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‘The fight for his life’: Vos faces 2 challengers in district race who helped with ongoing recall

A Republican primary challenger and independent candidate facing off against longtime Assembly Speaker Robin Vos assisted with second effort to remove him from office

Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Robin Vos speaks at a press conference on June 8, 2023.
Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, speaks during a Republican press conference on June 8, 2023, in the Wisconsin State Capitol building to announce a tentative agreement between legislative Republicans and Gov. Tony Evers on a shared revenue bill. Drake White-Bergey/Wisconsin Watch

Longtime Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos is facing election challenges on two fronts — from a second recall effort and an upcoming reelection campaign where he may face three opponents, including two people involved with the recall.

Political scientist Mordecai Lee, an emeritus professor at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, said Vos — a powerful leader of Wisconsin Republican’s legislative victories since the Scott Walker era — is paying the price for angering his party’s far right wing.

In the last election cycle, Vos narrowly survived a primary challenge from a political newcomer endorsed by former President Donald Trump.

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“I think that Vos is in the fight for his life,” Lee said.

“We have to remember that two years ago when a no-name person filed to run against him in the primary, that the person was then endorsed by Trump, and the person came within just a couple hundred votes of knocking off Vos in the primary,” Lee continued. “I think it would have been a radical, revolutionary event if he had won, but it was such a close call that I think it’s it sends us the message of how much the base has focused its anger at Vos.”

The Wisconsin Elections Committee is currently vetting more than 9,000 signatures submitted by organizers of the Racine Recall Committee. Committee members are confident they’ll have enough signatures to trigger a recall election, despite falling short with their first attempt earlier this year. 

A Friday press release from the Racine Recall Committee says the group is “extremely confident” it has enough signatures. A statement from the Vos-aligned group Wisconsinites for Liberty Fund posted by WisPolitics last week claims recall organizers have “once again fallen woefully short on collecting the required number of signatures.”

On Friday afternoon, Vos filed a challenge to the Racine Recall committee’s petition, claiming that organizers initiated it in the wrong Assembly District.

A press release from Vos’ campaign called the second recall attempt a failure. It claims organizers allowed hundreds of people to sign recall petitions multiple times and states 2,000 signatures were collected from outside Vos’ old 63rd Assembly District.

Vos is now running in the new 33rd Assembly District, where he will face up to three challengers, two of them people who have helped the latest recall effort.

They include Andrew Cegielski of East Troy, who plans to run against Vos in the Republican primary, Kelly Clark of Sturtevant, who plans to run in the general election as an Independent, and Democrat Alan Kupsik of Lake Geneva.

Trump supporters cheer during a rally for the former president Tuesday, April 2, 2024, at Hyatt Regency in Green Bay, Wis. Angela Major/WPR

Lee, who’s also a former Democratic state legislator, said seeing Vos face two challengers who assisted in the ongoing recall is “an amazing development.” He said the recall effort has been driven by Trump supporters who are angry the speaker “wasn’t willing to decertify” the 2020 election results in Wisconsin.

That anger has stayed focused despite Vos’ efforts to appease the base.

“We have to remember that Vos tried everything he could to try to keep the MAGA party happy,” Lee said.

Lee said that includes hiring former Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Mike Gableman to lead an investigation of the state’s 2020 presidential election results, which resulted in a report that suggested that lawmakers decertify the results, which has widely been dismissed as legally impossible. 

Gableman then turned on Vos, endorsing his primary challenger two years ago, and is now working with the latest recall. 

Former Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman speaks outside the Wisconsin Elections Commission offices in Madison in support of an effort to recall Assembly Speaker Robin Vos. Recall organizer Matthew Snorek (left) said organizers turned in more than 9,000 signatures.
Former Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman speaks outside the Wisconsin Elections Commission offices in Madison in support of an effort to recall Assembly Speaker Robin Vos. Recall organizer Matthew Snorek (left) said organizers turned in more than 9,000 signatures.Shawn Johnson/WPR

Vos’ challenger in the Republican primary will be Andrew Cegielski, who says he writes for the Wisconsin Conservative Digest.

In April, he collected collected signatures for the Racine Recall Committee. He told WPR he was never part of the organization of the recall and only collected the signatures as part of his coverage for the conservative media outlet after Vos claimed there was fraud in the failed recall months earlier. 

“They (recall organizers) were just having you go back to the same doors that had signed the first time and having them sign again,” Cegielski said. “And I was curious to know for myself, not just taking it from Robin Vos. Because, again, this is the problem in politics in general: their words get regurgitated.”

Cegielski said he tried to recruit other candidates to run against Vos in the new 33rd District, but “nobody else was willing to do it.” 

“I’ve been told that I’m the only one with the cojones to actually take the guy on,” Cegielski said. 

He said the new maps passed by Republicans and signed by Gov. Tony Evers in February drew him into the district Vos would run in this fall. Cegielski said he doesn’t think Vos can represent him as a constituent and he would do a better job of listening to all residents, regardless of their political affiliation.

Cegielski said he understands his weaknesses as a candidate. Online court records show he’s been convicted of third-offense driving under the influence in 2013, and disorderly conduct in 2016. He also faced a disorderly conduct charge with a domestic abuse modifier the year before, but that charge was dismissed as part of a plea agreement.

If Vos makes it through the GOP primary in August, he could face independent candidate Kelly Clark, who submitted nomination papers June 3.

Clark has also helped out with the second Vos recall attempt. On May 21, the Racine Recall Committee posted a radio advertisement recorded by her on its Facebook page.

“I want to talk to you about an urgent issue regarding Assembly Speaker Robin Vos. Speaker Vos is resorting to lies and scare tactics to suppress the First Amendment rights of our friends who are actively working on his recall effort,” Clark states in the ad. “This is a clear attempt to divert attention from the real problems, one of which is his support of Communist China’s purchasing of Wisconsin farmland. This not only jeopardizes our land, but also places our food supply at risk.”

Republican Adam Steen speaks to a crowd of people at a rally for Donald Trump in Waukesha. Trump has endorsed Steen in his Republican primary race against Assembly Speaker Robin Vos.
Republican Adam Steen speaks at a rally for former President Donald Trump in Waukesha on Aug. 5, 2022. Trump endorsed Steen in his Republican state primary against Assembly Speaker Robin Vos. Angela Major/WPR

In response to a WPR request for comment on her campaign, Clark sent an email stating that “after nearly four years of working hard with the Wisconsin grassroots, I am excited to officially enter the race as an independent candidate.” 

Vos will also face former Lake Geneva Mayor Al Kupsik, a Democrat, in the November general election. He said he was recruited by the Democratic Party of Wisconsin in part because of the repeated recall efforts brought by angry conservatives and the new voting maps. 

“The opportunity came up because they got a recall against him and the Democrats are feeling that there might be a better chance of actually winning that district,” Kupsik said. 

Kupsik calls it a “challenging little venture” and he realizes his chances aren’t great. A review of the new 33rd Assembly District by WisPolitics suggests a 66.4 percent lean in Republicans’ favor.

“I’ll tell you what, if a Democrat can pull it off in that district, I’d be surprised,” Kupsik said. 

A spokesperson for Vos did not respond to interview requests for this story. 

Vos’ complicated relationship with Trump is likely to be one of the biggest factors in the speaker’s bid to remain in power. He endorsed Trump’s campaign in 2016, but in 2022 told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, “I am going to try as hard as I can to make sure Donald Trump is not the nominee.” However, in March, Vos endorsed Trump, stating he’s a better choice than Democratic President Joe Biden.

Lee credits Vos’ change of heart is about being “a loyal Republican” while also “trying to minimize his opposition.”

“He’s trying to minimize the people who will still hold it against him for what he did over the last four years,” Lee said. “But the group that wants to knock him off, one way or the other, has such a ferocious hatred of him, suddenly, that they won’t forgive him for his past sins.”

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