The Self-Made Conservative Warrior

Tim Michels, the Republican candidate for governor after winning the primary last night, has had some of the most obnoxious and irritating ads of the campaign season (unless you’re a far right-wing ideologue who loves far right-wing talking points and stretching of the truth). Let’s look at just a few things.

In his ads and on his website, Tim Michels says he is a political outsider. His own website specifically says he is not a politician. Unsurprisingly, not quite true. He graduated with a degree in political science from St. Norbert College and has had his sights on political office for decades. He ran unsuccessfully for the Wisconsin State Senate in 1998, losing to Scott Fitzgerald. He won the Republican nomination for the United States Senate in 2004, losing the general election to Russ Feingold. He has been a financial contributor to Republican candidates. He has served as an advisor for the conservative group, the 1848 project, which ironically was founded by Rebecca Kleefisch, the woman he bested in the primary. Unless he wants to claim he’s not a politician because he’s failed to win an elected office, his claim of being an outsider doesn’t really stand up.

Michels spotlights his military experience, and his ads refer to him as a proud warrior while showing him looking all snazzy in his military uniform. He was never deployed. While I respect his service as the commander of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the person overseeing the Army’s Color Guard and Drill Teams, this does not make him a warrior. A decorated soldier, yes. Warrior, not so much.

Michels also presents himself as a hard-working common man, just like most Wisconsinites. But he isn’t like most Wisconsinites. He isn’t one of us. He is a multimillionaire with so much wealth he has already spent 12 million dollars of his own money to become governor as of August 2, according to campaign finance reports. That’s just through the primary. There are several months to go before the general election. Most Wisconsinites also don’t own a 17-million-dollar mansion in Connecticutt or a nearly 9-million-dollar Manhattan penthouse and most of us don’t send our children to private East Coast schools while living on the East Coast and claiming to be Wisconsin residents. Yes, he grew up in Wisconsin, as a privileged son of wealthy parents, and yes, he owns a home here also, and yes, the company he co-owns is based in Wisconsin, but it seems he is out of touch with most Wisconsinites and with the state itself.

Another constant in the political ads, which he says himself, is that he is a self-made man. This is just simply bullshit. The Michels Corporation was founded in 1959, three years before he was born. Michels joined the family company after his military service (I could be wrong, but I’m guessing he didn’t have to interview or work his way too far up the ladder). Tim Michels’ father ran the business until his death, at which time his mother became CEO and Chair of the Board. She served until her death in 2020, just two years ago. Tim Michels is a co-owner and co-manager of the company, not the head of it. His brother, Pat, is President and CEO. Tim Michels and his brother, Kevin, are Vice-Presidents. To say that any of the brothers are self-made is as ridiculous as Donald Trump saying that he created his own wealth after getting a paltry million-dollar loan from his father. It’s no wonder that Trump liked him well enough to endorse him. Michels Corporation was built and grew under the leadership of Dale and Ruth Michels and what they created was handed down to their sons. Tim Michels is as self-made as a microwave dinner.

About Callen Harty

Originally from Shullsburg, Wisconsin Callen Harty is the author of four books and numerous published essays, poems, and articles. His most recent book is The Stronger Pull, a memoir about coming out in a small town in Wisconsin. His first book was My Queer Life, a compilation of over 30 years worth of writing on living life as a queer man. It includes essays, poems, speeches, monologues, and more. Empty Playground: A Survivor's Story, is a memoir about surviving childhood sex abuse. His play, Invisible Boy, is a narrative with poetic elements and is also an autobiographical look as surviving child sex abuse. All are available on Amazon.com (and three of them on Kindle) or can be ordered through local bookstores, He has written almost two dozen plays and 50 monologues that have been produced. Most of them have been produced at Broom Street Theater in Madison, Wisconsin where he started as an actor, writer, and director in 1983. He served as the Artistic Director of the theater from 2005-2010. Monologues he wrote for the Wisconsin Veterans’ Museum won him awards from the Wisconsin Historical Society and the American Association of State and Local History. He has also had essays, poems, and articles published in newspapers and magazines around the country and has taken the top prize in several photo contests. His writing has appeared in Out!, James White Review, Scott Stamp Monthly, Wisconsin State Journal, and elsewhere. He has had several essays published online for Forward Seeking, Life After Hate, and The Progressive. Callen has also been a community activist for many years. He was the co-founder of Young People Caring, UW-Madison’s 10% Society, and Proud Theater. He served as the first President of Young People Caring and as the Artistic Director for Proud Theater for its first five years. He is still an adult mentor for the group. In 2003 he won OutReach’s Man of the Year award for his queer community activism. OutReach is Madison, Wisconsin’s lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender community center. He also won a Community Shares of Wisconsin Backyard Hero award for his sex abuse survivor activism work. He has been invited to speak before many community groups, at a roundtable on queer community theater in New York City, and has emceed several events. In 2016, Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault named him their annual Courage Award winner for his activism, writing, and speaking on sexual assault.
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