Republican Michels launches campaign for Wisconsin governor (copy)

Tim Michels speaks before an event Oct. 15, 2004, in Oshkosh. Michels, then a U.S. Senate candidate, is running for governor.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Tim Michels dismissed questions about his state residency as "political games" from "Madison special interests" on Monday, following a report on homes his family owns in Connecticut and New York.

The conservative site Wisconsin Right Now published a report on Sunday questioning where Michels and his family have lived for the past decade, noting that in addition to the Michels' Hartland, Wisconsin home, the family owns a home in Greenwich, Connecticut, and another residence in Manhattan. The Connecticut home was purchased in 2020.

According to the report, Michels' three children attended and graduated from schools in Connecticut and New York between 2013 and 2021. Michels confirmed that in an interview on Monday with conservative radio host Dan O'Donnell on WISN-AM.

The candidate released a statement shortly after the interview. Michels, a co-owner of Michels Corporation, said construction projects in New York brought him to the area, and his family joined him there. 

"For the last couple of decades, (I went) where Michels Construction needed me, and on any of those projects, I spent the bulk of my time in Wisconsin," Michels said in a statement. "I paid my taxes here. I voted here. Wisconsin is home and always will be. Anyone insinuating anything to the contrary is just plain wrong."

In his interview with O'Donnell, Michels said he spent at least 183 days (the number that triggers tax liability in a state) in Wisconsin every year from 2013-2021, with the exception of 2015, when he paid taxes in New York.

State voting records confirm that Michels has voted in Wisconsin for at least the last decade. Michels said any votes recorded as an absentee vote were cast in-person via early voting.

Michels told O'Donnell his primary residence for the last 14 years has been the family's Hartland home, and before that, their former home in Oconomowoc.

"My children did go to school out there (on the East Coast)," Michels said during the radio interview. "We probably could have moved back a few years ago, but my daughter was going to be a senior in high school … and we said, you know what, we’re not going to move back to Wisconsin so that she can have a disruptive senior year."

O'Donnell asked whether it would be fair to say the Michels family's life was focused in Connecticut and New York for the past decade, noting that publicly available information gave that impression.

"Well, my children's lives may have been, and of course my wife (as a mother) … spent a lot of time out there as well," Michels said. "I'm the guy on the ballot. I'm the one that is running for governor, because I can't take it anymore. Tony Evers has failed this state from COVID to Kenosha."

Michels said his children's "hearts" are in Wisconsin.

"They're Brewers fans, they're big Bucks fans, they're big Packers fans. Anybody who's trying to portray my family as anything other than genuine Wisconsin, hardworking people is just playing politics," Michels said.

Michels, 59, was the fourth prominent Republican candidate to enter the race when he launched his campaign last week. He joined former Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, Marine veteran and businessman Kevin Nicholson and state Rep. Timothy Ramthun as they compete for the opportunity to challenge Democratic Gov. Tony Evers.

A Marquette University Law School poll released last week found that 46% of Republican voters are undecided on their choice for the August primary. 

Former Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch led the pack, at 32%. Marine veteran and businessman Kevin Nicholson was the choice of 10% of GOP voters, and state Rep. Timothy Ramthun was supported by 5%.

The poll did not ask about Michels, who had not yet launched his campaign when it was conducted.

An Army veteran, Michels runs Michels Corporation with his brothers. The company was founded by their father in 1959 as a gas pipeline construction company. It employs 8,000 people and builds "everything from subway tunnels to roads to pipelines to electrical transmission lines."

In a statement announcing his candidacy, Michels said he plans to focus his campaign on the economy, education, public safety and election integrity.

The winner of the Aug. 9 primary will face Evers on Nov. 8.

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