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Home / Government / Construction industry splits on support for Johnson, Feingold

Construction industry splits on support for Johnson, Feingold

johnsonRon Johnson is contending the public support he is drawing from more than 100 state contractors shows that he will be a strong advocate for the industry in the U.S. Senate.

Yet, his political opponents are quick to point out that the backing is actually coming from only a small cross section of Wisconsin construction companies.

Johnson’s campaign announced this week that more than 100 contractors had come together to form the Hard Hats for RonJon Coalition, a group charged with helping Johnson keep his Senate seat and advising him on matters affecting the construction industry.

“As a manufacturer from Oshkosh, I’ve seen first-hand how important the men and women in hard hats are to building a prosperous economy,” Johnson said in a statement.

The coalition’s members include Stevens Construction Corp., Madison; Royal Construction Inc., Eau Claire; and Northwest Builders Inc., Rice Lake. Absent, though, are some of the biggest contractors in the Wisconsin construction industry — many of which have union affiliations.

Terry McGowan, president and business manager of Local 139 of the International Union of Operating Engineers, said the Hard Hats for RonJon Coalition’s list of contractors did not come as a surprise.

“Those contractors (on the coalition), they are not infrastructure contractors,” he said. “The reason for that is Ron Johnson is not an infrastructure senator.”

Officials at the Associated Builder and Contractors of Wisconsin, a group that mainly represents nonunion companies, beg to differ with that assessment of Johnson’s support for the construction industry. One point they do agree with McGowan on, though, is that few people should be surprised at where the Republican senator is drawing his support.

John Schulze, director of government and legal affairs at ABC of Wisconsin, pointed out that many of the members of the Hard Hats for RonJon Coalition are also ABC members.

Democratic Senate candidate Russ Feingold defends his plan for fighting terrorism ahead of a new attack ad expected to be launched by a group supporting his opponent Republican Sen. Ron Johnson on Monday, Aug. 29, 2016, in Madison, Wis. (AP Photo/Scott Bauer)

Russ Feingold (AP Photo/Scott Bauer)

Schulze also noted that Johnson owns a manufacturing company in Oshkosh. The experience of running a business no doubt means Johnson has much in common with the owners of the smaller companies who constitute the majority of the ABC’s members.

“He feels a real kinship with small businesses,” Schulze said. “That’s why ABC members like him. He’s a small-business guy. He speaks their language and he cares about them.”

A Johnson campaign official said that Johnson will seek advice not only from supporters but also from anyone who wants to help the state’s economy.

Nick Novak, an ABC spokesman, praised Johnson for his fight to cut the government red tape that often plagues the industry.

“His continued fight to shrink government and eliminate burdensome regulations on those in both construction and other industries is exactly the kind of thing our members need,” Novak said in an email.

Even as the ABC was rallying contractors to put down their names in support of Johnson, other industry officials and organizations were contributing directly to the Johnson campaign and that of his Democratic opponent, Russ Feingold. The Associated Builders and Contractors’ national group has established a political-action committee to support Johnson’s campaign, according to Federal Elections Commission records. The same goes for the Associated General Contractors of America, another prominent industry organization.

Feingold’s campaign, meanwhile, has the backing of various union groups, including the Operating Engineers and the International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers.

Campaign-finance records also show that employees of various Wisconsin construction companies have given to both the Johnson and Feingold campaigns.

About Alex Zank, alex.zank@dailyreporter.com

Alex Zank is a construction reporter for The Daily Reporter. He can be reached at 414-225-1820.

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