Rebecca Kleefisch has stepped down from a role promoting construction careers for the Associated Builders and Contractors of Wisconsin as she mounts a run for governor.
ABC of Wisconsin President John Mielke said Kleefish left the trade group at the end of August, shortly before formally announcing her campaign for governor last week. Kleefisch served as lieutenant governor for eight years under former Gov. Scott Walker until he lost a re-election bid to Tony Evers in 2016. She’s the best-known Wisconsin Republican to run against Evers, who is seeking a second term in 2022.
Kleefisch joined ABC of Wisconsin in late 2019 as the group’s jobs ambassador, charged with promoting careers in the trades as Wisconsin grapples with a shortage of skilled workers. Before joining the trade group, Kleefisch had worked as executive director of the Women’s Sufferage Centennial Commission, a Washington-based group formed to mark the 100th anniversary of women gaining the right to vote.
ABC of Wisconsin, a mostly non-union trade group, represents nearly 900 contractors in Wisconsin. ABC runs its own apprenticeship program, which works with the state Department of Workforce Development and 11 technical colleges to train apprentices in a dozen trades.
Meanwhile, a new political action committee has been formed to help Kleefisch win the governor’s race.
Stephan Thompson, who previously served as head of the Wisconsin Republican Party and ran Gov. Scott Walker’s 2014 reelection campaign, announced Thursday that he will lead the new group, known as Freedom Wisconsin. Thompson previously served as an adviser to a group Kleefisch formed called the 1848 Project.
The new PAC will be able to raise an unlimited amount of money to help Kleefisch. Candidates, unlike PACs, are limited to raising no more than $20,000 from individuals per cycle.
“Rebecca Kleefisch is the only Republican with the track record and backbone ready to take back the Governor’s Office,” Thompson said in a statement.
The move comes two days after lobbyist Bill McCoshen announced he would not run for governor. State Rep. John Macco and former Marine Kevin Nicholson are both considering runs.
Kleefisch launched her long-anticipated candidacy last week. She served as lieutenant governor for eight years under Walker.
Although Thompson will be leading the group, fundraising will be led by longtime Walker and conservative backer Mary Stitt and Jim McCray, chief executive officer of Highwood Capital. McCray has advised Walker and numerous other candidates for U.S. senators, presidential campaigns and governors, according to a release announcing formation of the group.
The winner of the Republican primary in August will face Democratic Gov. Tony Evers in November 2022.