'Here & Now' Highlights: Brian Schimming, Jay Heck, Ian Robertson

Here's what guests on the May 17, 2024 episode said about the Republican Party of Wisconsin's state convention, the state Supreme Court's reconsideration of absentee ballot drop boxes, and how a political firestorm shaped the future of engineering education at UW-Madison.

By Frederica Freyberg | Here & Now

May 20, 2024

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Frederica Freyberg and Brian Schimming sit facing each other on the Here & Now set.

Frederica Freyberg and Brian Schimming (Credit: PBS Wisconsin)

Leading up to the Republican National Convention in Milwaukee in July, Wisconsin Republican Party Chair Brian Schimming spoke to his enthusiasm for conservative candidates up and down the ballot. The director of Common Cause Wisconsin, Jay Heck, discussed his support for allowing absentee ballot drop boxes in the 2024 elections – now under consideration by the state Supreme Court. Ian Robertson, the outgoing dean of the UW-Madison School of Engineering, offered his thoughts on the future of the program with its new building on track after political wrangling over DEI programs at the university.

Brian Schimming
Chair, Republican Party of Wisconsin

  • Wisconsin is one of – if not the most – competitive states in the nation going into the November 2024 presidential election. There is also a U.S. Senate race on the ballot in the state, in addition to legislative races under new maps that are regarded as more favorable to Democrats than before the round of redistricting enacted in February. Schimming points to polling that shows tight races at the top of the ballot, which he believes will help bring more Republicans out to vote — spelling victories for presidential candidate Donald Trump and senate candidate Eric Hovde, who’s challenging incumbent Democratic U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin.
  • Schimming:”We used to be called flyover country. Remember those years? And now we’re kind-of fly-in country. But there’s a reason we have a close presidential race. I think by anybody’s telling, it’s a close race here in Wisconsin. We have a close U.S. Senate race, which six months ago people wouldn’t have guessed, but that we instantly had, close U.S. Senate race to target House races, obviously, both houses of the Legislature. So Wisconsin, almost more than usual, is really a focus of national attention. And we feel it at the state party, too.”


Jay Heck
Executive Director, Common Cause Wisconsin

  • Whereas the Republican Party formally opposes the use of absentee ballot drop boxes in Wisconsin, Common Cause supported them in a lawsuit that had oral arguments on May 13 in the state Supreme Court. Republicans worry about voter fraud and ballot harvesting because of the unsecured nature of the boxes. Heck said with the push on both sides of the aisle to vote early, concerns over the use of absentee ballot drop boxes are misplaced.
  • Heck: “Those are the suspicions of election deniers and conspiracy theorists during the 2020 election — not a single incident of a drop box being tampered with or fraud or any of these things. This is the specter that is constantly raised to try to reduce the ability of Wisconsinites to be able to vote safely by absentee ballots, or sometimes even at polling places. So there’s nothing behind those fears, and they ought to be available and hopefully will be for 2024, so that we can have more voices and more people’s votes counted rather than fewer.”


Ian Robertson
Dean, UW-Madison School of Engineering

  • The dean of the UW-Madison School of Engineering announced he is stepping down after 11 years in the position. The school was at the center of a political storm over the last year as Republican legislators first rejected and then held up approval of a new campus engineering building in a fight over diversity, equity and inclusion programs at the university. Robertson spoke with Here & Now senior political reporter Zac Schultz about the future of the engineering school.
  • Robertson: “So the new building did take a little bit longer than we were expecting to get approved. But the good thing is it did get approved. What’s it going to do for the state of Wisconsin? We’re going to be able to take more students, right? There is a high demand at the moment from students to get an engineering degree from UW Madison. We currently have 4,800 undergraduates. We’re going to grow to at least 5,500. That’s going to meet some of the student demand. It’s also going to help us meet demand from industries in the state of Wisconsin for more engineers. As I talked to the companies, they’re saying, ‘When will you produce more engineers, because we want to hire them.’ And they have jobs for them. So the new building will enable that part. It’s also going to allow us to actually expand our research.”


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