“I don’t want to do knee-jerk reactions. I don’t know the facts,” – State Sen. Chris Kapenga.
State Senator Chris Kapenga (R-Delafield) said he doesn’t “know the facts” about Tony Evers’ Parole Commission chair’s now reversed decision to release a convicted wife killer early, so he’s not sure if it’s egregious enough to fire him.
“We don’t have the facts yet. I support finding out what all the facts are. Once we understand that, then I can make a decision that, yes, this is the right thing to do because he’s (John Tate’s) totally out of line,” Kapenga said.
We pointed out that the facts have been clear for weeks that killer Douglas Balsewicz stabbed his wife Johanna 42 times to death in front of their two toddler children who were left to crawl around in her blood, and Tate granted him release 24 years into an 80-year sentence before reversing himself under great pressure. We asked what Kapenga has done to get the facts, and he says he has talked to people and suggested a Judiciary Committee hearing but then admitted there is no support for that either.
Chris Kapenga indicated that he wasn’t sure yet whether the facts in the case “show that this was egregious.” He claimed the state Senate doesn’t go into session in “campaign season” and questioned whether efforts to force a special session are politically motivated. The family of victim Johanna Balsewicz has repeatedly called for the state Senate – and Evers – to act.
But he made it clear that all proposals to hold Tate accountable in the state Senate are dead in the water because they don’t have support of the “caucus” – Republicans who control that body.
Chris Kapenga added: “There’s not enough support in the caucus, Jessica, not from me, from the caucus. I support finding out the facts and based on the facts, make a decision. If the facts show that this was egregious, absolutely, there’s no debate.”
“When will you be concluding this research mission and coming forth with a proposal on this specifically?” we asked, but Kapenga, the state Senate’s president, just told us again that the Republican caucus in the state Senate doesn’t support doing anything.
Thus, it became a circular argument – he doesn’t know the facts so he won’t do anything but proposals to get the facts are going nowhere, but how hard is it really to figure out these facts?
Wisconsin Right Now went to the listening session hosted by Wisconsin State Senate President Chris Kapenga in Waukesha Wednesday evening. We wanted to know why he and other Republicans in the state Senate are protecting Tate by refusing to call the special session to fire him.
“I don’t know the facts,” Kapenga said repeatedly. “I don’t know all the facts in the case that has been referenced, I don’t, I don’t know the front end. I don’t know the back end.”
The case has received heavy media attention throughout the month of May. Almost two weeks before we confronted Kapenga, Evers urged Tate to reverse his decision under great pressure from the victim’s family, and Tate did. But Evers won’t fire Tate, and the state Senate won’t either.
Kapenga admitted; “The (Republican) caucus (in the state Senate) does not support, does not have support yet, to go back in to specifically take action on Tate.”
Chris Kapenga is one of 14 state senators who did not sign Republican Senator Roger Roth’s petition to enter into an extraordinary session to fire John Tate. A total of 7 signed on. 17 were needed to force the vote. State Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu, R-Oostburg, could call the vote on his own, but he says he won’t because it helps Evers more politically for Republicans to do nothing.
Kapenga had not responded to WRN’s request for comment via email and phone regarding the Tate issue. That’s why we went to see him in person at the town hall. When we confronted him there, he said he wanted Judiciary Committee chair Van Wanggaard to call a hearing to find out the facts but then admitted there is no support to do that either.
“I have talked to Van, and I’ve talked with the caucus and right now there’s no support in the caucus to take action.”
The three major Republican candidates for governor, Rebecca Kleefisch, Kevin Nicholson and Tim Michels have all called on the Senate and Evers to fire Tate. Kleefisch first raised the issue that Tate was never confirmed, giving the Republicans power to oust him.
The Family Response to Kapenga’s Comments
Thursday morning, a sister of Johanna Balsewicz sent an email response to Kapenga,
“Good Morning Senator Kapenga,
I saw the interview with you, Jessica and Jim, Wisconsin Right Now. My name is Karen, Johanna’s sister.
You can fire Tate right now and you WON’T because you need to know the facts???? You saw the news, you read all the articles in the paper, you saw our family on TV with all the facts. I can give you the transcripts so you HAVE THE FACTS and can make your decision. The facts are there. THOSE ARE THE FACTS. THIS IS DISGUSTING and again another Senator outright passing the buck. The facts have been out for a month now on social media and news. The facts are pretty consistent. Let me remind you of the facts from the sister of the victim,
– June 3, 1997 Doug Balsewicz breaks into Johanna’s home. Hides in the basement til late night.
– Doug goes to her bedroom and shuts the door with her and her 2 kids in the room
– Stabs her over 40 times with her 2 and 4-year-old in the room
– Leaves her half on the bed and half on the floor with her children clinging to each other
– Dying a slow death, the children made sounds to our family of the death rattle
– This happened around midnight
– The kids were found outside the next morning filled with blood, telling neighbors my moms not moving she’s filled with blood
– I was suppose to take Johanna on June 3, 1997 for her first divorce hearing. Instead, I got numerous telephone calls from family at work to say Doug murdered Johanna
– Judge Sykes recommendation in the transcripts NO EARLY RELEASE FOR DOUG BALSEWICZ. I have the transcripts.
– John Tate did not let any family member know that he granted Doug early release after only serving 24 years of an 80 year sentence. We heard it on the streets
– After weeks of putting our story on social media, news, etc We had a chance to meet with Gov. Evers. He even said this was a horrible mistake on Tate’s part to grant early release. Within an hour and half, with the pressure of Evers, the early release was rescinded
-After numerous messages and emails, John Tate didn’t call one of my family members to tell us he rescinded the early release, but he replied to a news reporter at AP. How disgusting is that.
– Johanna’s daughter lives 15 minutes away from Fox Lake Correctional where they transferred Doug, We weren’t told of the transfer either. THIS IS A MONSTER, not just someone in prison for drugs.
– TO DATE, WE HAVE HEARD NOTHING FROM JOHN TATE. No return phone calls or emails.
My parents were so afraid when Johanna came home and said she wanted to marry him. My family knew him and his family before Johanna even dated him. Doug would call my sister 50 times a day to find out where she was. He was a very controlling, drug addict, over jealous person. She was afraid of him. She asked for a divorce and Doug moved out. He came back months later to brutally murder her. Recently we heard from Doug’s brother that he came over to his house looking for a gun to kill my other sister as well. DOUG NEEDS TO BE BEHIND BARS FOREVER. If he is released he will do this again to another family. I believe some people can be rehabilitated, not DOUG. He has far more problems.
Senator Kapenga, our family is tired of everyone trying to pass the buck and not make the right decision themself. You know deep in your heart you read all the facts. ANOTHER STALL TACTIC. THINK IF THIS WAS YOUR SISTER, MOTHER, DAUGHTER. WOULD YOU FEEL THE SAME???
My family is asking everyone to step up and do their job and not pass the buck. TATE NEEDS TO BE FIRED, NOW, NOT 6 MONTHS FROM NOW. How many other dangerous prisoners has TATE left out early?? If he’s not fired now, he will let other dangerous prisoners out!
Karen, sister of Johanna Balsewicz”
Transcript of WRN Exchange With Chris Kapenga
Here is a transcript of our interview.
WRN: “We really don’t understand; we would like it explained. Why are you protecting Gov. Tony Evers’ appointee to the Wisconsin Parole Commission. You have a murder victim’s family that is in severe pain and trauma over this, that is calling, that is calling for Republicans in the state Senate to take a vote to fire Tony Evers’ nominee. Why have you not signed the Roth petition to do so, why have you not publicly called on the Senate Majority Leader Devin Lemahieu to call that vote, and why are protecting John Tate?”
Chris Kapenga. “I’m not protecting John Tate.”
WRN: “But you’re not calling for the vote, you’re not signing the petition to force it, so it’s the same thing.”
Chris Kapenga: “The lay of the land is this. The process is if an appointee, in this case Tate, has not been approved yet by the Senate, the Senate is now out of session, in order for the Senate to act, the Senate would have to go back into special session to take action. In order to do that, there has to be support in the Senate. So here’s where the caucus is at right now. The caucus does not support, does not have support yet, to go back in to specifically take action on Tate. What I think would be reasonable is to have the chairman on the Judiciary Committee, which is where the process is supposed to take place, so with appointees, you have a hearing, you find out the facts.
I don’t know all the facts in the case that has been referenced, I don’t, I don’t know the front end. I don’t know the back end, but we have committee chairs who specialize in this stuff. I think that if there’s support in the caucus we should go through the right process. I don’t want to do knee-jerk reactions. I don’t know the facts. Have the committee chair find the facts out so we understand exactly what happened and then we can take action when we know what the facts are.”
WRN: “He stabbed his wife 42 times in front of two toddler children who were left to crawl around in her blood, and then the parole commission chairman initially granted him early release 24 years into an 80-year sentence, those are the facts, and the judge opposed early release on the record for this man. When would such a committee chairman hearing happen?”
Chris Kapenga: “He can call it any time.”
WRN: “Are you calling for him to do that?”
Chris Kapenga: “I have talked to Van, and I’ve talked with the caucus and right now there’s no support in the caucus to take action.”
WRN: “So there’s no support in the caucus to take action against Tony Evers’ nominee to the parole commission, to be clear?”
Chris Kapenga: “Let’s remember whose appointee it is, and make sure we focus on who chose this person. The Senate did not choose him, we did not approve his appointment, so Tony Evers chose this person.”
WRN: “But you can fire this person.”
Chris Kapenga: “It’s very consistent with what Tony Evers has been doing with his soft-on-crime approach. Members of the caucus who have said and Devin LeMahieu issued a press release, who say Tony Evers should be the one responsible for the actions of people that he puts in office.”
WRN: “But you’re also responsible because you can fire him but you’re not. You’re not signing the Roth petition to force a vote to do so. Why not?”
Chris Kapenga: “We don’t have the facts yet. I support finding out what all the facts are. Once we understand that, then I can make a decision that, yes, this is the right thing to do because he’s totally out of line. I don’t want to play armchair quarterback based on 50, 60 70 percent of the facts. I just don’t want to do that.”
WRN: “You’ve had a week, actually it’s been a month… what have you done to find out the facts?”
Chris Kapenga: “I have asked people who are in the know. I brought up the idea of having the judiciary chair come back in and have a hearing.”
“But you’re saying Van Wanggaard won’t do that, right?”
Chris Kapenga: “There’s not enough support in the caucus, Jessica, not from me, from the caucus. I support finding out the facts and based on the facts make a decision. If the facts show that this was egregious absolutely, there’s no debate. But the third thing I want to bring up is this, this is a concern. There’s a specific reason the Senate, the legislature, we don’t go into session in campaign season.”
WRN: “Why not?”
Chris Kapenga: “Because during campaign season, we don’t want to be construed as doing things legislatively that would appear preferential to candidates who are running or that would appear beneficial to senators; in this situation, there is concern by people that this is being done for political gain. And it’s the specific reason why we are concerned about taking action on this because candidates are the one. Sen Roth is running for a public office right now.” [WRN note: Roth is running for lieutenant governor. We had heard that some state Senators did not want to join his petition because they want his political rival Sen. Pat Testin to win that race instead. Testin signed Roth’s petition at the last minute.]
WRN: “Lemahieu isn’t, and he can call the extraordinary session on his own, and he doesn’t need Roth.”
Chris Kapenga: “Yes, he could.”
WRN: “Are you calling on him to do that?”
Chris Kapenga: “No, I am calling on finding out the facts before we take action. It’s not prudent to say here are the facts I heard on the radio, and I’m going to take action on that. That’s not what our job is. Our job is to find out the facts and make good decisions on the facts. So that is what I think is a good course of action; how we should be doing it, with the other appointees that we didn’t approve, we had specific things where the caucus talked about it, and said we just aren’t comfortable with it or we going to bounce them because their actions are inappropriate. In this case, it very much appears as if Tate made terrible decisions, so let’s find out the facts behind those decisions before we make knee-jerk reactions. That’s the job of the Senate.”
WRN: “So call the vote and then do the research. Before you take the vote.”
Chris Kapenga: “Why would we call the vote Jessica when we don’t know all the facts yet. I don’t think that’s a good course of action.”
WRN: “I think the facts have been out there for some time, I think they’re easy to find.”
Chris Kapenga: “I don’t know what they are because no one has shown me here are the facts of the case and laid it out. I think we need to find that out. My job is to find that out before I just take action.”
WRN: “When will you be concluding this research mission and coming forth with a proposal on this specifically?”
Chris Kapenga: “We are talking about it in the caucus. I think Our people are calling around, but again, there’s not the support yet to call into a special session.”
WRN: “Just to be clear Republicans including yourself, in the Legislature, would prefer to leave Evers’ parole commission chair in place during I guess the campaign season even if it endangers public safety.”
Chris Kapenga: “No absolutely not. You’re putting words into my mouth.”