The unpredictable political career of state Rep. Brett Hulsey took another unusual turn Monday, when the seldom-dull Democratic lawmaker from Madison suddenly announced that he plans to run for governor.
“It’s not raining today, so it’s a beautiful day for a red convertible,” Hulsey said early Monday, referring to the red convertible he bought with campaign contributions and which he says is for use on the campaign trail. He made the comment shortly before the area was hit with a downpour.
Hulsey’s latest move means that at least four Democrats could face off in the Aug. 12 gubernatorial primary. Madison School Board member and former Trek Bicycle executive Mary Burke, who previously served as commerce secretary under Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle, is seen as the presumed nominee; Brookfield doctor Hariprasad Trivedi and Marcia Mercedes Perkins of Milwaukee are also in the race.
The deadline for candidates to file their nomination papers and declarations of candidacy is June 2. The winner of the primary will face Republican Gov. Scott Walker on Nov. 4. Several independents and other candidates also have registered to run.
“Our focus remains squarely on Scott Walker,” Burke spokesman Joe Zepecki said following Hulsey’s announcement. “Mary Burke has a real plan to grow our economy, create jobs and strengthen the middle class and a game plan to beat Walker in the fall.”
“It doesn’t matter who the Democratic nominee will be,” Walker campaign spokeswoman Alleigh Marre said. “We’re confident that voters want to continue moving Wisconsin forward and have no desire to return to the failed policies of the past.”
Speculation has been swirling for months that Hulsey, 54, would not seek re-election to his seat in the state Assembly — which he has held since 2011 — largely because of erratic behavior that has drawn criticism, even from fellow Democrats.
That has included a July 2012 incident at a Madison beach in which he toppled a 9-year-old boy using a flotation device and allegedly took pictures of him. Hulsey pleaded no contest to disorderly conduct but repeatedly has said the allegations were linked to political enemies trying to undermine him.
Hulsey also faced another investigation last year after he brought a box cutter to the Capitol and threatened to bring his muzzleloader.
Capitol Police began investigating Hulsey in February 2013 after his then-aide said he was acting erratically and she feared for her safety. The aide was later reassigned to another Democratic lawmaker’s office.
At the time, Hulsey said he was trying to “provide a safe workplace” and brought the cutting tool for use in a self-defense training he was planning.
Hulsey has since acknowledged that he was getting counseling, which he said was to help him cope with childhood abuse, and said he was going through a divorce.
Hulsey has been accused of grandstanding in the past. But on Monday, he said he has already paid his dues traveling the state and meeting people.
“I’ve been touring the state since 1988,” Hulsey said, citing his work with environmental groups. “I’m not like the other candidates that have to go and meet people.”
Hulsey said his gubernatorial platform would include a plan to put money into things like clean energy jobs, job training, public schools and higher education. He also said he would create a Penokee Hills State Park rather than the controversial mine planned for Northern Wisconsin.
And Hulsey said returning broad collective bargaining rights to public workers would be a top priority.
He called Walker’s time in office his “reign of error.”
Hulsey was first elected to the state Assembly in 2010, and previously served on the Dane County Board.
He runs an energy and environmental consulting business, Better Environmental Solutions.
He was facing two primary challengers for his Assembly seat, Mark Clear and Lisa Subeck. His gubernatorial bid means that he can’t seek re-election to the Assembly.