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Gov. Tony Evers drew criticism from open records advocates and journalists after his office refused to release a day’s worth of emails. The governor said state law doesn’t allow it.  Amid criticism, Evers later decided to release the emails. AP Gov. Tony Evers drew criticism from open records advocates and journalists after his office refused to release a day’s worth of emails. The governor said state law doesn’t allow it.  Amid criticism, Evers later decided to release the emails. AP

Gov. Tony Evers drew criticism from open records advocates and journalists after his office refused to release a day’s worth of emails. The governor said state law doesn’t allow it. Amid criticism, Evers later decided to release the emails. AP

By Vanessa Swales October 7, 2022

Wisconsin Gov. Evers is not a career politician

If Your Time is short

  • Gov. Evers began his career as a teacher in Wisconsin in 1974.

  • Evers entered partisan politics in 2018 when he ran for governor,  defeating Republican incumbent Scott Walker.

  • He was previously elected state superintendent, a nonpartisan position,  in 2009, and re-elected in 2013 and 2017.

The Wisconsin  governor's race has become the most expensive 2022 general election in the country, with Republican challenger Tim Michels positioning himself as the outsider businessman.

With that strategy, of course, he’s seeking the perfect foil – a career politician.

But that’s not exactly how most would describe Gov. Tony Evers, the Democrat who won the job four years ago. Yet there was the claim in a video from Michels posted Sept. 4 on Twitter: Evers is "a career politician."

Let’s take a closer look at Evers’ resume – and that of Michels.

From teacher to governor

During his political campaigns, Evers, 70, has touted his time as a young adult working scraping mold off of cheese at a cheese factory in Plymouth, as well as helping out as an orderly at Rocky Knoll, where his father was the director of the Sheboygan County hospital and sanitorium.

Evers graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, with a PhD in education in 1986 after getting his undergraduate degree there in 1974 and a master’s degree in 1978. 

Before starting his master’s degree, he worked as science teacher in Baraboo (1974 to 1975).

While working on his advanced degrees, Evers served as a teacher and media coordinator at Tomah Elementary School (1976 to 1979), principal at Tomah Elementary School (1979 to 1980) and later principal at Tomah High School (1980 to 1984), all in Monroe County. 

He then became superintendent at Oakfield Schools (1984 to 1988) in Fond du Lac County, then superintendent for Verona Schools in Dane County, where he served until 1992. 

He then became an administrator at a Cooperative Education Service Agency (CESA) in Oshkosh, from 1992 until 2001.

(The Legislature created 12 CESAs in 1965 in order to replace the office of County Superintendent of Schools and serve as a link between Wisconsin’s school districts, and between the districts and the state.)

Then for nearly two decades, Evers worked for the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, first as the Deputy State Superintendent between 2001 and 2009, and then as the State Superintendent from 2009 until 2018 (he was elected to the position another two times in 2013 and 2017).

That’s the first time holding any sort of elected office comes up – the top job, state superintendent, is a nonpartisan, elected constitutional office. As such, the elected state superintendent cannot affiliate with a political party during their time in office.

Of course, as state superintendent, Evers engaged in politics, in that he had a platform he could use to advocate for education issues, seek budget increases and more. Like state Supreme Court contests, there is often a partisan breakdown among supporters for the candidates. And, to be sure, Evers used the position as a springboard to the governor’s job. 

The position did not include the same partisan dynamic as governor, but it would be naive to suggest there is not a political element to it. 

Indeed, Evers was appointed deputy in 2001, after an unsuccessful bid for the job. And he previously ran in 1993, when he lost out to John Benson.

This brings us to the Wisconsin gubernatorial election in 2018, in which Evers won the Democratic nomination and went on to unseat Republican Scott Walker. This was the first time he ran for a partisan office – but his sixth attempt at statewide office.

So, in Evers’ 48-year working career, you can count his time as a politician two ways – four years in a partisan office, or 17 in any elected office.

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But either way, the preponderance of his career was spent as a public school teacher and administrator. 

"Gov. Evers, who’s spent most of his life fighting for Wisconsin’s kids and schools, has worked as a caregiver, teacher, factory worker, and principal," said Britt Cudabeck, Evers spokesperson, adding "the thousands of people in Wisconsin who work these very jobs every day would be shocked to learn Tim Michels thinks they’re "career politicians.’"

Tim Michels and his background

While we’re looking at resumes, let’s take a quick look at Michels, 60, who is actually seeking elective office for the third time.

The first attempt for Michels came in 1998 when he made a bid for the state Senate, losing out to incumbent Senator Scott L. Fitzgerald in the Republican primary. 

In 2004, Michels ran for the U.S. Senate, defeating automobile dealer Russ Darrow Jr., state Senator Robert Welch and attorney Robert Lorge in the Republican primary. 

He lost that fall to the Democratic incumbent, U.S. Senator Russ Feingold, who he also called a "career politician."

(Fun fact: When U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson labeled Feingold a career politician in a 2016 rematch between the two, we rated that Mostly True.)

Michels earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in political science from St. Norbert College in 1984.

From 1984 to July 1996, Michels was also in the United States Army as an Infantry Officer and as a Plans, Operations and Training Officer. He had no deployments. At the end of his service, he held the rank of major, according to his military records.

He later earned an MBA from the University of Chicago and an MPA, that's a Master of Public Administration, from the Illinois Institute of Technology in 1997.

Since 1998, after the death of his father, Dale, Tim Michels and his brothers, Pat and Kevin, have led the family-run, Brownsville-based energy and infrastructure construction company, Michels Corp. The company had projected revenue of nearly $3 billion in 2018, according to BizTimes Milwaukee.

Michels is both a co-owner and the vice president, but has said he would divest himself from the business if he is elected as governor.

In April, 2022, Michels filed paperwork with the state’s Elections Commission, thus beginning his run for governor of Wisconsin – his third attempt to win public office.

We asked the Michels campaign for evidence for their claim, and a comment on the candidate’s own pursuits of elective office, but did not hear back before deadline. 

But since this claim is résumé-driven, it was easy to gather the material we needed. 

Our ruling

Tim Michels claimed that Evers is a "career politician."

In his 48-year working career, one could say he has held any elected office for 17 years, or spent four years as a partisan politician.  To label him a "career politician" ignores 31 years, or more than half his work life.

But we also can’t ignore two earlier, unsuccessful, attempts to win the statewide job. That means we have a statement that "contains an element of truth but ignores critical facts that would give a different impression."

And that’s our definition for Mostly False.



Our Sources

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Group reports $55 million in TV ad buys in Wisconsin governor's race, making it most expensive in the country, Sept. 30, 2022

Tim Michels, post on Twitter, posted on Sept. 4, 2022

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Here is what you should know about Tony Evers as he seeks a second term as Wisconsin governor in the November 2022 election, July 2, 2022

Emails with Gov. Tony Evers’ spokesperson, Britt Cudaback, Oct. 5, 2022

National Journal, Gov. Tony Evers CV, Gov. Tony Evers bio

Wisconsin State Journal, Tony Evers: We have to have a governor that values education, July 21, 2018

Wisconsin State Statute, Chapter 116

The New York Times, Wisconsin Governor Election Results, Jan. 28, 2019

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, What to know about Tim Michels, the Donald Trump-endorsed Republican candidate for Wisconsin governor, Aug. 10, 2022

The New York Times, In Swing-State Wisconsin, Foreign Policy and Domestic Security Stir a Senate Race, Oct. 11, 2004

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Tim Michels promises to divest himself from family construction business if he wins race for governor, April 28, 2022

BizTimes Milwaukee, Family-Owned Business of the Year: Michels Corp., Dec. 17, 2018

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, With massive wealth, Tim Michels can afford to stay on the air in Wisconsin's race for governor, May 24, 2022

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Construction executive Tim Michels running for Wisconsin governor, bringing the Republican field to 4, April 22, 2022

PolitiFact, Sen. Ron Johnson claims Russ Feingold is a career politician, Feb. 4, 2016

The Associated Press, Republican Johnson defeats Feingold in rematch of 2010 race, Nov. 8, 2016

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More by Vanessa Swales

Wisconsin Gov. Evers is not a career politician

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