against four bills in 2016, and all were related to prevailing wage or Right to Work. Why would Michels want to be affiliated with such a group?
Right to Work
The coalition lobbied against Assembly Bill 32, which would have eliminated the requirement that workers on public works projects be paid the prevailing wage. They also lobbied against a bill that would prohibit belonging to a labor union as a condition of employment.
Why is the Michels Corporation involved in CBG (Construction Business Group), which fights for high gas taxes and prevailing wage. It and the other group have been described by some conservatives as “left-wing.”
The group’s mission statements says, “Our purpose, as a Joint Labor-Management company, is to enhance business opportunities and a quality of life by ensuring fairness, equity and standards of excellence in the construction industry of Wisconsin.” One of the management trustees for the group is Murray Luedtke of Michels Corporation. He’s been listed as the company’s assistant vice president.
The Construction Business Group has lobbied against common-sense reforms supported by conservatives, such as prevailing wage reform.
They also lobbied against a bill ‘preventing the state or local governments from requiring any person to accept certain collective bargaining provisions or waive its rights under the National Labor Relations Act or state labor law” among other measures.
What is Right to Work?
Right to Work legislation gives workers the freedom to choose whether or not to join a union in the workplace. The law makes it optional for employees in unionized workplaces to pay for union dues or other membership fees required for union representation, whether they are in the union or not. Wisconsin is a Right to Work state.
Does Michels repudiate the infamous “Scott Holes” campaign that might have cost Scott Walker the election, getting Evers in office in the first place? Did he have anything to do with it?
CBG, which Michels Corp. is involved in as noted above, lists as a “partner organization” the union Operating Engineers 139 Local. That union was publicly behind the “Scott Holes” ads of 2018 that may have cost Governor Walker the election. We would note that the union had endorsed Walker in 2010 before souring on him, and that Michels has been a Walker donor over the years. In 2014, seven members of the Michels’ family, including Tim, each gave Walker $10,000, for example. Michels Corp. and Michels and his wife have been heavy Walker donors.
In 2018, The Daily Reporter wrote, “A union-led advertising campaign lampooning Gov. Scott Walker over road funding is expanding amid a close governor’s race in which transportation has become a big topic of debate.”
Congratulations all Scottholes fans, not only did we replace Governor Scott-holes, we are being considered for campaign ad of the year!
If you loved the Scott-holes ads, please follow the link and vote for Scottholes!https://t.co/p9AXs78JCm pic.twitter.com/MTU2RNO47c
— Scott Holes (@ScottHolesWI) December 20, 2018
That story mentions Terry McGowan, the head of Operating Engineers 139 Local. “In a press release on Wednesday, Terry McGowan, president of Local 139, referred to a report from the liberal group One Wisconsin Now that found Walker had spent more than $800,000 on flights on a state-owned plane between September 2015 and April 2018,” it says.
We’ve heard that one person pushing Michels behind the scenes is former Assembly leader John Gard, who is currently a registered lobbyist for Operating Engineers 139 Local. McGowan is listed as a labor trustee for CBG.
— Scott Holes (@ScottHolesWI) October 27, 2018
That union also helped fund an organization that tried to flip Senate seats for Democrats; the group ran ads for a Democratic Senate candidate in Wisconsin (Mark Harris) against Republican Dan Feyen, and also opposed Republican Luther Olsen in his Senate district, according to the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign.
BizJournals reported of Keystone, “Michels and Precision Pipeline would have hired Wisconsin union tradespeople for the projects, said Terrance McGowan, president and business manager of the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 139, located in Pewaukee.”
The Daily Reporter indicated that construction trades grew disenchanted with Walker and some Republicans when they took money out of the road building budget because Walker would not raise vehicle registration fees. The budget for “vertical construction” was “whittled down into one of the smallest in recent memory” the article says, a side effect “of the governor’s original plan to rely heavily on borrowing to pay for transportation projects.”
According to the Daily Reporter, John Gard was central in this effort when he lobbied for the operating engineers “against both right-to-work and the prevailing wage.”
Critics of the GOP argued Republicans should not roll back “prevailing wages while providing no new revenue for road building,” according to the article.
The Daily Reporter wrote that the union believed Walker’s claim that he spent more than $3 billion more than Doyle on roads ignored the “effects of inflation” and counted some “borrowed money” twice.
Gas Tax Increases & Indexing
Michels Corp is on the board of WTBA, the Wisconsin Transportation Builders Association, which supported Governor Evers’ gas tax hikes and indexing. What is his position on gas tax increases and indexing? Two members of its board, including its 2nd vice president, work for Michels Corp. In this story, WTBA squared off against Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce over the gas tax. The group also weighed in on a federal gas tax here.
Tim Michels should explain a 2015 lawsuit involving right to work and his company in Colorado. “A former Michels Corporation construction worker in Colorado has won a settlement from a Brownsville, Wisconsin-based company and a Colorado-based union for violating his rights and illegally firing him,” reads the article by the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation.
The man, Paul Castle, alleged that union officials demanded he become a full dues-paying member. Colorado lacked Right to Work protections, and the article claims that he was fired by Michels Corp., which then deducted union dues from his final paycheck. He received $6,400 in a settlement.
The article describes Tim Michels as “the leader of a coalition opposed to passage of Right to Work protections in Wisconsin.”
According to Open Book, Michels Corp. has received more than $1.3 billion in state contracts since 2008. As governor, how would Tim Michels isolate himself from such a complex web of state contracts?