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Liberal group asks for investigation of school candidate

MADISON (AP) -- A liberal advocacy group on Tuesday asked the district attorneys in Milwaukee and Rock counties to investigate state superintendent candidate Lowell Holtz for allegedly misusing public resources.

Holtz, in reaction to the complaints from One Wisconsin Now, called on his opponent, incumbent state Superintendent Tony Evers, to reject the group's "slimy antics and commit to making this race about our kids."

Evers' campaign manager Amanda Brink said voters are tired of Holtz's "antics."

"This race is about kids -- they expect their leaders to have integrity and Lowell Holtz is coming up short," Brink said.

One Wisconsin Now's complaint centers on three campaign-related email threads Holtz sent from his Whitnall School District email account when he was superintendent there between November 2015 and May 2016.

Holtz retired from that job last year and is now running to be the state's top education official. While the position is officially nonpartisan, Holtz is backed by conservatives and Evers is supported by Democrats. The election is April 4.

The law prohibiting the use of government resources for campaign work has occasionally ensnared candidates for office and their supporters who are public employees. In 2009, during his run for state superintendent, Evers paid a $250 fine after he sent an email to another school official's government account asking him to organize a fundraiser for him.

After a candidate forum in Milwaukee on Monday, Evers said he "learned a lesson" from the 2009 incident, while Holtz downplayed concerns over his emails related to this campaign.

"It never crossed my mind that I was going to be violating anything, and I'm still not sure if I violated anything," Holtz said after the forum. Holtz has since said that if he did do anything inappropriate, he would "name it, own it and fix it."

He said One Wisconsin Now was "doing everything they can to deflect from the fact that their candidate needs to go." The group has not endorsed anyone in the race but has been working to discredit Holtz.

The emails cited in the complaint are:

  • Nov. 18, 2015, when Holtz seeks advice and has discussions with former Republican state Rep. Don Pridemore about meeting with a conservative group he runs that was vetting candidates for state superintendent.
  • Jan. 15, 2016, when Holtz requested being a presenter at a conference that he said would be in the middle of his candidacy for state superintendent. Holtz also discussed his platform.
  • May 25, 2016, when Holtz emailed his wife a draft of a letter he intended to send outlining his support among Republicans and his desire to consult with and seek advice from the recipient identified only as "Diane."

The emails fit a pattern of disregard for taxpayer dollars and violation of the public trust, Jenni Dye, research director for One Wisconsin Now, wrote to the district attorneys. A spokeswoman for Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm said the complaint was under review and that the office had no comment. The Rock County district attorney did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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