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GOP candidate contends push for prevailing-wage repeal costing him support

Associated Press

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — A Republican state Representative is contending his decision to defy his party’s leaders and schedule a hearing on a bill calling for the repeal of the state’s prevailing-wage laws is now costing him support in his bid for the state Senate.

State Rep. Andre Jacque, R-De Pere, would to many seem the natural choice, given his current seat in the Legislature, for Republicans who are looking for someone to fill a Senate seat that has been open since December. But at least two top Republicans—Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke and Rep. John Nygren, co-chairman of the powerful Joint Finance Committee—are instead endorsing Jacque’s opponent: Alex Renard, a businessman with little political experience.

Steineke said Renard is better positioned to win the seat because he’s not an incumbent and has business experience. Renard is an operations manager at his family business, Renco Machine Co., in Green Bay.

“It’s really more about Alex’s positives than Andre’s negatives,” Steineke said.

Jacque, though, said during a telephone interview on Tuesday that he believes Republican leaders are irritated at him for the committee hearing he held in 2015 on legislation calling for the repeal of the state’s prevailing-wage laws. Most GOP officials were in favor, that year, of making changes to the state’s prevailing-wage laws; but many were lining up behind a reform proposal that would have stopped short of total elimination.

Jacque’s committee hearing came at crucial time, when the push for repeal had seemed to stall.

“I’ve ruffled some feathers,” Jacque said. “My constituents know who I am and know I stand with them rather than any particular person in Madison or a group.”

Jacque and Renard are both running for the state’s 1st Senate District, which extends from the Door County peninsula south to the city of Two Rivers. There is also a Democrat, Caleb Frostman, who now works as executive director of the Door County Economic Development Corp. but plans to resign on April 27 to campaign full-time.

The open Assembly seat has likewise attracted a field of candidates: the Republicans Spencer Zimmerman, Colleen Locke-Murphy, Jon Plumer and Darren Schroeder, Democrat Ann Groves Lloyd and independent Gene Rubinstein. Zimmerman challenged U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan in 2016, running as a self-described “Trump Conservative.” He didn’t make it out of the primary.

Locke-Murphy didn’t immediately respond to a Facebook message or a voicemail left at a possible residential listing. Plumer is a member of the Lodi town board. Schroeder didn’t immediately return a voicemail.

Beyond the 1st Senate District, Tuesday was also the deadline to file nomination papers for candidates seeking to represent the state’s 42nd Assembly District. The two open seats in the Senate and Assembly were vacated when Gov. Scott Walker appointed the Republicans then holding those seats, Frank Lasee and Keith Ripp, to positions in his administration.

Walker scheduled special elections last month to fill the spots, planning to hold primary contests on May 15 and the general elections on June 12.

Groves is an academic adviser at UW-Madison. No listing could be found for Rubenstein.

The 42nd Assembly District covers a rural swath of south-central Wisconsin.

Whoever wins in both the Senate and Assembly races will have to stand for re-election in November but will have the advantage of being the incumbent in those races.

Walker has been at odds with Democrats over whether the open seats should be filled in special elections. He initially refused to call any such elections, even though state law requires him to do so to fill legislative vacancies that occur before May in regular election years. It took a Dane County judge’s order in March to force Walker to schedule the contests.

Walker said he didn’t see any sense in scheduling elections for seats that will be up for election again in November. But his reluctance fueled speculation that he fears Democrats could harness voter anger toward President Donald Trump and flip the seats.

Democrats have been able to make some inroads in recent months. The Democrat Patty Schachtner defeated Republican Rep. Adam Jarchow to win an open seat in January in a Senate district, in northwest Wisconsin, that’s usually represented by Republicans. Then, this month, the liberal-leaning Rebecca Dallet won election to the state Supreme Court.

Beyond Lasee and Ripp, 10 incumbent Republicans in the Assembly and Senate have decided not to seek re-election in November.

Three of the eight Assembly Republicans are running for the state Senate; the rest are retiring. One senator, Leah Vukmir, is leaving to run for U.S. Senate. Sen. Terry Moulton is retiring.

– Dan Shaw of The Daily Reporter contributed to this story

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