Rebecca Kleefisch, the Republican lieutenant governor of Wisconsin, likes to talk about butter. By the time we’re done talking, I know exactly how to buy a month’s worth from a Wisconsin Kwik Trip—and what Kleefisch thinks that has to do with Republican politics.
Kleefisch, 38, is a former local news anchor-turned-politician, with a sharp eye for marketing. She thinks Republicans, and politicians in general, spend too much time talking in millions and billions. “I don’t budget in millions and billions. I budget in twenties and then hundreds. If we continue to talk in millions and billions we make politics and policy inaccessible to people who don’t talk ‘legalese’ as their native language.” So instead, she communicates how much Governor Scott Walker’s newest policies will save Wisconsin in terms of coffee, gasoline, and butter.
According to Kleefisch, Governor Scott Walker’s “Blueprint for Prosperity,” a bill cutting income and property taxes which he recently signed into law, will save the average Wisconsin family $681 this year. She estimates that's about 337 packages of butter. But, she warns me, I’ll be limited to purchasing five packages per visit when they're on sale at Kwik Trip, per store policy.
Kleefisch is now running her third campaign for lieutenant governor after being elected in 2010 and surviving a recall campaign, along with Walker, in 2012. Walker is a potential 2016 presidential candidate, and there’s a chance she could one day succeed him as governor. Charlie Sykes, a popular Wisconsin radio host and political commentator, thinks her future might hinge on how Walker leaves office. If he doesn’t serve out his full term, he thinks she’ll be a dominant figure in the race. If he retires after his full term, it could be a much more open race—although Sykes says there’s “not a lot of buzz at all” about other potential candidates. It’s still early to predict much, but Sykes believes she “ought to be considered a rising star, even nationally.”
So who is Rebecca Kleefisch? She once worked as an anchor for an ABC affiliate in Milwaukee, before she married and had a child. She took time off for a short while, but always with an eye to getting back to work. She says she always knew “my baby would just assimilate into my world as a career woman.” She started a media and marketing company, Rebecca Kleefisch Enterprises, Inc. But ever a political junkie at heart, she soon turned her marketing skills to her own political career and ran for lieutenant governor.
Once elected as Wisconsin’s “Jobs Ambassador,” Kleefisch ruffled feathers with her unusual tactics. While reading about Illinois tax hikes in the Chicago Tribune, she took note of the names of “some angry CEOs.” She cold-called them and “offered them greener pastures” in her state. FatWallet.com, a shopping discount company, took her advice. Fox Business live streamed the FatWallet moving trucks as they drove across the border from Illinois.
“There were a lot of people who found that shocking or controversial,” she says. “I really didn’t see what the big deal was. They just don’t do those things in government, but I think that’s why it’s important to have folks from the private sector make a visit to government every now and again.” Comments like this make her popular with the Tea Party.
Kleefisch is easily likened to former Alaska governor Sarah Palin. Fox News featured Kleefisch on a program about “Mama Grizzlies”—a phrase coined by Palin herself to describe GOP women who see their political roles as fighting for the future of their “cubs,” part of what Palin has called a “mom awakening.” The Wisconsin State Journal called Kleefisch “our Mama Grizzly.”