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$150k job for quitting the race? State superintendent candidates squabble over alleged deal

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MILWAUKEE -- A candidate for Wisconsin schools superintendent says a rival wanted a $150,000 a year job, a personal driver and broad power over Milwaukee Public Schools and other large districts to exit the race.

The allegations, which Gov. Scott Walker called "bizarre," jolted a previously sleepy race five days before the primary election. One Wisconsin Now, a liberal group, filed a complaint asking the Wisconsin Elections Commission to investigate what it called "election-related bribery" between the candidates.

Candidate John Humphries said he met with rival Lowell Holtz at a Rock County restaurant on Dec. 22. He said he wanted Holtz to drop out of the race and support him, but Holtz wanted more in the exchange.

"I’m the whistleblower here, trying to make sure that people are aware of something he’s proposing," Humphries said during an interview. "This is not a John Humphries proposal."

Lowell Holtz and John Humphries

Lowell Holtz and John Humphries

Humphries first made the allegations during a radio debate on The Dan O'Donnell Show, which airs on WISN/1130AM. His campaign later provided FOX6 with a document he said proves his claims.

Under the terms laid out in the document, the person who left the race would get a state job if the other candidate won office.

Holtz confirmed that he brought the proposals to the December meeting but said they were merely "ideas" brought to him by businesspeople whom he refused to name.

Lowell Holtz

Lowell Holtz

"I gave my word that I wasn’t going to talk about their participation. John also did," Holtz said. "As much as I think it would be helpful for me, I’m not going to break my word after I give it to somebody."

He disputed that the deal involved dropping out of the race; instead, he said any potential deal would be triggered after Tuesday's primary based on who failed to advance to April's general election.

Scot Ross, executive director of One Wisconsin Now, said he wanted the Elections Commission to determine if the candidates' discussion was illegal.

“There’s no question the election bribe deal that John Humphries and Lowell Holtz negotiated to try to buy the other’s support is sleazy and exposes both of them as crass politicians only out for themselves,” Ross said in an emailed statement.

The incumbent superintendent, Tony Evers, said he didn't have a personal driver and wasn't sure why either of his opponents would need one.

"I don’t know if it’s illegal but it’s absolutely ridiculous," Evers said. "If they measured ridiculous on a scale of 1 to 100, this is 110."

The proposal, confirmed by both Holtz and Humphries, included giving one of the candidates "complete authority over Milwaukee, Racine, Kenosha and Madison school districts." Green Bay's district would be "negotiable," according to the document provided to FOX6 by Humphries' campaign.

John Humphries

John Humphries

Another line reads, "We are going to shake up Milwaukee and it is going to make noise."

Humphries and Holtz both said they opposed a state takeover of Milwaukee Public Schools or other districts. Humphries said he supported allowing parents who have children in failing schools decide whether to turn the facilities into charter or voucher schools.

Evers said the proposal in the alleged deal amounted to a "power grab" and a "Machiavellian plot."

When asked why he's raising the issue nearly two months after his meeting with Holtz, Humphries expressed frustration that Holtz hadn't publicly talked about the ideas he proposed privately.

Walker said he had not supported either of the challengers in the primary and said they ought to sort out their differences.

"I haven’t seen something like it before," Walker told reporters on Thursday in New Berlin.