Both the Republican and Democratic parties are fielding competitive primary races to choose who will run for lieutenant governor alongside their party’s candidates for governor.
On the Democratic side, with incumbent Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes winding down his term to run for U.S. Senate, Peng Her of Madison and Rep. Sara Rodriguez, D- Brookfield, are competing to join the ticket with Gov. Tony Evers.
Republicans, meanwhile, produced a crowded field of eight candidates consisting of state senators, private citizens and local officials hoping to run alongside their party’s eventual nominee for governor.
What are the duties of the lieutenant governor?
The lieutenant governor is mandated by the Wisconsin Constitution to serve as second in the line of succession. In the event that a sitting governor is no longer able to fulfill their duties or is removed from office, their lieutenant governor is sworn in.
The lieutenant governor’s chief responsibilities include serving on any commissions, boards, bodies or committees requested by the governor and functioning as the executive branch’s representative in those spaces, according to Wisconsin Statute 14.34.
The current salary for the lieutenant governor is $80,684, according to the Wisconsin Legislative Reference Bureau.
The lieutenant governor’s role on the campaign trail
Wisconsin is one of 25 states where the lieutenant governor runs on the same ballot as their party’s nominee for governor, and one of eight states where candidates must first face a primary to secure a spot on the ticket.
Candidates for lieutenant governor tend to play a pivotal role in stumping for gubernatorial candidates, rallying their respective bases and building bridges to new voters. Four years ago, Barnes’ outspoken progressive positions were key to energizing party-base voters and driving up turnout in key demographics in the Evers coalition.
Who are the Democrats running for lieutenant governor?
The pair of Democrats in the running for lieutenant governor — Rodriguez and Her — each draw on divergent elements of the state Democratic Party’s post-Barack Obama coalition with Her hailing from one of the most reliably blue pockets of the state and Rodriguez representing traditionally conservative suburbs that drifted leftward in recent elections.
Rodriguez was first elected to the Assembly in 2020, flipping a Republican-controlled district covering parts of Waukesha County and the suburbs of Milwaukee.
Prior to winning her race to join the Legislature, Rodriguez was a principal of a health care consulting firm, the vice president of clinical services at Honeywell Life Care Solutions, the vice president of health services and integrated health care management at Advocate Aurora Health and worked as a CDC epidemic intelligence service officer.
Rodriguez currently serves on the Energy and Utilities, Insurance and Science, Technology and Broadband committees.
Her worked as the vice president of promise zones and partnerships for the Urban League of Greater Madison, an outreach specialist for the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the associate director of an urban planning nonprofit and the CEO of the Hmong Institute. Her’s family fled Laos and immigrated to the United States in the 1970s.
Her ran for office unsuccessfully twice prior to launching his campaign for lieutenant governor. Most recently, Her’s nonpartisan campaign to represent Madison’s 18th District on the city’s Common Council fell short by a margin of 10% in 2015, according to the Dane County clerk.
Who are the Republicans running for lieutenant governor?
The makeup of the crowded Republican field vying to serve alongside the party’s nominee for governor pits a duo of senators against a wide breadth of challengers with limited statewide political experience, each seeking to paint themselves as the anti-establishment candidate best positioned to bolster the conservative ticket.
Sen. Patrick Testin, R- Stevens Point, is a two-term senator representing central Wisconsin’s 24th District and the current Senate president pro-tempore. Testin was first elected to the Legislature in 2016, flipping a historically Democratic region red and expanding his margin of victory in 2020.
Before being elected to the Senate, Testin was a sales representative and ran unsuccessfully to represent the 71st Assembly District in 2012.
Testin is the co-chair of the Joint Survey Committee on Tax Exemptions, the vice chair of the Committee on Economic and Workforce Development and is a member of the Agriculture and Tourism, Information Policy and Technology committees.
Sen. Roger Roth, R- Appleton, has represented the Fox Valley region’s 19th District since 2015 and served as Senate president between 2017 and 2021. Roth also represented the 56th Assembly District from 2007-2011. Roth served four tours of duty as a member of the Wisconsin Air National Guard and worked as a homebuilder before entering politics.
Roth chairs the Committee on Universities and Technical Colleges and is vice chair of the Committee on Utilities, Technology and Telecommunications. Roth also sits on the Housing, Commerce and Trade, Veterans and Military Affairs and Constitution and Federalism and Information Policy and Technology committees.
David Varnam is the mayor of the southwestern Wisconsin community of Lancaster — a position he was first elected to in 2016. Varnam was also a member of the Lancaster Common Council before running for mayor.
Varnam also worked as a congressional aide and a representative for Focus on the Family, a Christian ministry.
Jonathan Wichmann is the owner of JMW Innovation, a marketing firm. He also has a background as a marketing manager and specialist in search engine optimization.
A political newcomer, Wichmann initially entered the gubernatorial race having never held an elected office but withdrew and decided to run for lieutenant governor instead. Wichmann rapidly gained support from elements of the GOP’s conservative, populist wing thanks in part to his vocal support for unsubstantiated claims of significant voter fraud in the 2020 presidential election.
Will Martin is a government agency consulting firm owner and political operative who served as deputy director of Gov. Tommy Thompson’s staff and strategic workforce initiative director during the Gov. Scott Walker administration. Martin also said he held a managerial role with the Welfare to Work Foundation.
Kyle Yudes is a small-business owner, insurance agent and conservative activist from Eau Claire. Yudes also worked with a hotline that he said was created to inform callers if their constitutional rights had been violated by government officials. Yudes has never held public office but said his experiences in the private sector and as an organizer prepare him to work in Madison.
Cindy Werner is an army veteran and ambassador of the Fredrick Douglass Foundation — a Black, Christian conservative group — in Wisconsin. Werner ran for Congress in 2020 and narrowly lost the Republican primary to represent the state’s 4th Congressional District.
David King is the founder of Wisconsin God Squad — a Christian community-building organization — and former neighborhood watch official from Milwaukee.
What are the key issues of the race?
In both the Democratic and Republican primaries, candidates must overcome division before earning the opportunity to work with their party’s nominee for governor.
On the Democratic side, Rodriguez pointed to Her’s failed candidacies in Madison and contrasted his record with her own success running in a previously Republican-held district, highlighting her term in the Legislature as evidence of her vote-earning strength should she serve as Evers’ running mate.
“It does come down to experience, and it comes down to understanding what the Wisconsin electorate needs and wants right now,” Rodriguez said. “I live in Waukesha County, and that means that my friends, my neighbors, relatives, they’re not all Democrats. And so, there’s a way that I can communicate with the people of Wisconsin by coming from a community that’s a more purple community.”
Her defended his record in electoral politics and said his private sector managerial experiences prepared him for a role in the executive branch.
“Each time I ran, I learned a lot from both campaigns,” Her said. “The role of lieutenant governor is having executive leadership experience. I have pretty diverse executive leadership and having a governor that has that executive leadership is critical.”
Republicans, on the other hand, appear locked in a battle to establish themselves as the most unyielding conservative in the race.
First-time candidates Wichmann and Yudes both unloaded on Testin and Roth, voicing frustration toward Madison for implementing stay-at-home orders during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic and laying blame in part at the feet of their opponents in the Senate
“I didn’t see Pat Testin or Roger Roth fight very hard at all against these mandates that came out. They’re too busy focusing on their reelection campaigns,” Wichmann said.
“Elected officials, they have done nothing to protect our unalienable rights,” Yudes said. “When the governor shut down businesses — certain businesses — and told us to shelter in place, that goes against our inalienable rights. They were silent.”
Roth stood by his record as a conservative lawmaker during the lockdown phase of the pandemic, citing numerous legal challenges mounted by the Republican-controlled Legislature to Evers’ mandates during his tenure as Senate president.
“In every time that he exceeded his authority, I was the one — Senator Roger Roth — Senate president, that hired the attorneys, that signed the contracts, that sued him in court,” Roth said. “Every time I did that, I won on behalf of the Legislature.”
Testin referenced his track record flipping a longtime Democratic district and argued a conservative pathway to victory in November will run through more palatable messaging on the campaign trail.
“Take a look at the district I represent: it was a long-held Democrat district,” Testin said. “I think we were able to take a conservative message and have it resonate with a constituency that doesn’t always view itself as conservative. I think we can apply that statewide.”
Wisconsin is facing a potential stagnation in new economic growth.
Wisconsin is consistently among the states with the lowest rate of new small business startups and experienced record-low population growth in the past decade, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau.
Candidates on both sides of the aisle pitched spurring population and small business growth statewide as cornerstones of their campaigns with Testin and Roth calling for an end to the state income tax and citing states such as Florida — which does not have a state income tax — that have seen expansions in both their economies and populations.
Rodriguez acknowledged current shortcomings in business development and expressed hopes to tackle the issue in a broader capacity as lieutenant governor.
“I think that’s (startup growth) an area we could look in our policies administratively as well as legislatively to figure out how we can do a better job of making sure that people can open up small businesses in Wisconsin,” Rodriguez said.
When is the election?
Both the Republican and Democratic primaries are on Aug. 9. The Democratic winner will join the Tony Evers ticket and the Republican winner will join the ticket of the top Republican vote-getter in the primary to face off on Nov. 8.