Elections Commission denies bribery complaint in state superintendent race
MADISON — The Wisconsin Elections Commission has decided not to investigate a complaint from the liberal group One Wisconsin Now into an alleged deal between two candidates for state superintendent that included a $150,000 state job and a driver.
In closing out the complaint, the commission decided the allegations do not violate the election bribery law in Wisconsin.
State Superintendent Tony Evers said elections officials should investigate his opponent for sending campaign-related emails from his suburban Milwaukee school district’s account last year.
Lowell Holtz, who is challenging the incumbent Evers in the April election, denied that his use of the district’s email account violated state law. The liberal group One Wisconsin Now released the emails, which it got through an open records request of Whitnall School District in Greenfield, where Holtz was superintendent until June 2016.
“It never crossed my mind that I would be violating anything — I’m still not sure I violated anything,” Holtz said. “But if I did, I am the type of person who’s willing to name it, own it and fix it.”
Holtz previously faced scrutiny during the February primary when he and another opponent alleged each other of trying to make a deal in which one candidate would drop out and receive a $150,000 state job and a driver.
In one of the emails, Holtz used his Whitnall district account to send his wife a draft of a letter that seeks support for his campaign from someone named Diane.
In the draft, Holtz highlights his conservative credentials by saying Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke supported his candidacy. He also pledged to promote positions during the campaign “that align with the Governor’s thoughts.”
After a candidate forum on Monday, February 27th, Holtz declined to reveal the identity of the person named Diane.
In a different email, Holtz said he resigned from Whitnall because the school board was “a very tough group to work with.”
Holtz said he had “fixed” any potential conflicts when he resigned from the district to run for state superintendent full-time. He told reporters that they should cover a campaign violation committed by his opponent years ago in which Evers paid a fine.
“People need to talk about both sides,” Holtz said. “The fact that Tony had to pay a fine for illegal campaigning for fundraising — both sides need to be covered equally.”
Evers said the violation happened during his first campaign — in 2009 — and said there was a difference between his actions and Holtz’s.
“I was using my home email. I wasn’t at work. I wasn’t using my work email. I paid a small fine and learned how to press the right button,” Evers said, before calling for an investigation of Holtz. “I never thought that integrity would be an issue in this campaign, but it’s clear it’s going to be.”
The moderator at a forum on February 27th, which was hosted by Wispolitics.com, never asked the candidates about the email issue or the bribery allegations that arose during the primary. Evers and Holtz advanced; the other candidate, John Humphries, finished a distant third place.
During the forum, Evers — who is supported by unions and Democratic groups — said Act 10 has “turned off a generation” from becoming teachers by eliminating many collective bargaining rights for public workers.
Holtz — supported by charge school advocates — say bureaucracy and unsafe classrooms are what’s driving teachers away.
The winner of April’s contest will oversee the Department of Public Instruction, which runs K-12 education policy, curriculum and programs, and administers state and federal aid for all 424 public school districts. The department also works with private schools in the choice program and runs teacher licensing and regulation.