Right-wing candidates for state school superintendent call each other liars

Scott Bauer, AP writer

Wisconsin state  school superintendent candidates John Humphries and Lowell Holtz accused one another of being liars on Friday, while a Democratic lawmaker told Humphries at an unusual Capitol news conference that “we don’t want you.”

Humphries called the news conference, just four days before the primary election, to “clear the air” and be “entirely transparent” about a job offer that Holtz allegedly presented at a December meeting. Holtz responded by saying the race had become a “three ring circus” and that it was Humphries, not he, who was lying about the alleged deal.

Humphries and Holtz are courting conservative voters who favor the expansion of voucher schools in an attempt to knock off two-term incumbent Superintendent Tony Evers. Democrats, teachers unions and other public school advocates all back Evers.

The race for state school superintendent is officially nonpartisan. The two top vote-getters in tomorrow’s primary will face each other April 4.

Humphries first discussed the December breakfast meeting he had with Holtz during a live radio debate. Humphries alleged that Holtz offered him a $150,000 state job, along with a driver, and broad authority to run or reorganize the state’s five largest school districts if he dropped out of the race.

Holtz said the ideas were a “rough draft” and came from a business leader that both he and Humphries have refused to name. Humphries said Holtz came up with the proposal and is now lying about his involvement in crafting it.

Humphries presented emails and other documents at the news conference that he said backed up his claims. Those emails included ones Humphries sent where he discusses the job offer as something Holtz had presented.

In another twist, Humphries said at a Dec. 23 meeting that he invited Holtz to be a consultant for his campaign if he didn’t get in the race.

“I have nothing to hide. I’m happy to share all the information with you,” Humphries said, before again refusing to name the business leader who facilitated the meeting. He said the person asked to remain anonymous and that it was up to Holtz to reveal his name.

One Dec. 22 email from the person that Humphries released, with the sender’s name blacked out, stressed that it should be kept secret that he and Holtz were talking about working together to defeat Evers.

“I am confident that if you can work together your chances of succeeding will increase from about 20 percent to about 70 percent,” the email said.

Holtz, a former Beloit superintendent and 1999 Wisconsin elementary school teacher of the year, also refused to name the person in a statement he released following Humphries’ news conference.

“Today’s three ring circus hosted by Mr. Humphries is another attempt to malign me and misrepresent, or more accurately lie about, this issue,” Holtz said. “It is unfortunate that Mr. Humphries is focused more on the politics of personal destruction than on the real reason candidates, including myself, should be in this race, which is to help improve the education and future of our children and grandchildren.”

The job offer was branded “bizarre” by Gov. Scott Walker, who also is a voucher school advocate.

The state school superintendent race took another odd turn when, during Friday’s news conference, Democratic state Rep. Chris Taylor, of Madison, confronted Humphries while he was fielding questions from reporters.

“We don’t want you and your corporate special interests coming into our schools,” Taylor said.