MADISON (AP) – Wisconsin Republicans gather next weekend in Milwaukee for their annual convention amid dissent from some conservative tea party members who have already passed votes of no confidence against two moderate lawmakers and also support a resolution reaffirming the state’s right to secede from the union.
The noise from the conservative wing of the party is an unwanted distraction for Republicans who want to use the convention to rally behind Gov. Scott Walker and U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, two possible 2016 presidential candidates, and prepare for the fall election season as they try to retain and grow their majority control in the state Legislature.
While Republicans may want the convention that begins May 2 to be a pep rally, conservative activists aren’t backing down.
Danny Krueger, a Columbia County Republican, said activists like himself are tired of being ignored by party leaders.
“Either the party is going to pay attention to us and work with us or we are no longer going to pay attention to the party or work with them,” Krueger said.
Jeff Horn, who runs the Prairie Patriots group in Sun Prairie and is a delegate to the Republican convention, said he doesn’t feel like the party is representing his view and that of other like-minded conservatives.
“I think the party is not being true to itself,” he said.
Both Krueger and Horn support a nonbinding resolution urging Sen. Luther Olsen and Rep. Steve Kestell to recuse themselves from all matters in which they have a conflict of interest or are acting contrary to the party platform. Olsen and Kestell, leaders of the Senate and Assembly education committees, blocked attempts this year to repeal Common Core academic standards.
The standards, adopted by state superintendent Tony Evers in 2010, cover what public school students should know in the subjects of reading and math. State tests will be geared toward the standards starting next school year.
Conservative state lawmakers tried to repeal the standards, which they said are weak and take away local control, but the bill failed even though Republicans control the Legislature. Walker himself said he wanted to see Wisconsin pass tougher standards, but powerful lawmakers like Olsen and Kestell spearheaded bipartisan coalitions that killed the bill.
Kestell is not running for re-election. Olsen isn’t up again until 2016, but some in the tea party are talking about recalling him from office. Olsen survived a 2011 recall spurred by Democrats unhappy with his support of Walker’s proposal effectively ending collective bargaining for most public workers.
Three of the state Republican Party’s eight regional caucuses already passed no-confidence resolutions against Olsen and Kestell for their support of Common Core standards.
Party leaders have tried to downplay the issues being raised by the tea party wing as not representing the views of most Republicans. Walker distanced himself from the secession question earlier this month.
“I don’t think that one aligns with where most Republican officials are in the state of Wisconsin – certainly not with me,” Walker said.
Given the governor’s position, the resolution is expected to be voted down, said Joe Fadness, executive director of the Republican Party.
Republican leaders need to speak up more against those on the fringe of the party floating ideas like secession and attacking Olsen for his support of education standards, said Sen. Dale Schultz, a moderate Republican who decided to retire rather than run against a more conservative GOP opponent this year.
Horn said conservative anger over the Common Core standards debate isn’t going away and pressure on office holders to reject the standards will only grow.
“They do themselves a disservice if they write this off to a fringe element,” Horn said. “I know there’s a lot of disillusionment with the party and elected representatives in the Republican Party.”
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, who faces a Republican primary challenger who is running in part on her opposition to Common Core standards, also downplayed the issues being raised by tea party conservatives.
“In each political party, both Republicans and Democrats, there are people at the end of the spectrum,” Vos said.
Republicans need to be focused on retaining their power, not distractions like secession, Olsen said.
“The No. 1 issue we need to make sure we have is a party is making sure Scott Walker is re-elected as governor and we maintain the majority in the Senate and Assembly,” Olsen said. “Anything else is something that’s not as important.”