It’s time for Wisconsin Right Now’s annual winners and rising stars of 2022. We took a look back at the news stories and people that hit the news, and we asked our readers on the question, and we’ve selected the WRN winners and rising stars of the year.
To be honest, there were a lot of negatives this year, most stemming from the failed leadership of Democrats like Joe Biden, Tony Evers, and Democratic officials in the City of Milwaukee. Gas prices rose, inflation skyrocketed, homicide hit record levels (again), COVID-era academic fallout was apparent, the licensing system was a mess, the jail and prison system are falling apart, Milwaukee courts are backlogged, the media’s bias has never been more obvious and glaring, and cities and families suffered. Yet somehow Republicans still lost some key races at the ballot box, largely because Democrats figured out how to outspend them, and the biased media gave them endless cover.
Some positive trends emerged, however, in the midst of all the gloom; the defund/abolish the police movement crashed and burned (as evidenced by all of the Democratic candidates running from it at election time) and the Republican National Convention is coming to Milwaukee.
In the midst of it all, some people stood out. In fact, when you break it all down, there’s a lot to be optimistic and happy about, and these people are a big part of the reason why. It’s interesting when you look back at April 2022, after the spring elections, how many victories conservatives were enjoying, and how much momentum was on their side.
Our tireless tipsters and readers also deserve a shout out; you know who you are. Many would make the list, but many need to stay anonymous due to their jobs. They give us some of our best stories.
Here are our 31 winners and rising stars:
1. The family of Johanna Balsewicz & Other Victims’ Family Members Who Stood Up: It Was Their Year
We got to know the family members of murder victim Johanna Balsewicz last spring, when they single-handedly forced Gov. Tony Evers to pressure his abysmal Parole Commission chairman John Tate to rescind Johanna’s killer’s parole and then resign.
This family is ferocious, they are courageous, extremely determined, extremely caring, and they were amazing to watch in action. Johanna’s siblings and her daughter are extraordinary people. They aren’t all conservatives; it wasn’t political to them. It was about justice. It was about doing what was right.
The family did Johanna proud. They gave her a voice from the grave, and their efforts helped improve how victims’ families are notified about paroles in Wisconsin.
And Douglas Balsewicz is still in prison.
We also want to give a shout out to Maryann Gehring, the mother of the victim of the infamous Halloween killer, who spoke out about Attorney General Josh Kaul ignoring her, and Ray Ziebell and Jeanine Peters, murder victims’ siblings whose powerful ads in the governor’s race helped shape that narrative. The news media egregiously tried to censor the voices of Peters and Gehring in particular.
Tim Erickson, the son of murder victim Susan Erickson, told us he was a Democrat, but he courageously spoke out about the parole of his mother’s killer and about victims’ rights because, again, it was the right thing to do. Helena Collura Ewer, the daughter of slain Milwaukee police officer Rosario Collura, has also consistently spoken out for Milwaukee police officers, keeping her father’s legacy alive.
It should have been the year of the victim, but the liberal media shamefully did everything they could to downplay or silence these voices. We recognize them here.
2. U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson
Of all the prizes on the November 2022 ballot, the re-election of U.S. Senator Ron Johnson was among the most impactful. Johnson defeated a barrage of biased and aggressively negative liberal media coverage (especially from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel) of the likes this state has never seen. He did so by being consistent in his beliefs, folksy in his demeanor, courageous in his positions, by having an awful opponent, and by running a picture perfect campaign.
There’s no question that the Johnson victory was a highlight of the year. Johnson was one of the only Senate Republicans to win in 2022 in a battleground state.
3. Derrick Van Orden
The former Navy SEAL with five combat deployments (!) also ran a picture perfect campaign, defeating biased liberal media attacks, to flip a Congressional seat in western Wisconsin that was held by a Democrat (Ron Kind) for 26 years. He is hard-working, a prolific fundraiser, a courageously outspoken and pragmatic conservative with rock-solid principles, and he has a stellar resume.
Van Orden reaches out to all voters, but he’s an unabashed defender of conservative values. “My message is very pure and simple. We want freedom, we want prosperity and we want security,” he said after his victory. He ran one of the best campaigns in the country. He will be important to statewide efforts with his profile in the swing area out west.
4. Brian Schimming
Brian Schimming has been deeply involved in championing Wisconsin ideals in this state for years (working in the Legislature, for a non-profit, on talk radio, in the Walker and Tommy Thompson administration etc.). He’s an easy choice for a winner of the year – and a rising star – because he was recently elected chairman of the Wisconsin Republican Party. We’ve gotten to know Schimming from our time appearing as a guest on WISN 1130-AM when he’s filling in, and Wisconsin politics doesn’t have a more informed and goodhearted figure.
In fact, Brian might be the only person we know that everyone likes. He’s earned it.
This genial attitude coupled with shrewd analytical abilities and a historical wealth of knowledge will help Schimming glue together the fractious conservative movement, and he’s even managed to tame the liberal media coming out of the gate. He’s got a tall order and is correctly focusing on rebuilding the GOP’s fundraising operations. This is imperative. The liberal Milwaukee Journal Sentinel noted that state Democrats “posted a more than 2 to 1 fundraising margin over Republicans in two recent election cycles.” If anyone can get the conservative movement back on tracks in Wisconsin, we believe it is Schimming. He’s focusing on the right things: Money and early voting. Republicans need to beat the Democrats at their game.
RedState wrote, “Every Republican Party Chair in the Country Should Follow the New Wisconsin GOP Head’s Lead.”
Schimming said in an interview, “I’m not here to milk sacred cows. And, if it’s working, we enhance it. If it’s not working, it goes out to the curb.” Of early voting, his quote in an interview was, “We can’t keep walking into Election Day 100,000-200,000 votes down and expect we’re going to make it up in 13 hours between 7 a.m. and 8 p.m.”
5. Milwaukee Criminals
Sorry for injecting a negative entry into the list of uplifting ones, but an honest reckoning means that Milwaukee criminals must be given a winners of the year spot. Let’s make the case.
Milwaukee police are not being properly funded or staffed, meaning that there are fewer patrol officers to pull criminals over and fewer detectives to catch them. The ACLU-fueled Collins Agreement is destroying proactive policing. The do-nothing Violence Prevention Office is getting millions of dollars that could have gone to police. The police chief seems more worried about scrubbing out references to the thin blue line than catching criminals.
When they are caught, criminals aren’t going to be booked into the messed-up jail on misdemeanor or municipal warrants anymore, meaning they basically get to defy the system. If caught and police refer charges, there’s at least a 60% chance that the Milwaukee County DA won’t charge them, and they will probably get out on low bail or just be given a piece of paper telling them to report to court. Their case may pend for two years in the backlogged court system, giving them plenty of time to commit new offenses.
If by some chance they are convicted, they’re likely to get a weak judge (maybe a former public defender appointed by Tony Evers) and probably a slap on the wrist (check out some of liberal Supreme Court candidate Janet Protasiewicz’s weak sentences as cases in point.)
If they somehow end up in prison, they have a great chance of qualifying for Tony Evers’ lax early release program, greatly expanded under his tenure, or they might even score one of his pardons, which have reached record levels! That’s especially true if they are repeat drunk drivers or drug dealers. While in prison, they will be called kindly euphemisms like “persons in our care.”
Once back on the streets, perhaps on probation, parole or extended supervision, they will be able to commit new crimes while not getting revoked, and drug testing won’t matter anymore.
Throughout it all, the liberal media will write puffy, feel-good stories about their rights. The criminals won’t even get the blame for rising crime! The media will blame rising crime on COVID, guns, shared revenue, Republicans (!) and racial discrimination.
So, yes, it’s impossible not to admit that Milwaukee inmates are the winners of the year! Unfortunately.
6. The GOP grassroots
We’ve come to know many members in the conservative grassroots through our reporting and examination of the political process. We think they have sometimes gotten a bad rap as the so-called “establishment.” We think they matter. They are out there pounding the pavement while everyone else is sitting around talking or writing comments on Facebook.
Thus, we believe the GOP grassroots – such as the tireless county volunteers and chairpeople and women’s club members and so forth – deserve a shout out.
Examples are third congressional district chairman Bill Feehan in La Crosse County, 1st congressional district executive member Rich Strohm, Sawyer County GOP Chair John Righeimer, and the wonderful members of the Suburban Republican Women’s Club – Milwaukee, such as Toni Jansen, and Kathy Kiernan of Washington County’s GOP. There are many, many more. Scarlett Johnson in Ozaukee County, Taylor Wishau in Burlington, the Wisconsin Young Republicans and Erin Decker in Kenosha, among many others.
As if their way, some of those mentioned wrote us and touted others with typically humility.
“Yes, thank you Jessica McBride and Jim Piwowarczyk. There are so many grassroots people working tirelessly because they believe in protecting our freedoms. WI Young Republicans, Chris Goebel & RPWC, Stephanie Lynn, Paul W. Berning, Taylor M Wishau and so many more!” wrote Rich Strohm.
7. Unborn Children
We get that abortion is an inconvenient narrative for Republicans, and the overturning of Roe v. Wade might have cost Republican candidates votes at election time, but the fact remains that a lot of unborn children’s lives are being saved every second Wisconsin clinics remain closed, not to mention around the country.
The children who will be born are winners of the year because they have the cherished gift of life.
8. Waukesha County DA Sue Opper
We know a lot of attorneys who say Waukesha County District Attorney Sue Opper is a hardline prosecutor who is tough on criminals. We watched a lot of the Darrell Brooks trial, and the steady, tenacious job she did (along with her team) deserves praise. She sought a waiver to move Cavalier Johnson’s nephew into adult court in a horrific rape case. While not perfect, we believe she has been a good and somewhat under-appreciated DA.
9. Wisconsin Deer Hunters
Wisconsin deer hunters bagged a lot of deer this year. How many? According to WBAY-TV, “A total of 56,638 bucks were registered in comparison to 47,529 bucks in the opening weekend of 2021. That’s a 13.9% percent increase from 2021 and a 2% increase from the five-year average.” An Eau Claire hunter was among those with big trophies, a 10-point buck.
The deer hunters are winners. The deer not so much.
10. John Leiber
John Leiber won statewide office as a Republican (state treasurer) when others did not, proving that the GOP can still win statewide.
He won with messages like this one: “As a true fiscal conservative, I am committed to the sound financial management of assets overseen by the Office of the Treasurer and the Board of Commissioners of Public Lands. This investment needs to be well managed and robust.”
Leiber won 49.7 to 48.1, and there was a Constitution Party candidate on the ballot.
11. The Wisconsin Institute of Law & Liberty & Rick Esenberg
It’s impossible to truly capture in a few words the extraordinary level of impact that the Wisconsin Institute of Law & Liberty has had on Wisconsin but also increasingly on the national level. They are critical champions of conservative principles.
We don’t even know where to start, they accomplished so much in 2022. They sued on our behalf (successfully) to force Tony Evers’ Parole Commission to release the names of parolees. When they’re not defending people who are discriminated upon for their conservative views and tackling election integrity issues and illegal tax burdens and parental rights’ matters, WILL is churning out important policy papers that are helping shape the narrative.
They are invaluable. With a Democrat in the governor’s and attorney general’s offices, they are advancing conservative values through the courts. Check out their cases here.
12. Fightin’ Bob Donovan
State Rep. Bob Donovan: need we say more? When he lost the Milwaukee mayor’s race, Fightin’ Bob Donovan didn’t give up. He lived up to his name. He is the mark of a true winner, who kept his head up and kept fighting, even while his wife battled cancer. We know he will continue to keep fighting for conservative principles.
13. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos
We know he’s been controversial with some in a fringe movement, but Vos beat back unfair efforts to unseat him from the Former Leader of the Free World, and that’s no easy feat, when you have Trump gunning for you in an unprecedented attack in a local Assembly race.
He then solidly won a general election against the same Trump-backed candidate, who switched to running as a write-in candidate. Vos won a whopping 73% of the vote! Vos actually got more votes in 2022 than he did in 2018. Although he’s not perfect, Vos’s main job as Assembly Leader is to build and keep Republican majorities, not be popular. On this, he has proven a shrewd political operator. He took a lot of heat for not pursuing decertification, but he was right on that. It’s unconstitutional, and it would harm statewide Republicans’ efforts.
The Republican-controlled Legislature is holding the line and preventing Tony Evers’ worst excesses from becoming a reality. He’s seeking significant tax cuts and is trying to cleverly shift the narrative against Evers on abortion. There is a reason Vos has a staunchly conservative national ranking. This doesn’t mean Robin Vos is perfect. But it all does add up to making him a winner of the year.
14. The Legislative Upsetters
GOP FLIP! Congratulations to Romaine Quinn on becoming the next state Senator for WI SD-25. pic.twitter.com/57bK9QqVGa
— Republican State Leadership Committee (@RSLC) November 9, 2022
Republicans flipped four legislative seats this midterm election, and those victors are both winners and rising stars!
Republicans came only 2,499 votes short of supermajorities in both Houses.
In the state Senate, Republican Romaine Quinn defeated Kelly Westlund in northwestern Wisconsin. It was an open seat. The state Assembly seats flipped by Republicans were in northern Wisconsin and one in Brookfield.
Republican Chanz Green got 52.6% to defeat Democratic challenger John Adams. Republican candidate Angie Sapik got 51% to defeat Democratic challenger Laura Gapske. Those seats are in northwestern Wisconsin. Both seats had been in Democratic hands.
In the Brookfield-area race, Republican Tom Michalski defeated Sarah Harrison for a seat that had also been in Democratic hands.
15. Meg Ellefson
It’s wonderful watching Meg Ellefson tirelessly grow conservative talk radio to northern Wisconsin through WSAU’s Morning News and Feedback programs, where it’s long been needed. She is a breath of fresh air, deeply principled, courageous, hard-working, great at networking and just a good person.
Ellefson got her start by founding the Wausau Tea Party. “She is the director of Get Involved Wisconsin, Inc, a grassroots non-profit organization dedicated to mobilizing citizens to participate and take action to address local issues affecting our way of life in Wisconsin,” her website says. We attended an impressive conservative activist event she organized.
She’s making a difference for conservatives both behind and away from the mic.
16. WISN 1130’s Dan O’Donnell
Dan O’Donnell is a winner and a rising star. Already a staple on Milwaukee conservative talk radio, O’Donnell will be expanding his reach dramatically by filling in for legendary Mark Belling as Belling scales back some months.
His debates during conservative primaries were informative and professionally handled, and he also breaks news, including through online articles.
We also love Belling and Vicki McKenna. They fight the good fight day in and day out.
17. Conservatives Who Flipped School Boards & Other Local Races
In April 2022, The Wisconsin Republican Party said party-backed and conservative candidates won two-thirds of the races where they were active.
“Conservatives fought and won across the state, including in swing and deep blue areas,” then Wisconsin Republican Party Chairman Paul Farrow said.
Some highlights, according to Center Square reporting (all of these are winners of the year) – and, yes, there are a lot of them, but let it wipe the memory of November out of your minds. Go back to April 2022, and there was a lot of optimism in the air:
-Maria Lazar’s victory marked the second time an Evers appointee was defeated in the Second District Appellate Court.
-A conservative was elected County Executive in Portage County, the heavily Democrat area once known as Dane County North.
-After Democrats spent about $100,000 on digital advertising on three Green Bay City Council seats, conservatives won two of those three seats and a majority on the council.
-Adams, Calumet, Door, Kenosha, Marathon, Rock, and St. Croix counties all flipped their County Boards. An additional 9 County Boards are now within 3 seats of a Conservative majority.
-Conservatives nearly doubled their seats on the 30-person La Crosse County Board, going from seven seats to 13 and nearly flipping control.
-Every targeted Conservative candidate won their School Board elections in Cedarburg, Elmbrook, Manitowoc, Menomonee Falls, Germantown, Wausau, Oconomowoc, Whitnall, Waukesha, Altoona, Amery, New London, Neenah, West Bend…. and many others!
-All 3 Conservative candidates in the Wausau School Board were victorious, leading to an 8-1 majority on the board, a board that in 2020 Democrats had control of 7-2.
-3 School Boards in Kenosha County flipped to Conservative control.
-Conservative Jane Lang became the second female Mayor in the City of Neenah’s history while winning in a city President Biden won by over 1,000 votes in 2020.
-Conservatives in the City of Pewaukee saw phenomenal success as they won the mayoral election and their 3 target aldermanic races.
-Waukesha, Washington, and Langlade County all won over 80% of their targeted races across their respective Counties.
-Waukesha had over 170 candidates across the County.
-Conservatives in Rock County won almost 90% of the County Board races they were targeting, ultimately flipping the County Board their way. They also elected conservatives to School Boards in their two major Democratic cities of Beloit and Janesville.
-In southeast Wisconsin, conservative candidates won all of their Wisconsin school board races in Waukesha, New Berlin, and Cedarburg. Conservatives also did well in the Fox Valley and in northeast Wisconsin.
18. Kenosha County Executive Samantha Kerkman
Samantha Kerkman became the first woman, and the first Republican, elected as Kenosha County Executive in a historically Democrat county.
19. Elon Musk
He’s not a Wisconsinite, but since he’s getting so bashed and attacked by the liberal media, we decided to give a shout out to Elon Musk for restoring the concept of free speech on social media, for lifting ridiculous bans of conservatives and dissenting doctors, and for exposing big tech’s corruption. We find ourselves saying things on Twitter we can’t dare say on Facebook, and we thank Mr. Musk for that. The Twitter Files are a must read, and, of course, largely being ignored by the media.
Thank you, sir.
20. Jermaine Reed
“Fundamentally, something is terribly wrong with this, and I can’t stand for this. The safety of women and children needs to be a priority,” Jermaine Reed, a family and child advocate in Milwaukee said.
Jermaine Reed resigned from his position as chair of the Milwaukee Commission on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault to protest Milwaukee Mayor Cavalier Johnson’s decision to appoint an official with a child abuse past to lead the embattled city Office of Violence Prevention, which has received millions of dollars recently thanks to Gov. Tony Evers.
Reed told Wisconsin Right Now in an interview that his conscience demanded that he resign and speak out against the appointment. This took courage, and it makes Jermaine Reed one of our winners of the year.
21. Germantown School Board
Citing the failure of gun-free school zone signs to stop violent criminals and protect schools, the Germantown School Board unanimously voted to request that the State of Wisconsin amend its laws to allow concealed carry in schools if requested by the school district. They also want the state to create laws mandating high bail and “strong sentences for violent offenders,” among other measures.
The Germantown School Board also requested the State of Wisconsin “provide advanced defense and firearm training to all school staff that wish to attend.” The Board wrote that it “values our ongoing relationship with the Germantown Police Department and the Washington County Sheriff’s Department and their continued efforts to keep our buildings safe and secure.”
22. Wisconsin Supreme Court’s Tenuous Conservative Majority
Although they don’t always get Brian Hagedorn on their side, we have to call out as winners the tenuous conservative majority, especially the consistently conservative work of Justices Rebecca Bradley, Annette Ziegler, and the outgoing Pat Roggensack.
Case in point: The state Supreme Court ruled that unmanned dropboxes are illegal under Wisconsin law and can’t be used in upcoming elections.
The court wrote, “If the right to vote is to have any meaning at all, elections must be conducted according to law. Throughout history, tyrants have claimed electoral victory via elections conducted in violation of governing law.”
A shout-out to Waukesha County Judge Michael Bohren for finding them illegal first.
23. Glendale Police Officers
Glendale police officers were recognized for their actions during a water rescue of a man who drove his car into the Milwaukee River.
Glendale Police say on April 10, 2022, a witness reported that a car drove down a bike path and into the Milwaukee River near Lincoln Park. Officers went into the water and retrieved the man from the submerged car. Officers immediately started CPR, and the driver was rushed to the hospital. He is expected to survive.
Officers were recognized for their brave and decisive actions during the incident. Officers Robert Wilson, Jaimie Byrnes, and Andrew Reischl were presented with the Award of Valor for rushing into the frigid Milwaukee River to free a man who was trapped in his vehicle and pulled him to shore. Sgt. Guse, Det. Krenn and Officer Smith were presented with the Lifesaving Award for immediately beginning CPR.
24. Roger Roth
Roth didn’t win the lieutenant governor’s race, but he did win the primary by running a formidable campaign, and, most importantly, he showed courage in helping the Balsewicz family push for the resignation of parole chairman John Tate when most other Republicans balked and cowered at getting involved. We think he has a bright future. We hope he does, because he was a profile in courage. That’s more important than what happened at the ballot box, so he makes our list.
25. Dan Miller
Every day, a guy named Dan Miller takes time out of his day to tweet, “Today is December 31st, 2022, and Tony Evers is STILL the WORST Wisconsin governor in US history.” Each day, he changes only the date.
More Rising Stars
1. Amber Schroeder – the Mequon mom activated by school concerns and former recall candidate is now running a statewide campaign of critical impact (Jennifer Dorow’s race for state Supreme Court). We think she’s tenacious, hard-working, thinks out of the box, and has a bright future.
2. Eric Toney – it might be unusual to put a candidate who lost a statewide race on the rising star list so soon, but it’s a testament to Toney’s unique gifts that his political stock is actually stronger after losing the general election than it was after winning the primary. Toney’s primary victory was an extraordinary political accomplishment; he was outspent by a million dollars and unfairly slimed by some fellow Republicans. He’s hard-working, incredibly principled, young, energetic, and we believe conservatives will see him again on a ballot. As president of the Wisconsin District Attorneys Association, the Fond du Lac County District Attorney will continue being a pragmatic voice for conservatives in Wisconsin. We were also impressed with Toney’s campaign manager Barry Braatz, a prosecutor with a fresh voice and analytic impressiveness.
3. Jennifer Dorow – we aren’t picking a horse between Dorow and former Justice Dan Kelly in the Supreme Court primary next month. We like them both. We don’t know who will win, but we would be remiss if we didn’t include Dorow on our rising star of the year list. A year ago, few had heard of her, but her calming and patient approach to Waukesha parade monster Darrell Brooks earned her fans all over the country.
4. Will Martin He got into the lieutenant governor’s race late, but we have heard good things about him. We hope he tries again for elective office. He has become well-regarded in conservative circles.
5. Alec Zimmerman – the Comms guy for Rebecca Kleefisch and then Ron Johnson is the gold standard in the biz. He’s effective, proactive, and strategic.
6. Dan Knodl –The Republican state Rep. is running for Alberta Darling’s senate seat. We think he’s a strong conservative who would have a real chance of winning that important race. He’s been clearing the field.
7. & #8 Nolan Jackett and Tripp Grebe – These are two young conservatives who are going places. Jackett ran for Hartford school board as a teen and has worked tirelessly for conservative campaigns. He lost by THREE votes. We hope he stays involved.
“The district’s COVID policies “made school really, really unenjoyable, for a lot of people, it disengaged them from school. Masks made schools substantially worse. Annual school events were canceled; they didn’t let fans into games. They took a lot of the high school experience and tried to take it away from us. A lot of things they did were pointless,” Jackett explained.
Grebe came to our attention a couple years ago when he wrote a pro-police column that was censored on UW-Madison’s campus. He’s continued to write for conservative media (such as College Fix), has interned in conservative politics, and was treasurer of the Wisconsin Young Americans for Freedom. He was an intern at the Wisconsin Institute of Law and Liberty and at Milwaukee Magazine. He’s a rising conservative journalist who graduates this year from college.
Table of Contents