John Humphries charged fellow state schools superintendent challenger Lowell Holtz promised him a six-figure job at DPI if he dropped out of the primary and Holtz beat incumbent Tony Evers in the April general election.
But Holtz on Wednesday said the offer was a “rough draft” of ideas and that the deal wasn’t aimed at getting one of them to drop out of the race. Rather, he said, the job offer was part of a possible deal to ensure the primary loser backed the other challenger in the general election against Evers.
The document, which Humphries’ campaign provided to WisPolitics.com, called for one of them to get a three-year contract with annual pay of $150,000, full benefits and a driver.
Holtz brought the document to a Dec. 22 breakfast meeting at a Milton family restaurant.
“He was saying, ‘This is what I would do to get out of the race and if you got out of the race, this is what I would do for you,'” Humphries told WisPolitics.com in an interview.
Holtz, though, said the document was a “rough draft and a conversation starter about what an agreement between us working together could look like.”
If Holtz worked for Humphries, under the deal, he would have had “complete authority” over the Milwaukee, Racine, Kenosha and Madison districts with Green Bay to be negotiated.
It called for giving Holtz the ability to “Change boards when I deem it necessary,” break apart districts and create new rules for them. Holtz also was to get his own deputy superintendents and a budget proportional to the number of kids in the districts under his control.
“We are going to shake up Milwaukee and it is going to make noise,” the document says under Holtz’s section.
The section laying out what Humphries’ responsibilities would be under Holtz was left blank, and Humphries said Holtz wanted him to fill in his proposed authorities.
But Holtz said the powers listed in the document wouldn’t be go-to options in working to help improve school districts.
“These are last resort items, not something I would start with,” he said. “I don’t start with the sledgehammer. I start by trying to work together.”
Humphries brought up the alleged offer during a WISN radio debate Wednesday, and the two gave conflicting accounts of their interactions and what the proposal entailed. Both candidates discussed the document in separate follow-up interviews with WisPolitics.com.
The two said they had met together with Milwaukee-area business leaders over the best way to challenge Evers.
Holtz said he typed up the document at the request of those business leaders days before Humphries and Holtz met.
Both candidates declined to identify the business leaders.
Holtz said the business leaders had suggested the two pair up to topple Evers, citing Humphries’ background in school administration and Holtz’s strengths in reforming large urban school districts as potential collective strengths.
Humphries said he declined the alleged offer from Holtz and that he instead told Holtz he should leave the race and “come to work for my campaign.”
Meanwhile, Holtz said he soon realized because he and Humphries are on two “totally different ends of the political spectrum,” such a deal wouldn’t work out.
Evers’ campaign spokeswoman Amanda Brink declined to comment, saying, “We have decided to let this story stand for itself.”
Holtz described the document as a “conversation starter.”
But Humphries said it was “nonsensical” and would significantly erode local control over education.
“You start a conversation with ‘I’m going to break up districts and remove the school board?'” Humphries said. “That’s not even a conversation starter. That’s a conversation stopper.”
Humphries said he delayed releasing the document because it recently became clear that Holtz “shoots from the hip” and is a “loose cannon.” Holtz, he said, has claimed he wants local control but Wisconsinites need to know he’s “considering unilateral power from DPI and disposing of school boards.”
Listen to the debate (the alleged deal is discussed at 5:27, 11:30 and again at 18:50):