WI senator faces vote of no-confidence after working with DPI to derail Common Core reform
By Ryan Ekvall | Wisconsin Reporter
MADISON, Wis. — Dan Krueger says he got involved in politics three years ago when he heard that Sen. Luther Olsen, R-Ripon, was facing a recall election over his support for Act 10.
Krueger knocked on doors, made phone calls and got out the vote for the Republican, who was facing his first challenge since he took office 17 years earlier.
Sen. Olsen, R – Ripon, faces a backlash from party members for his support of the Common Core.
Olsen survived the recall attempt by government union organizers, but now faces the wrath of the same Republican Party grassroots activists who helped him keep his job in 2011. Conservatives are unhappy with Olsen for blocking legislative reform of the national Common Core academic standards in Wisconsin.
The standards affect hundreds of thousands of Wisconsin public, private and home-school students and cost taxpayers up to $250 million to implement.
“It is kind of ironic. It is irritating,” Krueger said. “We’re just trying to figure out how can we get rid of him or how can we neutralize him.”
Several party caucuses across the state passed resolutions of non-support and no-confidence in the state Senate Education Committee chairman. The state Republican Party will vote on a non-support resolution this weekend at its annual state convention.
Olsen doesn’t sound worried.
“Bring it on … I went through Act 10,” Olsen recently told WisPolitics.com. “If I’m the guy who is standing between getting rid of the Common Core and keeping it, I can go to sleep fine saying, ‘Yeah, I think it’s the right thing, and that’s not a problem.”
But party members and even some insiders say Olsen went too far, obstructing and blindsiding colleagues to deflect anger from party activists.
Olsen works with DPI against Republicans
His office leaked a draft version of a bill calling for an academic standards board to the Department of Public Instruction nearly a week before the final version was introduced in the Senate, Wisconsin Reporter has learned through an open records request.
DPI supports the national standards and launched a political campaign of its own against the effort to derail Common Core in Wisconsin.
Multiple sources in the Legislature told Wisconsin Reporter that what Olsen did is out-of-bounds.
“When he did that, we were frustrated,” said Scott Rausch, chief of staff for Sen. Paul Farrow, R – Pewaukee. “Being that it was not his bill, we were worried why things were happening that way.”
Olsen did not return calls for comment.
Sen. Leah Vukmir, R-Wauwatosa, and Rep. Steve Nass, R-Whitewater, co-authored Senate Bill 619 to create a state academic standards board, which would have democratized the process to review and adopt academic standards.
Mike Mikalsen, Nass’ chief of staff, said the bill was a compromise by those who wanted to repeal Common Core and those who wanted to change they way it was implemented in Wisconsin.
“Luther (Olsen) signed off on it, then he undercut it,” he said.
Minutes before the hearing on the bill, Olsen made a statement to the Associated Press that five anonymous Republican senators wouldn’t vote for the bill, essentially killing it. Those senators, if they exist, have never publicly corroborated his statement.
“It was very clear that before the hearing on SB 619 there was a tremendous amount of work between Olsen and DPI,” Mikalsen said. “They were updating the DPI (on) what was going on behind the scenes to give them a heads up to mobilize against us. Everybody and his brother eventually realized the moment you told Luther’s office anything, it was going to straight to DPI.”
DPI Superintendent Tony Evers claimed Republicans were playing politics with education in SB 619, even as public records show DPI was obsessed with protecting Common Core.
Evers rounded up public school superintendents throughout the state to testify against an academic standards review board — even after many of them testified they would favor such a process during the statewide hearings.
In January, Olsen told members of the Adams County GOP it was Gov. Scott Walker and his big-money donors who were keeping the Common Core standards alive in Wisconsin, multiple sources tell Wisconsin Reporter.
The governor’s office confirmed to Wisconsin Reporter that Walker hasn’t changed his position in favor of higher, Wisconsin-based education standards.
“It was just disappointing (for Olsen to blame Walker),” said Richard Church, chair of the Adams County GOP. “If he had said ‘I think Common Core is a good thing and I’m going to support it and here’s why’ — if he just did that I don’t think we’d have taken the action we did.”
Olsen told the Wisconsin State Journal, “They’re just upset with people who don’t agree with them on everything.”
“Our job is to get Walker elected and this is a bad time to raise the issues,” Krueger said. “But now they’ll pay attention. After the election, they ignore us. They don’t need us anymore. It’s a good time to raise the issues, I think.”
Contact Ryan Ekvall at email@example.com, 608-257-1382 or follow him on Twitter @Nockian.