MILWAUKEE (AP) — Republican gubernatorial candidate Tim Michels once led an organization that fought a proposal to get tough on people who were living in the country illegally, but he's campaigning as someone opposed to illegal immigration.
Michels, a co-owner of the construction company Michels Corp., is in a tight battle with former Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch in the Republican primary race for governor. The winner of the Aug. 9 primary will advance to face Democratic Gov. Tony Evers in November.
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported Tuesday on Michels' positions on immigration.
When Michels was president of the board of the Wisconsin Transportation Builders Association during the 2007-2008 legislative session, the group's lobbyists opposed an Assembly bill that would have prevented companies that employ “illegal aliens” from getting government contracts, tax exemptions and loans. The bill died in committee.
Michels’ spokesman, Chris Walker, said Michels was unaware of the lobbying being done by the group, which represents road builders in Wisconsin.
“To Tim’s knowledge, the association’s position on every single one of the bills introduced every legislative session is not brought to the board of directors,” Walker said. “Tim is against illegal immigration.”
Michels, who has been endorsed by Donald Trump, is running multiple television ads detailing his opposition to illegal immigration.
“Tim Michels’ blueprint to stop illegal immigration,” one ad says. “No driver’s license, no benefits, and no tuition. Sign now if you agree!”
Kleefisch's campaign criticized Michels over the inconsistency, also referring to Michels' ties to groups that had advocated for higher gas prices. Her campaign is running two ads attacking Michels over the gas tax, including one that launched this week and features former Gov. Scott Walker.
“Tim Michels won’t take responsibility for his company’s campaign contributions for a higher gas tax, and now he won’t take responsibility for a group he was president of lobbying to allow illegal immigrants to work on government contracts,” said Charles Nichols, Kleefisch’s campaign manager.
Michels also said he supports Wisconsin's 2015 “right-to-work” law, which places a ban on requiring non-unionized workers to pay dues to their workplace union. But Michels Corp. was part of the Wisconsin Contractor Coalition that opposed the state’s “right-to-work” law. The construction company’s employees were also a part of protests against that proposed law at the time.
“We can’t speak for Michels Corporation, but when with them, he never specifically encouraged or granted time off for Michels employees to protest for or against anything, including right-to-work,” said Walker, the Michels spokesman. “How employees express their First Amendment rights on their own time is up to them.”