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Wisconsin Gov. Evers, Michels display differences in debate

Wisconsin Republican gubernatorial candidate Tim Michels, left, and Democratic Gov. Tony Evers shake hands before a televised debate, Friday, Oct. 14, 2022, in Madison, Wis.
Morry Gash
Wisconsin Republican gubernatorial candidate Tim Michels, left, and Democratic Gov. Tony Evers shake hands before a televised debate, Friday, Oct. 14, 2022, in Madison, Wis.

Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers tried to cast his Republican challenger Tim Michels as a radical in a Friday debate, while Michels argued that Evers has failed the state and doesn't deserve a second term.

Michels is endorsed by former President Donald Trump, which he touted during the Republican primary, but he did not mention that backing in Friday's debate. Evers defended his record and made a push for increasing funding for schools and local governments.

Polls have shown the race to be about even.

Highlights from the debate:


Michels said Evers and his allies were mischaracterizing his position on abortion, “calling me a radical. I am pro life and I make no apologies for that.”

Michels said he would sign a bill creating an exception to Wisconsin’s 1849 near total abortion ban for rape and incest. Before he won the August primary Michels did not support exceptions. Michels said he was not against contraception. When asked if he would make it illegal for people from Wisconsin to travel to other states to obtain an abortion, he said “I’m not going to be this radical guy with checks at the border.”

Evers supports codifying Roe v. Wade.

“Women should have the ability and the right to make decisions about their health care, including reproductive health care, and that includes abortion,” he said. “My opponent is radical on this position ... and not consistent with Wisconsin values.”


Evers voiced his support for so-called red flag laws that would allow for judges to take weapons away from people determined to be a danger and universal gun background checks. He noted that polls have shown broad support among Wisconsin residents for both.

Michels said that “crime is running rampant” and “I’m going to fix it.”

“And guns? I have a solution for that,” Michels said, without detailing what that solution was.

Michels opposes red flag laws and universal background checks.

“We need to make sure we uphold the Constitution and law abiding gun owners are not having their guns confiscated,” he said.

Evers said that wasn’t a concern.

“Responsible gun owners don’t have to worry about red flag laws because it will never be an issue for them,” he said.


Evers defended the 2020 presidential election, which President Joe Biden narrowly won over Trump, saying it was “safe, secure and there was no fraud.”

He faulted Michels for raising questions about the validity of the election. Biden's win over Trump has withstood reviews, audits, lawsuits and recounts.

“Voting rights are on this ballot,” Evers said. “It is radical to say ‘I’m not sure how this works out’ or ‘fraud happened’ when it didn’t happen.”

Michels vowed to work with the GOP-controlled Legislature to increase faith in elections. He also promised to certify every election as governor.

“Under a Gov. Michels administration we will never have questions,” he said. “Of course I will certify the election.”


Michels voiced his support for making access to taxpayer funded school vouchers universal. He has previously said he would not increase funding for public schools.

“We’re going to spend as much money as any governor has on education but we’re going to spend it wisely,” he said.

Evers, a former teacher, school administrator and state superintendent of schools, has released a plan to increase public school funding by $2 billion.

He said the Michels plan, which would decrease funding to public schools by 40%, was radical and opposed by a majority of Wisconsin residents.


Michels, who co-owns the state’s largest construction firm Michels Corp., said if elected he will completely divest from the company. State records show Michels Corp. has received more than $1.1 billion from Wisconsin for construction projects since 2014.

“There will be no conflict of interest,” Michels said.

Evers said even if he divests, Michels Corp. will still be bidding for state projects.

“I think it’s going to look kind of fishy,” Evers said.


— Evers repeated his call for increasing funding for local governments, saying that's the solution to addressing crime. Michels said Evers has failed to reduce crime and also faulted the state parole commission for releasing convicted murderers and rapists.

— Michels described the Evers’ administration as the “Barnes-Evers administration.” Mandela Barnes is currently lieutenant governor but he is running for U.S. Senate. The most recent Marquette University Law School poll this week showed U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson with an apparent lead over Barnes, while Evers and Michels were about even.

— In response to a question about climate change, after Michels cast doubt about whether it’s caused by actions of people, Evers responded, “Instead of blah, blah here, I’m going to talk about our clean energy plan.”

— Evers, when asked to address attacks made against him in the campaign, said claims that he isn't a hard worker and spends too much time sleeping “is a bunch of crap.”

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