EAU CLAIRE — Sarah Godlewski, an Eau Claire native and state treasurer, joined fellow Democrats running in the 2022 election for a U.S. Senate seat currently held by Ron Johnson, R-Oshkosh.
Godlewski officially began her run on Wednesday, coming out with an announcement and campaign video criticizing Johnson and his support for former President Donald Trump.
“Ron Johnson has completely lost touch with Wisconsin and reality, spreading conspiracy theories, denying climate change and obstructing economic relief. It’s time to take a different path in Washington,” Godlewski stated.
Johnson, who was first elected in 2010, has not announced whether he will seek re-election for a third term. Last week Trump, through his political action committee, encouraged Johnson to run again and offered his enthusiastic endorsement to the Wisconsin Republican.
Godlewski is entering a race with three Democrats already registered and others considering a run as well. Milwaukee Bucks executive Alex Lasry, Outagamie County Executive Tom Nelson and Dr. Gillian Battino, a radiologist from Wausau, are all officially in the race and Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes said he is considering it.
“I’m excited to be in this race,” Godlewski said in a phone interview with the Leader-Telegram.
Godlewski believes she brings a perspective that other candidates don’t have, including her upbringing in the Chippewa Valley, experience as a working mom and a professional background of investing in small businesses.
Campaigning for the U.S. Senate seat does rule out Godlewski from seeking a sophomore term as state treasurer because Wisconsin law forbids candidates from running for more than one partisan office in an election.
When asked for comment about an area Democrat joining the Senate race, a state Republican Party official from Fall Creek welcomed Godlowski to the competition.
“My off-the-cuff reaction is ‘come on in, the water’s fine,’” said Brian Westrate, who serves as treasurer of the Wisconsin GOP.
He gave Godlowski credit for winning her current position in a November 2018 election, but did said the treasurer doesn’t have many official duties in the state government.
“I don’t find the treasurer position particularly compelling,” Westrate said. “The truth is the Wisconsin treasurer doesn’t really have any power at all.”
The treasurer’s duties include signing certain checks and other financial instruments, promoting the state’s unclaimed property program and serving on the Board of Commissioners of Public Lands, according to the Wisconsin Blue Book.
Viewing the position as antiquated and ceremonial, state Republicans including Godlewski’s predecessor, Matt Adamczyk, had pushed to eliminate the treasurer’s office.
However, Godlewski has touted the position as the state’s “fiscal watchdog” and fought against a referendum that asked voters to abolish the office. In April 2018, 61% of Wisconsin voters decided the elected post was worth keeping.
Seven months later, Godlewski won the state treasurer’s election with 51% of the vote. Republican challenger Travis Hartwig received 47% of the vote and Constitution Party candidate Andrew Zuelke got support from 2%.
Godlewski counts those 2018 elections as two wins in statewide elections, citing that as evidence of her electability even in some spots Republicans usually control.
“We were winning in areas that Democrats had not won before,” she said.
Since taking office, Godlewski has touted the watchdog role of treasurer and used the position to push for education funding, government transparency and increasing both homeownership and retirement savings.
In her role as chairwoman of the Board of Commissioners of Public Lands, she secured more funding to help schools with technology costs that arose at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Our schools were doing everything they could but they didn’t have the resources to set everything up for remote learning,” she said.
A fund that she oversees with Wisconsin’s attorney general and secretary of state authorized $5.3 million last spring to buy wireless hotspots, electronic textbooks and other distance learning tools for school districts. That was in addition to $38.2 million the fund contributed in its regular allocation to school libraries, which made for a record year of disbursements for the program.
Godlewski said her work to diversify the fund’s investment portfolio created more money to help schools.
“We’ve had higher returns because we’ve made smart investment decisions,” she said.
Fitting her campaign promise to increase transparency, Godlewski’s office recently released The Taxpayer Report — an easy-to-understand document showing taxpayers how the state spends money — on the Treasurer’s Office website.
Godlewski also used her prominent post to lead task forces to address lagging homeownership and retirement savings in Wisconsin, which make recommendations meant to inspire bills from legislators.
Her first campaign video highlighted her roots in Eau Claire and experience both in the public and private sector, but much of it was focused on critiques of Johnson.
Westrate chalked the tone of the video to the way politics are today, but said the attacks on Johnson could be wasted energy if the incumbent opts not to seek re-election.
“We don’t know yet whether Ron is going to run again,” Westrate said.
If the GOP side of the ticket is indeed open, Westrate said that would make for a long primary season even before the Senate election happens in November 2022.
“It will be fascinating to see who else gets into the race,” he said.