MADISON, Wis. — Milwaukee businessman and entrepreneur Andy Gronik launched his run for governor as a Democrat on Tuesday, telling The Associated Press that his decades of experience in the private sector are a stark contrast to Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s long career in public office.
Gronik, a political newcomer who called himself a “progressive businessperson,” is the most prominent Democrat yet to get into the race and could tap his personal wealth to help spread his message.
Gronik, 60, told the AP that as governor, he would fight to restore collective bargaining rights to public workers lost under Walker. He also said he would reinstitute the nonpartisan elections board Walker dissolved, stop further expansion of the private school voucher program and accept federal money Walker rejected to help pay for health insurance for more poor people.
“I’ve never been a guy who dreamed of being in politics,” Gronik said. “I’ve gotten to this place very honestly. The fact that we have so many families all around our state who are struggling and there’s been so many attacks on people who can’t stand up and defend themselves, it’s time for a positive vision, a positive plan, a thoughtful plan that’s going to move us forward.”
Walker’s campaign manager, Joe Fadness, responded by releasing a memo showing that Walker raised $3.5 million in the first six months of the year and had $2.4 million cash on hand, more than he did at this point in 2013. Walker is expected to formally launch his bid for a third term later this summer.
“You have established clear dominance headed into 2018 based on your governing philosophy of keeping your promises, an aggressive fundraising operation, and constant vigilance over next year’s developing political landscape,” Fadness wrote in the memo to Walker.
Walker, in a fundraising email sent shortly after Gronik entered the race, branded him as a “far-left and out-of-touch candidate.” Walker labeled him and other potential Democratic challengers as “extreme” and asked supporters for donations starting at as little as $25.
Gronik’s entrance comes after he’s spent more than a year traveling the state, introducing himself to Democratic insiders and voters, and polling on issues as he prepares for what could be a crowded primary. The primary is Aug. 14, 2018, and the election is Nov. 6, 2018.
State schools chief Tony Evers, who was re-elected to a third term in April with 70 percent of the vote, said last week he was looking at getting into the race. Other possible Democrats include state Sen. Kathleen Vinehout, state Rep. Dana Wachs, Madison Mayor Paul Soglin, Jefferson County District Attorney Susan Happ and political activist Mike McCabe.
Two unknown newcomers — Bob Harlow and Ramona Whiteaker — have registered to run as Democrats.
Gronik didn’t sign the petition to recall Walker from office in 2012, a hurdle for him in a Democratic primary that could be filled with others who did. Gronik said no one approached him about signing it, but he did vote to remove Walker from office in the recall election.
“I wouldn’t weigh and measure my capabilities to actually move the state forward on whether I did or did not sign the recall,” Gronik said. “I think that would be a bit shortsighted.”
That election was spurred by anger over the Act 10 law championed by Walker that effectively ended collective bargaining for most state workers. Gronik said he wanted to reinstitute collective bargaining rights lost under the law.
Gronik said he knows more about how to create good-paying jobs than Walker because of his 35 years’ experience owning and operating businesses in the state. Walker has been in elected office since 1993.
Gronik founded AccuVal, an appraisal and consulting business, in 1988 and sold it in 2013. He started Stage W, a Milwaukee-based nonprofit that advocates for “bridging the political divide,” in May 2016. Gronik is also founder and president of GroBiz, a company that advises businesses.
Gronik said he won’t rely on his wealth to pay for his campaign.
“I think that self-funding political campaigns is wrong,” Gronik said. “I think it makes you your own special interest and that’s not where I’m coming from.”
The last Democrat who ran for governor also came from the business world and had limited political experience. Mary Burke lost to Walker by nearly 6 points in 2014.
Gronik, who is married with a 13-year-old son and 9-year-old daughter, lives in Fox Point, a suburb of Milwaukee.
Follow Scott Bauer on Twitter at https://twitter.com/sbauerAP