GOP guv candidate Tim Michels vowed Friday to tell criminals there’s a “new sheriff in town” if he’s elected, while Dem incumbent Tony Evers dismissed his rival for talking tough and not having a plan to provide the state resources local law enforcement needs.

Michels during an hourlong debate accused Evers of failing to provide strong leadership on crime and said law enforcement doesn’t believe that the guv has their back. He said he’ll talk to the “bad guys” on election night during his victory speech and on inauguration day to let them know a change is coming.

“They’re going to understand if they’re not willing to do the time, they’re not going to do the crime,” Michels said.

Evers countered that making sure people are safe in their homes is about more than talk. He touted the more than $100 million in federal COVID-19 funds that he put into law enforcement and touted his efforts to increase state aid to local governments in his first two budgets. He vowed to seek additional resources in his next two budgets if reelected.

“In order to accomplish that, it isn’t just about talking tough,” Evers said. “It’s about providing the resources.”

Evers and Michels met Friday in their only debate ahead of the Nov. 8 election, disagreeing on a series of issues, but having few sharp exchanges. Michels regularly accused Evers of providing weak leadership. He also several times referenced the “Evers-Barnes” or “Barnes-Evers” administration, seeking to tie the guv to Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, who’s running for the U.S. Senate. Republicans have run millions in TV ads seeking to portray Barnes as soft on crime and supporting the defund-the-police movement.

Michels offered few details on the issues raised during the debate, instead regularly promising to provide strong or bold leadership. When asked about climate change and state-level actions he might take, Michels said temperatures have fluctuated throughout history and that can’t be attributed to just man’s actions in the last 100 years. He said he’d be a responsible guv on the environment and be a “bold leader and make sure we do the right things.”

Evers countered, “Instead of blah, blah here, I’m going to talk about our clean energy initiative.”

Evers said the initiative has been able to increase solar in the state and that people are choosing clean energy not only because “they know it’s the right thing to do, and it’s cheaper.”

He, too, often spoke in platitudes without providing many details about his proposals.

Evers and his allies have had a significant spending advantage over Michels and those backing him through paid media. According to AdImpact, Evers and his allies have spent $30 million since the primary, compared to about $17 million by Michels and those supporting him.

A consistent theme in the Dem ads has been an effort to knock Michels, a business company exec, for his position on abortion.

Michels accused the guv and his allies of misrepresenting his position. Michels has said his position on abortion is in line with the state’s 1849 ban that only allows the procedure to save the life of the mother. But he has pledged he would sign a bill that added exceptions for rape and incest if the Legislature sent one to his desk. 

He again made that pledge on Friday and charged Evers would allow a doctor to murder a baby after birth, referencing a GOP-bill that the guv vetoed. Others have disputed that’s legal under current law.

“I’ll tell you who the real radical is, Gov. Evers. He’s for allowing abortion even at the time of birth,” Michels said.

The two were asked if they would seek to ban the mailing of pills that cause abortions, or to prosecute Wisconsin women who go to other states for an abortion.

Michels said prosecutions for crossing state lines was something he’d have to “sit down and work out,” but added he’s not “going to be some radical guy with checks at the border.”

Evers insisted his GOP opponent was the radical on the issue, saying he was incredulous the state was in a position where it could have a governor who would criminalize abortion and throw doctors in jail for performing the procedure while not personally supporting exceptions for rape and incest.

“Those positions taken by my opponent are radical,” Evers said. “They’re not consistent with Wisconsin values.”

The ads Michels and his backers have run in the race often focus on those who have been released on parole while Evers has been in office.

Evers said he “fired” the head of the commission for failing to adequately notify the family of a murder victim that her killer was on the verge of being released. Evers later said that he asked the former chair to reverse the decision to release Douglas Balsewicz and then asked for and received John Tate’s resignation.

Balsewicz, who was convicted in 1997 of murdering his wife, had served about 25 years of his 80-year sentence before Tate initially signed off on his release. 

Evers said the state should strengthen the notification requirements for the families of crime victims before they’re released. He then pivoted again to shared revenue, saying it was key to making sure local governments have the resources they need for law enforcement.

“Shared revenue is what our folks at the local level are asking for,” Evers said.

Michels promised to pick a Parole Commission chair who will make sure “we have rule of law in Wisconsin.” He offered no specifics.

“I am going to be tough, and I am going to talk tough, and I am going to lead the men and women of law enforcement,” Michels said. That’s how you get crime down.”

On other issues:

*Michels said he opposes red flag laws and used a hypothetical to explain why. He said a “disgruntled ex” could say they’re not comfortable with their former partner’s guns and have them confiscated. He added responsible gun owners shouldn’t have to be subject to having their guns taken away without due process.

“I’m a responsible gun owner,” Michels said. “I’ll protect your Second Amendment rights.”’

Evers said he supports red flag laws and universal background checks, saying both are reasonable and widely supported by the public, according to the Marquette University Law School Poll.

“Responsible gun owners don’t have to worry about red flag laws because it will never be an issue for them,” Evers said.

*Evers knocked his opponent for saying there was voter fraud in the last election. He accused Michels of talking “about massive fraud without any idea or any specifics.”

“Voting rights are on this ballot,” Evers said. 

Michels argued a nonpartisan legislative commission did find fraud occurred in the last election and blasted previous administrations for not doing more to prevent it. He also said he would reconsider all the election bills Evers vetoed. 

The Legislative Audit Bureau in a 2021 report found no widespread fraud in the 2020 election, but raised a number of questions about how it was administered. That includes directives to local clerks from the Wisconsin Elections Commission.

Michels this summer declined to say whether he would certify the next presidential election if Donald Trump, who has endorsed his campaign, runs and again loses Wisconsin to Joe Biden. He said the question was too hypothetical.

On Friday, Michels said if he’s elected the state would “never have these questions again about election integrity.” Because of that, he would certify any election after elected.

He also said he would stop the indefinitely confined status. That allows those indefinitely confined due to “age, physical illness or infirmity or is disabled for an indefinite period” to become a permanent absentee voter and receive ballots without showing a photo ID. Republicans raised concerns about that designation during the 2020 election, especially after two county clerks cited the pandemic and a statewide stay-at-home order in advising anyone could claim the status. That advice was rescinded after a court order.

*Both candidates said they want to give at least a piece of the state’s projected surplus back to taxpayers. 

Evers touted his past plan to provide a 10 percent tax break to middle-class Wisconsinites and to get rid of a 1930s-era law that requires a minimum markup on gasoline. Evers said his plan includes other tax breaks that would help make things like child care more affordable.

Michels said he wants to return all the surplus and pledged to overhaul the tax code.

“I’m telling you right now. This excess in taxes that some people think is a good thing is wrong,” Michels said. 

*Evers also said Critical Race Theory is not taught in any schools the Department of Public Instruction oversees because it’s a law school-level theory. 

It’s still possible to teach about slavery and other racist portions of the nation’s past without using CRT, and Americans shouldn’t be afraid of talking about difficult topics, Evers added.  

“We’re a strong country,” Evers said. “If we can’t talk about things like that, we’re a crying shame.”

Michels said parents have told him their kids are being taught CRT in public schools. He said parents should be involved in how race is taught in schools.

“We’re going to get parents involved, let parents decide,” he said. “Not a couple of woke educrats that are going to say this is what it is now.”

Watch the debate here:

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